The book chronicles how Sridevi broke gender stereotypes, and constantly fought against the inherent patriarchy of the Hindi film industry. It also shows how she fell in love with Boney Kapoor, who was then a married man, and gave up her dream of a lavish wedding, and tied the knot in a simple ceremony instead. It also takes us back to the much-publicised rivalry of the actress with then-newcomer dhak-dhak girl, Madhuri Dixit.
Through Nayak's book, we revisit a private and painful episode of Sridevi's life, which became an international issue. The book states that in May 1995, Sridevi’s mother suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumour following which doctors in Madras advised the actress to take her mother, Rajeshwari, to the reputed Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for surgery and she did. But, in a horrifying case of medical negligence, the American doctor who did the surgery operated on the wrong lobe of her mother's brain, making her health even worse.
The book reveals:The day Rajeshwari was being wheeled inside the operation theatre, she suddenly clutched her daughter’s hand, her nails digging into Sridevi’s skin. A spasm of terror passed through her face. Glancing at the actress and their family doctor who had accompanied them, Rajeshwari uttered these strange words, ‘Please tell them to operate me in the right place.’ Their family doctor laughed and assured her saying, ‘Of course they will. It is like telling your daughter to act well.’
Hours later, Rajeshwari’s fear had come true. In a bizarre case of medical negligence, the neurosurgeon, Dr Ehud Arbit, had operated on the right lobe of her brain while the tumour was in the left lobe. The botched-up surgery soon sparked headlines across America. While Arbit faced suspension, President Bill Clinton made it mandatory for US hospitals to disclose their medical malpractices.
After two months of the harrowing struggle with the botched-up surgery, the tumour was removed from her mother's brain, and Sridevi returned to India with her. The book states:While the actress was relieved now that Rajeshwari was recuperating, she was herself battling an enormous sense of guilt. She told Movie: ‘I cannot live without my mother. I need her for everything. If I have a problem, I still call her up and ask her what to do. We are virtually bound by an umbilical cord. How can a qualified doctor do something as drastic as this? It’s unpardonable. Today, when I look at her, I feel so guilty. There are so many good doctors even in Madras whom I could have taken her to. In the US, I felt so frightened, lonely and lost.’
It was during the months of struggling with her mother's bad health, and the botched-up surgery, that Boney Kapoor gave her strength and support. According to Nayank's book:No wonder then that Boney Kapoor’s presence in New York had proved vital for Sridevi. He had represented her in the medical negligence case, enabling the actress to spend all her time with Rajeshwari. Back in 1991, the Kapoor household had provided her sanctuary when her father had passed away. Now Boney was standing by her side again when her mother’s life was hanging by a thread. The producer was also by her side when she started Sridevi Securities Ltd in 1995.
A financing venture, it had aimed to raise money to set up a studio and fund films. However, dealing with Dalal Street proved too much for Sridevi and she soon shut shop. Back on the sets in Mumbai, she suddenly seemed willing now to get married. Perhaps with her career inching towards its finale and her mother in delicate health, she was keen to settle down. When Movie asked her if she preferred love marriage or an arranged one, pat came the reply: ‘Anything. Whichever happens first, I’ll go ahead. I feel if you love somebody, sacrifice the world for him. And I am ready to do that.’"
There were many reports floating around in the media by this time. While some claimed that Sridevi was pregnant with Boney Kapoor's child, others were hinting at their clandestine affair. In the book Nayak writes:The actress remained silent again when Stardust soon flashed the headline ‘Sridevi Pregnant with Boney’s Child’. Somal reached out to Sridevi as a friend and discovered that the actress had left everything to fate now: ‘I remember her telling me that she didn’t know what God had planned for her. She said if God had planned that she and Boney would be together, it was bound to happen and if God had not planned it, it would not. She said she had understood now that one can’t fight destiny and what’s destined will eventually happen.’
It was finally at a press conference held in February 1997 at Tamil actor Vijayakumar’s mansion in Madras that Sridevi and Boney made it official that they were husband and wife. The actress appeared before the media wearing sindoor and mangalsutra. The couple fed each other sweets as the shutterbugs clicked.
...In a magazine interview back in the 1980s, Sridevi had said in a wishful tone: ‘My marriage will be a very big affair . . . everyone can see for themselves the grandeur of my marriage . . . yes, the world will be awe-struck by my marriage.’
But destiny had planned otherwise. Vijayakumar, who had conducted Sridevi’s marriage in his own house, told DT Next that it had been a low-key Tamil ceremony: ‘She was such a great, all-India star but her wedding lunch was served on the terrace of my bungalow, with a makeshift shamiana and hardly forty people present. The guest list included Anil Kapoor and his wife and Sridevi’s aunt Suryakala but her sister Srilatha did not attend.’
Vijaykumar’s daughter Dr Anitha added that the superstar had not only been thankful for the arrangements but had also preferred to keep the whole ritual austere: ‘Sridevi had brought only a few gold ornaments and she was happy to wear just those . . . We chose a mambazha [mango] colour [silk sari] with arakku zari border . . . Boney Kapoor wore a kurta and veshti.’Sridevi, The Eternal Screen Goddess, written by Satyarth Nayak, has been published by Penguin India. The book costs Rs 454 (hardcover).
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