By Santosh Bhartiya
Sridevi’s mortal remain was kept at a local sports club near her house in Mumbai for the people to pay their last respect. The place was visited among others by politicians and who’s who of the film industry. Thousands of people thronged both sides of the roads between the club and the Vile Parle crematorium – from where her hearse passed for the last rites – to take a glimpse of their favorite star. As far as media coverage of the whole affairs is concerned, I would not say that my sources were the best, but I must say they were far better and more reliable than many Indian TV correspondents. Based on information of those sources whatever I highlighted in my report were 100 percent true. I also expressed my annoyance over my colleagues’ for making up imaginary stories.
Somebody aptly remarked on a social media posting that “today we brought back mortal remains of Sridevi, but left behind the carcass of journalism in that hotel room of Dubai.” On few occasions, I got the opportunity to run across Sridevi ji. I would like to recall two to three of such incidents. I was a correspondent on Hindi weekly, Raviwar. My editor, Surendra Pratap Singh, tasked me to interview Rakhi ji. In those days Rekha ji was the most popular actress of Indian cinema, having dual tag of a heroin and a star. She was in the league of actresses like Nargis ji. In those days she was almost inaccessible to journalists. However, working on the maxim that it is the responsibility of a good reporter to spend everything at his disposal to complete the assignment handed over by the editor, I tried and succeeded not once but three to four times. These interviews drew me closer to Rekhaji. On my insistence a wonderful thing happened: Rakha ji did the interview of Shabana Azmi’s at her residence. For that interview, we went to Shabana ji’s house but we had to wait for she had gone somewhere. At that time Shabana ji lived in Janki Kutir in Juhu. It was a small flat, where she lived with her their parents and Shaukat Azmi and Kaifi Azmin and brother Baba Azmi, the famous cinematographer. I and Rekha ji waited for Shabana Azmi for one and half hours. Finally Shabana ji appeared. I had already intimated Shabana that she would be interviewed by Rekha ji. Anyway, there are lots of memories of Rekhaji, but the subject this piece is Sridevi.
The interview with Rekha ji was scheduled at Seth Studios, which was one of the best in Mumbai (then Bombay). In the middle of our interview a sparkling girl burst into the scene. Maybe some dance sequence was being filmed on her as was in full makeup and wore a film costume. In those days I was not a movie buff; at first I did not recognize Sridevi, but I liked her demeanor. Rekha ji received her with warmth, hug her and kissed her on cheek. Then her eyes fell on me. She tried to excuse herself: “Should I wait for some time?” Rakhiji made her sit, saying I was not a stranger. Sridevi ensconced herself in a chair. I was completed mesmerized by now. I listen to their conversation forgetting everything. Later in the conversation, I realized that I have seen many of her films. This girl is none other than Sridevi ji. Rekha ji introduced us. This was my only face-to-face interaction with her.
In 2000 plan was afoot to launch India’s first Urdu TV channel, conceived originally by C.M. Ibrahim, a prominent Muslim leader and the Minister Civil Aviation in Deve Gowda Government. I was the CEO of the channel, which got so much publicity in a short span of time that a lot of people started dropping by in my office for jobs, programs, etc. One of those visitors was Mona Kapoor – the first wife of Boney Kapoor (separated by that time). She came to Delhi twice with a list of serials. Mona Kapoor had started her own production house. She wanted a larger space for her serials on Falak TV, as her scripts were powerful and she was a big name. The journalist in me pushed me to dig a little into her personal life. For that I tried to found fault in Boney Kapoor: How could he treat a beautiful and talented lady like that? Mona Kapoor, reserved as she was, did not divulge anything against Boney Kapoor, neither through mannerism nor through words. In our second meeting I tried to finagle again: what kind of people are those who get deranged by a little glamour! Again she didn’t open up. Later her father visited my office on business for at least seven to eight times with contract form and revised and improved scripts. Who knew that today we have to go through all these things, otherwise I would have kept those scripts with me. Those beautiful scripts must be eating dust along with the Falak TV files. I did not let her father go without asking him about Boney Kapoor and Sridevi Ji. He too did not divulge anything about them. I am relating these two incidents because there must have been a lot of things on Mona ji’s mind. But she neither implicated Sridevi nor Boney Kapoor for their separation. Now, Srideviji is no more.
