Do you remember your first meeting with Sridevi? How did it go?
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Sridevi. It was more like a blind date for both of us because we were meeting for the first time. She didn’t know much about me, other than that I was Balki’s wife. I call it a blind date because we really fell in love with each other. Sometimes you meet certain people, and you feel an instant click. It was that. As if our souls were just meant to meet, and to do something together, however dramatic it may sound. I absolutely love her; I don’t say this because she is a star and I am in awe, but because I really liked her soul.
For the meeting, she had worn an orange shirt paired with white pants and no makeup at all which made her look like a normal person, which she’s not. After building a rapport over a cup of tea, I narrated the script to her. As a writer, when you narrate a script, you are attuned to the reactions too, and immediately know when someone actually connects to your story; It’s a different feeling. From her eyes, gestures, and smile, I could see that she got it. There was a different sort of connection between us and we both felt it. And at the end of my narration, she said, “Gauri, I really love it. I don’t know about you, but I want to do it. It’s a ‘yes’ from me”. The moment she said that I was so thrilled!
What was the atmosphere on the sets like?
We made truckloads of memories on the sets. Every moment spent with her is so dear to me and has become even more precious since she passed There’s hardly a day when I don’t think of her; my office walls are plastered with pictures of her. She was such a fun and funny person! I remember we were shooting for the scene where Sashi asks for permission to enter the classroom, saying, “Can I come into enter the classroom” and the teacher corrects her, saying, “May I come in”. It led to some confusion while filming and we had to do a few retakes. For one such retake, she came in dancing. It was hilarious; she had a way of injecting regular moments with comedy. We used to laugh so much on the sets, no one would believe we were an actor-director pair; we were more like two girls giggling. Sometimes, she used to go, “Gauri, these people will think we are mad!”.
The best part was, that despite all the fun we had, she got the pulse of the character right, which is such a delight for a writer-director. After the shot, we’d look at each other and no words were needed to ‘okay’ the shot. Frankly, we didn’t need a lot of words to communicate. On the sets, we let our eyes do the talking; it was one of the best working relationships. I’m getting goosebumps even talking about it right now. I still can’t bring myself to talk about her in the past; it’s weird for me to say ‘was’.
What’s the one thing that she told you that will always stay with you?
She started addressing me as ‘my little Khushi’. It was the most loving and endearing thing someone could say because it’s also her younger daughter’s name. It’s very rare to meet people like that in your lifetime.
Which scene from the film is your favorite?
After she passed away, the whole team of the film came together to watch the film once again to celebrate her craft but it was a very, very emotional and disturbing experience for me because it made me realize she’s not there. My favorite scene in the film is the one where she, upset with her daughter, shares her sadness with Laurent and both of them talk in different languages. Then she says, “So good to talk without understanding”.
Did you feel any pressure about being responsible for Sridevi’s comeback film?
No, not at all. The only pressure I felt was to get the story right and make it all happen. Sridevi never carried the weight of a star, nor did she make me feel that I was just a director; we were partners in the project, and worked like teammates. When you make a film, the relationship with the actor really needs to be strong and loving; you can’t let the pressure get to you.
Were you planning to work with her again?
She set the bar really high – not just performance-wise but also for an actor-director relationship. After working with her once, I was so spoiled, I couldn’t accept anything less. I don’t think I can work with someone I’m not very comfortable with, no matter how great or popular they are. I obviously wanted to work with her again and would have made a film with her now, and maybe every year!