To paraphrase the great West Indian writer C.L.R. James: “What do they know of cinema who only Hindi cinema know?” The truth behind that aphorism shone through on English news channels and in English newspapers when “Bollywood icon” Sridevi died.
Bollywood icon in “double quotes” because Sridevi was a star in peninsular India long before her skills swept through the plains of rajma-chawal.
As a South Indian woman, Sridevi had achieved what none of her southern male co-stars—Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan, Chiranjeevi, Mammooty, Nagarjuna—had, which is to conquer Bombay and win the hearts of the cowbelt.
The scale of her success towered over her South Indian female predecessors Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini and Rekha.
Last night, the film critic Anna M.M. Vetticad tore through the illiteracy of North Indian film writers with a first-class rant. Except that it was on a channel somewhat ironically named “New Delhi” Television (NDTV).
Nidhi Razdan: One of my colleagues on an other channel tweeted that the North Indian press really did not make a mention of Sridevi‘s enormous success and her legacy in South Indian films. And that’s something we sometimes tend to forget when we are sitting here in Delhi. She was actually a huge star in the south, who worked with the Rajnikanths and Kamal Haasans of the world, held her own with them, before she became such a superstar in Bollywood. Was she the first real female superstar of India, someone who crossed language and cultural barriers?
Anna M.M. Vetticad: Among other things, the media that calls itself the national media, and by that I mean the English language newspapers and TV channels based in Delhi and Bombay, are North India-obsessed and Hindi-obsessed.
It is an absolute shame when we should be proud of the fact that we have multiple film industries in the country, and here we have a megastar, that rare person who was succeessful across multiple industries.
Even a newspaper like The Times of India calls her a “Bollywood icon”. Even The Indian Express, calls her a “Bollywood star”. That’s as weird as calling Priyanka Chopra a Hollywood star.
I mean this is beyond reductive. If you call her just a Bollywood star, you are missing the point about her career.
She was not India’s first female superstar, she is the only star to have been a superstar in all three of India’s largest film industries, the Hindi film industry we call Bollywood, the Tamil film industry we nickname Kollywood and the Telugu film industry which we nickname Tollywood. And in addition, she had success, although she did fewer films in Malayalam and Kannada, she had success there too.
This is what we have to be celebrating. In a country, where film industries in any case make life so difficult for women, that stardom in even one language is difficult, here was a woman who at 54, had had success in a 50-year career across five Indian language film industries.
When she was seven years old, she won a Kerala state film award as a child artiste. How is the ‘North Indian media’ knowing her successes from the time she was ten, simply calling her a Bollywood star?
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Also read: A true pan-Indian superstar