The BJP MP Subramanian Swamy came out with his own pretentious remark: “there is no second opinion that Sridevi was murdered”. The basis of his claim is known only to him. However, he is not alone in arriving at this far-fetched conclusion, there are many who sang in the same tune. Be that as it may, finding a plot or a counterplot is akin to questioning the credibility of Dubai police. As far as my view is concerned I am still firm on my expressed view that the death of Sridevi ji was caused by an accident. The basis for my conclusion is the information I got from my sources in Gulf News, Khaleej Times and ARY TV in Dubai and people in Mumbai. Then there are our Indian colleagues, who made a fantastic case using their whims and fancies. They took a kind of sadistic pleasure in incriminating Boney Kapoor. It baffled me as to what the editors of these TV channels were doing when such fantastic stories were invented on TV screens. What kind of editors they are that they cannot purge truth from falsehood and cannot put a tab on made up stories. You are plating unpalatable the viewer across India. It is not just a case of shirking your social responsibility, but also dodging your journalistic responsibility of presenting the fact and truth.
Secondly, it is that those who took sadist pleasure in the incident have not seen a death at their home or don’t know a thing or two about our society? It is an accepted norm to see a dead person in positive vain, let alone abusing him. One must ask when Srideviji is no more, why her personal life is being raked up that she had secretly married Mithun Chakraborty or that her name was associated with him. These things are perfect example of yellow journalism. Whereas, the fact of the matter is that Sridevi’s mother was critically ill in America. Sridevi was alone. At that time Boney Kapoor came and helped her out. Only women can tell how harassing such situation can be and how helpful it would be if some helping hand come out of blue. Upon their return to India, Sridevi was a changed person. Their case was similar to that of Sunil Dutt and Nargis Dutt. Before their marriage Nargis Dutt’s name was linked to somebody else, but the day on which she was engulfed in fire on the set of Mother India, Sunil Dutt did a brave thing and save Nargis ji. This brought them together which culminated into their marriage. Similarly, Boney Kapoor helped Sridevi at time when no help was forthcoming, which ultimately became the basis of their friendship and marriage. Heartless persons cannot understand this state of mind. Those who are raking up Sridevi’s relationship with to Mithun Chakraborty or she had tied rakhi on Boney Kapoor’s hand in presence of Mithun Chakraborty are people of sick mentality. They should not base their reporting of the gossip columns of film magazines.
One thing I would like to say about the people of India. On February 15, a fighter jet of India got crashed, killing Wing Commander Vats and Wing Commander James. Wing Commander Vats’ wife, Maj Kusum Dogra, had given birth to a child five days earlier. When the mortal remain of her martyred husband came to her place, she welcome his martyrdom in full uniform taking her five-day old child in lap without shedding a tear from her eyes. But all this went unnoticed by our television news channels. They did not run even a 5-minute footage of the event. This is the mindset of television channels. Even newspapers ignored this event. Their patriotism is only pretention. They only show courage to wage war against Pakistan and China. Anyway a brave wife’s bidding final adieu to her brave husband was not worthy enough for the news channels to show even a five minute clipping, but they cover Sridevi’s death and her last rites for six days.
Finally on more thing: two of our prime ministers Shri Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Shri Chandrashekhar ji died in our time. Their deaths and last rites were ignored by the television channels and even by newspapers. The media gave their ignominious tribute to these two former Prime Ministers. Our television channels and print media do everything but journalism. People on their part did not react to the fact that why our media ignored two of our former prime ministers in their death? It’s a matter of regret for which people at large are to be blamed. We failed to inculcate the feeling in our next generation to revere our heroes of independence, or those who became catalyst of historical changes in our society. We see our heroes in Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, etc. These people can be good for entertainment, but the country cannot progress emulating them. Now there are two parts of it. On the one hand, people’s affection towards Sridevi ji is due largely to the fact that they can take a glimpse of other stars. I was watching on the television channel. People were more interested in watching who has come and has worn what he/she had worn rather than in Sridev’s funeral procession. The kind of the atmosphere we have created in the country, we should not expect patriotic youth. The politicians should also take their share of blame for it as they did not allow their fellow politicians to be heroes in the people’s eyes. And those whose contribution social change and country’s progress is negligible have people’s heroes. So today’s situation is unfortunate. If it is not taken up by media, people at least should ponder over it.