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Need to Separate Sridevi's Life Choices from Her Premature Death

Her family circumstances have been salaciously recounted and health professionals closely questioned on the hazards of slimming pills and cosmetic procedures. The implication being that the Bollywood star had subjected herself to dangerous mental and physical stresses, merely in order to remain relevant and camera-ready and the apple of her husband's eye.

Bhavdeep Kang |

Updated:February 28, 2018, 3:37 PM IST
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Need to Separate Sridevi's Life Choices from Her Premature Death
Sridevi with husband Boney and his two daughters at an award function in 2010 (File photo: Getty Images)
Sridevi's untimely and enigmatic exit has sparked a feeding frenzy in the media, as celebrity deaths invariably do. In this case, the coverage reached an invidious low, with tasteless re-enactments of the 'death scene', broad hints at conspiracy theories and intense speculation on the form and extent of the cosmetic surgery she must have had to stay so gorgeous, right until the final curtain fell.

Disturbingly, the mass and social media have sought to somehow link the late actor's life choices to her death.

Her family circumstances have been salaciously recounted and health professionals closely questioned on the hazards of slimming pills and cosmetic procedures. The implication being that the Bollywood star had subjected herself to dangerous mental and physical stresses, merely in order to remain relevant and camera-ready and the apple of her husband's eye.

Even channels which piously swore to avoid speculation on her death until the autopsy report was released, ended up raising intriguing questions in the process of 'reporting the facts': Boney Kapoor's decision to 'surprise' his wife, the time lapse between discovery of her body and summoning of the police and so on.

Amar Singh, politician and close friend of the Kapoor family, was called in to deny the 'traces of alcohol in blood' theory. Dr Naresh Trehan emphasised that cosmetic procedures, unless very recent and involving complications, could not have been responsible for her death. Subramaniam Swamy, characteristically blunt, came straight out and said the 'M' word: Sridevi may have been murdered.

Sridevi is not the first woman, or even the first Bollywood star, to have romanced and later married (and had a family with) a man who was previously married. How such a quotidian fact morphs into a conspiracy or karma theory is perplexing, to say the least.

Nor is she the only star of a certain age to have looked impossibly youthful and glamorous. Let's face it, in show business, greying is passé. Strolling elegantly into the evening of life, a la Waheeda Rehman, is no longer the norm. Women in their 40s and 50s are under pressure to look young. The new stereotype demands a physique whittled to zero-sized proportions and a face nipped and tucked and frozen into photogenic perfection. The gold standard for this demographic is being adjudged as looking ones daughter's age.

On the plus side, this implies recognition of the fact that female sexuality does and should survive domesticity, motherhood and menopause. The middle-aged woman's identity transcends her role as wife, mother and potential grandmother. Hollywood has already recognized that fact, in a large number of films and TV series headlined by actors in their middle to golden years. Bollywood is beginning to do so. Sridevi, for instance, carried both her comeback films while playing a mature woman.

The flip side, of course, is that the beauty industry sets impossible benchmarks in order to offload an ever-expanding array of age-defying formulations of doubtful efficacy. Mining the 40s and 50s demographic for profits through images of wrinkle-free stars like Sridevi, they seek to usher in the 'no more greys' and 'seven signs of ageing' revolution.

In the not-too-long run, this may make society increasingly age-ist. 'It's ok to age' will become 'it's ok to age, but do it gracefully'.

So Sridevi's death has fuelled discussion on whether the body-shaming tactics hitherto employed by cosmetic giants on young women, are working on older women as well. It is well known that ailments like bulimia and anorexia and the willingness to endure risky procedures like lipo-suction, slimming pills, stomach stapling, etc are related to body image. But to imply that Sridevi was a victim of such insidious pressure and her death somehow related to it, is a big stretch.

None of this is actually relevant. Sridevi's choice of 'look' was hers alone. Her reported two-hour daily exercise regimen, dietary habits and cosmetic procedures were her business. Women are accustomed to being judged, regardless of what they do. So, if cheek or breast implants lift a woman's spirits or a streak of electric blue in her grey hair pleases her sensibilities, why not?

Thus, it is important to separate Sridevi's life choices from her premature passing. The one is not automatically related to the other.

(The writer is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Sumedha Kirti
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