There are many intense memories I possess of the two-month-long summer vacations that we spent down south at my grandmother's village in the early nineties.
One clear recall is my first vacation in 1992 as a ten-year-old. Yash Chopra's Lamhe had released in November 1991 and all through April 1992, on power cut induced candlelit evenings, my similarly-aged cousin sister from Mumbai unfailingly danced to Chudiyan Khanak Gayeen (the bangles clinked...).
For a boy who loves to play cricket and run about, this untiring, enthusiastic dancing began irritating me after a fortnight. Unfazed, the cousin sister kept at it, singing the song and swaying to it at the same time every evening with an unconscious, uninhibited flow that only children possess. Now that I can calmly look back at it, the effect of Sridevi's amazing dancing abilities on a ten-year-old girl was quite phenomenal. Sridevi's onscreen connection with everyone young and old was uncanny.
Madhuri Dixit vs Sridevi?
Was Madhuri Dixit the better onscreen dancer or was Sridevi the best? Each with their distinct signature steps, timely graceful expressions, and elegant movements, yet so different from the other. It's hard to decide, that debate will never cease. Also, don't forget the choreographers and cinematographers who played a huge part in creating the persona.
Anyway, here is my list of the best danced, choreographed and picturized Sridevi songs.
Kate Nahin Kat Te Din Ye Raat
Mr India (1987)
Kishore Kumar, Alisha Chinai / Javed Akhtar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal
It took years of repeat viewing from adolescence to my teenage years to realize what exactly transpired in those five odd minutes. The minutes when Mr.India momentarily transformed into a movie for a "not so young" audience. What magical, seductive moments when Sridevi sways to Kate Nahin Kat Te Din Ye Raat with Anil Kapoor appearing, disappearing at will!
Sridevi has been drenched a lot onscreen in her 80's films, sometimes to vulgar, provocative effect. But here the visuals hold back the lovemaking, with Sridevi having to imagine an invisible Mr.India dancing with her. She pulls it off with a breathless, scintillating burst of youth, pure sensuousness and a touch of scandal. You just can't look away!
Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan
Lata Mangeshkar / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari
The initial minutes of Chandni hold the promise of a cinematic event. The film begins as a subtle, sublime ode to a young woman's beauty before taking off to a disappointing wheelchaired lover angle. It's like the writers didn't know where else to go but the wheelchair, self-pity, separation, and reunion. The film still holds in parts.
The opening song Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan is more than a dance routine, it sums up all Punjabi marriage folk songs of those undistilled times. Notice how the dance doesn't look choreographed. Sridevi instills believability to proceedings. Nowadays there are 100 dancers on screen and you seldom get a musical vibe or goosebumps as this song still gives us.
Chudiyan Khanak Gayee
Lata Mangeshkar, Moinuddin and Ila Arun / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari
Another song about clinking bangles echoes through generations of Hindi film song lovers. The song is still referenced and celebrated. In Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) sits quietly by a bonfire with Manu (R Madhavan) and then gleefully blurts,"Looking at this lonesome jungle, this fire, this ambience, are you wondering if you are Lamhe's Anil Kapoor and me Sridevi and that I will start dancing to the Peacock song?"
For all the song and dance I was subjected to by my cousin sister way back in 1992, this is not an out and out dance song. Yash Chopra infuses a solemn silence into it with the desert night setting. The song is all Sridevi, weaved in tradition, a painting-like ambiance to it, apart from the rare sight of a mustache-less Anil Kapoor and folksy Ila Arun. It's an iconic image, Sridevi standing out like a famous statue, a work of sheer art and womanhood at full bloom.
Sridevi's "waiting for the lover" expressions has its layers, as revealed later in this underrated, unconventional movie. Anil Kapoor's character sees her in another light. Chudiyan khanak gayee is a beautiful palette of longing, simply unforgettable.
Kavita Krishnamurthy/Javed Akhtar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal
A classic 80's case of strange costumes, outlandish settings, frowning villains, absurd situations and in the middle of it all Sridevi knocking this right out of the cinema hall. No other female lead actress, except for Madhuri Dixit during that era, raised the bar as Sridevi did with her multiple comic expressions and moves.
Playing up a bit of Charlie Chaplin as she does in the film later, echoing of Kishore Kumar's madness, the rest is choreographer Saroj Khan and Sridevi's daredevilry at work. A mad, fun, freaky yet harmless joy of a song sequence. Check out the background dancers' cheeky costumes in this one. A big bumpy kiddy party, going with the film's "for children" theme.
Chandni O Meri Chandni
Jolly Mukherjee, Sridevi / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari
The song perks up the film's meandering proceedings in flashback mode and was very popular back then, especially for Sridevi's impish, funny rendition of the female vocals. On screen, the Rishi Kapoor-Sridevi interplay is great, despite the redundant dance routine, even as Yash Chopra pays tribute to his newly found mistress...Switzerland.
Other Notable Mentions
The Kamal Haasan - Sridevi brilliance in the songs of Sadma (1983), the rage of hatred and revenge exuded in the songs of the big disaster Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja (1993), lots of awe-inspiring, superb dancing in ChaalBaaz (1989).
Now that she is suddenly gone at 54, her body reduced to ashes today, the celebration of her talent and apparent timelessness will continue. Sridevi's unexpected death has only assured her immortality in the hearts of millions of Hindi film lovers.