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Cover Story
October 23, 2017

“My Children And Husband Feel Happy When They See Me Looking Beautiful”

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographed by Ashish Shah. Conceptualisation and Styling by Nikhil D. Assisted by Yvonne Monteiro, Aashna Rekhi, Gareema Banthia And Ojas Kolvankar. Make-Up by Sandhya Shekar. Hair by Franco Vallelonga. Both from Faze Model Management. Location Courtesy: JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu

Sridevi talks to us about the evolution of her style, making a statement and living her roles…

Monday afternoon, and the atmosphere on our ‘set’ is one of anticipation — for we are prepping to work with a lady who has been termed one of the biggest female superstars of Indian cinema. She is an actor who has rocked the silver screen with her eclectic work, charismatic presence and arresting performances. Remember her turns in Sadma (1983), Lamhe (1991), Mr. India (1987), Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993), Nagina (1986), ChaalBaaz (1989) and more. And, in the last few years, she surfaced — post a self-enforced sabbatical following the birth of her two daughters Jhanvi and Khushi — to give bravura standout performances in English Vinglish (2012) and Mom (2017).

Time almost stands still when Sridevi quietly walks into the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel in Juhu. And soon, in the suite a few floors above, she shows her eye for detail as she examines every look — discussing its elements to the core — before giving her stamp of approval, in a matter-of-fact way. She is open to different ideas, even the most experimental — and honestly, that does not surprise those of us who have seen her in her myriad avatars, where she has quite often defied plain vanilla characters to create unforgettable reel personas.

We feel that her forte is restrained opulence — and that is something that is evident in her red-carpet looks for grand events. Without frills or fuss, her mere appearance creates a ripple. And as our photographer’s camera rolls, she slips in and out of different outfits, comfortably donning different headgears. We have taken the liberty to doff our hat to her memorable filmi costumes that, in our opinion, pushed the generic ideas of beauty and femininity. For no film buff can forget how the style icon had morphed into ingenious characters with startling headpieces and maximalist jewellery ensembles like the fruit-basket hat in Mr. India and the metallic statuesque bodice and jewels in Nagina.

Just a day earlier, I — along with the stylist and his team — had met her at her first-floor apartment in her Lokhandwala home, where she urged us to be comfortable. And the Sunday morning was spent fruitfully in a leisurely chat with the star. Our talk spanned many moments and years — over cups of coffee and green tea, and chocolates. Sridevi played the perfect hostess in the pre-shoot session, even though she was just recovering from a bout of viral fever. She took in every detail of the stylist’s looks with her customary concentration. As we walked away after a couple of hours, her soft voice echoed in our ears….

Excerpts from the freewheeling conversation with the star:

“One puts in a lot of effort into one’s art. It feels really good when someone appreciates and recognises your efforts. It’s almost like when a child gives a good answer in school and the teacher gives a star or a smiley face. I remember my children would get excited and come to me, saying, ‘Mama, look at this’. Similarly, for an actor, too, recognition is a boost.”

“I have never given a thought to the fact that people think I’m an icon. I only concentrate on working hard and doing my best. But yes, when people come up to me and tell me that I am looked up to, it makes me feel good. There is also a huge sense of responsibility.”

“An Indian fashion icon I look up to? Maharani Gayatri Devi, for she was very elegant. The way she carried her chiffon saris and pearls was extremely graceful. I remember thinking that I would dress up in the same way, some time in the future. And, if we speak of Western icons, I would name Princess Diana. She was dignified.”

“I am very comfortable in saris. South Indians wear them a lot. For us, it is very easy to wear the sari — whether it is a heavy silk or a light chiffon one.”

“My personal style has evolved a lot. And, I think I am still growing. There is no end to learning for there is still so much to know.”

“My children and husband want me to dress well. They feel happy when they see me looking beautiful. I dress for them and, of course, for myself. Every woman feels good when she looks good. It is important that as women, we never give up in life or think, ‘I’m done’.”

“As far as trends are concerned, I am aware of what is happening around me. But, I am very selective. I will not blindly wear whatever is in fashion. I will choose what suits my personality and, most importantly, what makes me feel comfortable — like trackpants. I love them and am seen in them almost all the time. But, of course, my look depends on the occasion too.”

“As a child, I never tried on my mother’s clothes. I didn’t have the time for that. Honestly, I don’t remember myself as a child or teenager…. Everything happened so fast. I was busy doing three shifts a day. I grew up wearing dresses or jeans and T-shirts. My mother would select clothes for my personal events — whether they were weddings or other functions. She would keep two saris on the bed and I would blindly go with her choices and wear one of them.”

