“It just doesn’t sink in. Sridevi is gone. I haven’t been able to digest it. A fortnight ago I met her husband Boney and Sridevi. We were laughing and joking together and counting our blessings. And now just some days later she is no more! This a slap on the face of those who spend their time bickering over small things. Life may have plans that will completely overthrow your pettiness. What do I say about Sridevi? So many memories. But so much that I’ve forgotten. You must remember I am 76 now. I tend to forget. But I can never forget Sridevi’s determination to make it big in Bollywood.
She had conquered Tamil and Telugu cinema and she had a tigress’ will to conquer Bollywood. Her first Hindi film Solvan Saawan had been released and flopped. For five years Sridevi had no other Hindi offers. This is when Himmatwala was offered to her…It’s interesting how Sridevi got Himmatwala. The original Telugu version of Himmatwala had starred Jaya Prada .But for some reasons we were committed to re-launching Sridevi in the Hindi remake. It was a very awkward situation for me. Jaya Prada was already a big star in Telugu. To tell her she is not doing the Hindi version was difficult. Director K Raghvendra Rao and I went to her and explained why we had to sign Sridevi for Himmatwala. Jaya Prada was upset but she accepted the situation.
Were Sridevi and Jaya Prada rivals? Look, I worked with both extensively. I even did films in which both were my co-stars. I never saw then being anything but thoroughly professional with one another. In Tohfa Jaya Prada played Sridevi’s elder sister. Such was their level of professionalism that they looked like actual sisters in the film…Coming back to Himmatwala no one at that point of time had faith in Sridevi. But we saw something special in her. Sridevi and I both had something to prove. She had to consolidate her position after Solva Saawan. I had lost everything after producing Deedar-e-Yaar. Can you believe, I lost Rs 2 crores way back in 1982?! You can calculate the size of my losses in today’s economy.
So both Sridevi and I had a point to prove. I remember the market had little confidence in this new girl. So we signed Sridevi for two more films even before Himmatwala was released to show the film trade how much confidence we had in her. This was never done before. And we were proven right. Sridevi was magic on screen. I had seen her Telugu films long before Himmatwala. I had seen her playing the romantic lead with the legendary Telugu actor N T Rama Rao who was three times her age. She did the romantic scenes with the confidence of a pro. Not for a moment did she look so much younger than NTR. Then we did Himmatwala together. I was almost twice her age. She treated me with utmost respect. And what a fabulous dancer! During the shooting of ‘Nainon Mein Sapna’ and ‘Taki Oh Taki’ the dance assistant would show the steps to both of us. She would get them right in no time. It took me time to get them right. If it was some other co-star she would have gone into her makeup room and asked to be summoned when the hero was ready with his steps.
Not Sridevi. She waited on the sets for me to get my steps right. This was the level of her dedication. We went on to do 17 other films together. But I did even more films with Rekha. I did 30 films with her. In Sridevi I saw the same fierce dedication to get better with every film that I saw in Rekha. They are both Tamilian and they both are lionesses on screen. I couldn’t keep up with them on screen. And now Sridevi has gone to a place where I can’t even see her. Itni dur chali gayi.”