The death of actress Sridevi this week triggered many memories in me, and one of which was about the day when I died for her.
This was in the late 70s or early 80s, I can’t recall the specific year. I had tagged along with my older brother and his friends on a short, day trip to Thekkady. Now, Madurai to Thekkady is around 130 kms in distance, a two-and-a-half-hours drive, but it took us around 4 hours because time traveled very fast in those days. (Due to more people on Earth now, its speed of rotation has come down leading to the slowing down of time.)
We started from Madurai in a swanky bus. Here I use ‘swanky bus’ in the sense ‘a bus fitted with musical horn’. Otherwise it was a steely rattler, and you could hear it coming a two kilometres away. It did not need even an ordinary horn in the first place.
But we were wide-eyed youngsters and hence hardly bothered by the fact that the bus we were travelling in seemed older than the combined age of all the boys in it. Yet, that bus was the not the oldest thing we would encounter on that trip. But we are getting ahead of the story.
The route to Thekkady was very scenic with mist-kissed tall trees and hairpin-bends, sinuous like a ballerina’s twist, that wound their way through quaint tea estates whose lush green looked from a distance like shimmering emeralds. Ha. Ha. Ha. If truth be told, we did not glance outside much because, as kids travelling without parental supervision, we were excited to be just chatting amongst ourselves and — this was the high point — making fart noises with the hand.
Upon reaching Thekkady, we did what all tourists traditionally do, which is to pee against a tree in the hills. And then we went boating in the lake, and it is here one of the friends took out a binocular and started looking into the wilds in the hope of espying elephants and other animals that the forest surrounding Thekkady is well known for. As he was surveying the scene via his binocular, his glance suddenly halted at one particular spot, and he became delirious with excitement, “guys, you won’t believe what I am seeing now,” he said.
Us: What is it, da? Elephant? Wild bison? Tiger?
He: It is something else. But looks a bit old.
Us: Older than elephant? Can’t be dinosaurs. They are extinct.
He: No, da. It is NTR.
It is then we realised that the friend was all that time focused on a film shooting underway near the lake. The boat guys told us that a Telugu film shoot was happening in the town and they had been picturising a song of NTR and Sridevi. Suddenly, the wilds of Thekkady did not seem all that interesting to us, as the film shoot, which none of us had seen before till then, held out more appeal.
Boat ride over, we went to the shooting spot, and it was already crowded with plenty of locals and tourists ringed around NTR and Sridevi putting ‘stepsu’. NTR missed his timing and ‘stepsu’ a few times, and every time it was the director who looked apologetic and had to request him for another take.
Sridevi was clad in a traditional sari and NTR, as ever, looked dapper in trendy clothes. Dapper and trendy in those days was, of course, bell-bottom pant in whose bottom you could safely hide a a full-grown Labrador Retriever, and shirt with collars decidedly wider than the wings of a Cessna aircraft. Our dream then was: To dress like that when we grew up. Go ahead and judge us.
They were shooting a rain dance, the motif that will forever follow Sridevi’s film career. Water was sprinkled from a tanker stationed nearby. It was sprayed carefully in such a manner that the actors were drenched without spoiling their makeup, or in the case of NTR, without unhinging his wig.
As the crowd began to swell, I couldn’t get a good angle of the shoot, so I clambered up a nearby tree to have a vantage view. From up there, I got a seductive shot of Sridevi’s big umbrella. Seriously, she was sitting under it between the shots and the top of the umbrella was the only thing visible from the tree. Disappointed, I tried to move to another spot in the same tree and it is then the branch cracked and I fell down dramatically into the ground and rolled down the incline to some distance, probably not unlike the tumble Sridevi takes in Moondram Pirai.
But I was dead.
At least that is what I thought. But I wasn’t. When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by my friends all totally teary-eyed. Teary-eyed because they had been laughing uncontrollably. At that age, friend falling from a tree was not an accident; it was thigh-slapping comical event.
Anyway, soon enough, the shoot itself had to be called off because, well, real rain came down. The light had deteriorated and NTR got into a car and went away. And then, Sridevi and her mom too followed suit.
When she passed away this week, I couldn’t help think of that Thekkady event. I got to see Sridevi from close quarters. It was also a day that I will remember as the one that saw rain stop Sridevi’s rain dance.