“Fitness is extremely important to me. I’ve been working out all my life. And now that I am older, I have to work harder to look better. I look forward to it. Luckily, my daughters are also health freaks. We go for walks and cycling, especially when we are abroad. We enjoy working out, while Boneyji sits at home, enjoying his biryani. I am still trying to change him though. I won’t give up!”

“When I shop, I pick up what appeals to me, and not because it is branded. I go shopping with my daughters — we help each other. And we often end up sharing stuff.”

“Planning my look depends on where I am going. When I have to dress up for a public event, I take about an hour or so. For red-carpet events, I definitely consult my stylist. Otherwise, I’ll just pick up something instinctively. My favourite accessory is a solitaire.”

“Being a showstopper is very thrilling. I don’t remember the first time I walked a ramp, but I really enjoy it.”

“As a mother, I do look at what my girls wear, as does Boneyji. But both of them are sensible and know where to draw the line. Sometimes, they may get carried away and I have to tell them, ‘This is a little too much’. They usually agree with what I say. And when we are going out, we do discuss what we should wear. Boneyji pops up in the middle as he does not want to be left out. So, we are like a group of four friends. Do Jhanvi and Khushi feel the pressure of being my daughters? I’ve never asked them this question. I don’t know — but perhaps they do.”

“You have to look good when you step out, considering the times we are in. What else can we do? We have no privacy. You never know when a snap is being shot and posted on social media.”

“If I had to pick a destination I love, it would be Cannes. Not only does it have both a beach and an urban landscape but there is also lots of shopping to do. And whatever you buy is very exclusive.”

“The looks of my characters more or less matched their personalities. Otherwise, they would not have worked. If I had to pick three films where my look was liked, I would definitely pick Chandni (1989) first. The look became a trend and many girls were then seen wearing white salwar kameezes. The clothes were first designed by Bhanu Athaiya and then Leena Daru came into the picture. I would also shortlist English Vinglish. Sabyasachi (Mukherjee) gave me simple saris to suit my persona of a housewife. And then, of course, my most recent film — Mom. Manish (Malhotra) played an important role in Mom. He gave Devaki an amazing look — it was simple, dignified and glamorous, where required. You don’t see the designer anywhere. Manish did such a brilliant job that his look became real.”

“I am very much into designing, drawing and doing sketches. During Mr. India, Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and some of my other films, I used to sketch, sit with the designer and discuss the clothes to the last detail.”

“And in the ultimate analysis, beyond my public image, the real Sridevi is very sensitive, loving and giving.”

Designer Manish Malhotra on Sridevi’s iconic style quotient

You worked with her for the first time in Gumrah (1993). What was your perception of her style sense then?
A classic South Indian beauty, Sridevi has always been grace personified. When we were working on Gumrah, there was an instance when her hair was short in a sequence and in the very next scene, it had to go longer. Real life doesn’t work that way! I had a discussion with her and she immediately agreed to take my advice to maintain continuity. I was so moved that an icon like Sridevi agreed with my point of view — I was not her director, but a young costume stylist. Ever since then, every movie with her has been a collaborative effort. She uses clothes, make-up and hair styles to bring out nuances in her character rather than looking at these details in a silo.

How has Sridevi’s reel sense of style evolved over the years?
With every role and every movie that she did, Sridevi’s learning curve evolved markedly. Her choice of movies evolved in keeping with this — each part was more challenging than the one before. And she thrives on this. Her looks in every film embrace the character’s psyche at every point. So, when we had to move from waistcoats and berets in the first half of Gumrah to the basic — almost manly — look for her prison scenes, she didn’t flinch. And today, the stories are far more rooted in the real; the characters are so much more relatable. So movies like Mom don’t just find viewers; they also spark discussion and form opinion. ‘What am I going to wear today?’ would be the last thought on Devaki’s mind. What you see Sridevi wearing in the movie is not just evocative of her personality, but also the single-mindedness and pathos of Devaki.

What makes Sridevi a best-dressed icon?
Sridevi’s fashion outlook is classic yet super versatile. She can carry off a cocktail dress or a lehnga paired with a crisp shirt and sari with equal aplomb. The common thread in every look she wears is the coming together of tasteful, feminine silhouettes and a dash of drama by way of detailing or accessories. The secret to her best-dressed status is that she never lets it take precedence and lets her personality shine through.

How would you say her dressing style has evolved over the years in real life?
She has become more accepting of experimenting with new silhouettes. From having one of the most enviable collections of saris in the most luscious silks to owning red carpets in splendid couture, she has a fine eye for detail that comes with discernment.

Do you see Sridevi’s influence on both her daughters who are also extremely stylish and well-turned-out?
Of course, there is a little bit of Sridevi in both Jhanvi and Khushi. Their confidence and poise, even at such a young age, is reminiscent of their legendary mother. And just like her, they too wear fashion as a form of self-expression.

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