Mumbai: After a lifetime under the arc- lights, Indian cinema icon Sridevi was on Wednesday given a send-off fit for celluloid posterity with surging crowds of mourners walking with the cortege as it made its slow way through the city and thousands more glued to television to watch her last rites.
The 54-year-old, whose sudden death in Dubai late Saturday sent shock-waves through India, was given a state funeral with her body wrapped in the Tricolour and a gun salute by the Mumbai Police.
Sridevi, Indian cinema’s first woman superstar who straddled the parallel worlds of southern films and Bollywood, became an actor when she was only four years old.
Three hundred films later, the doe-eyed actor is still remembered for her comic timing, vivacity and her quicksilver expressions.
Sridevi’s funeral procession was the biggest Mumbai had seen for a Bollywood star since Rajesh Khanna in 2012 and perhaps the biggest for a woman, said old timers. There was a sea of people as far as the eye could see.
The last rites were conducted by her filmmaker husband Boney Kapoor as her family and close friends from the industry and outside packed into the Vile Parle Seva Samaj crematorium.
The couple’s daughters, Jahnvi and Khushi, were by his side, sources close to the family told PTI.
Fans and the media were kept outside as the mortal remains of the star through the ages were consigned to the flames.
The actor’s body was draped in a red Kanjivaram Sari with a Bindi on her forehead.
Few could hold back their tears as the ceremonial gun shots rang out and the pyre was lit.
Outside, there was mayhem with thousands of people, including star-gazers looking to freeze the moment on their phones, blocking the road leading to the crematorium. Police had a difficult time controlling the crowds.
Many celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan and even Boney Kapoor’s niece, actor Sonam Kapoor, were forced to get off their cars and walk the distance.
Mourners in the crowd, some with flowers and pictures and others with just a prayer on their lips, said they were still trying to come to terms with the suddenness of her death in a hotel room in Dubai, where she had gone to attend a family wedding.
The funeral procession took about two hours to cover the seven-kilometre distance from Lokhandwala to the crematorium.
As the flower bedecked hearse covered with white flowers, the colour of mourning, left the Celebration Sports Club, minutes away from the Kapoor home in Green Acres, Lokhandwala, frenzied crowds ran alongside.
There were men, women and children and even the old, desperate for a last glimpse of the actor, who had mesmerised them in films as diverse as “Moondram Pirai”, “Mr India” and “English Vinglish”.
Boney Kapoor, stepson Arjun Kapoor and other family members were with the body as it left the building.
As crowds mobbed the vehicle — with some climbing on trees and clambering on gates to get a better look — Arjun Kapoor requested them with folded hands to let the funeral procession pass through.
“Paid my last respects to Sridevi. The entire industry was there grieving, some on the verge of breakdown. Such was her aura & magic in films. She lay there, beautiful in a red saree, serene in death & totally at peace,” Hema Malini said on Twitter.
A prayer was performed at the hall before taking the actor’s body for the last rites.
Sridevi’s body was taken to the Celebration Club at 9:00 AM by her family members. Inside the hall, her family, including brothers-in-law Anil Kapoor and Sanjay Kapoor as well as nephew Harshvardhan Kapoor and nieces Sonam and Rhea, stood in a corner, their eyes wet with tears.
Jahnvi and Khushi were standing a little behind them.
A sombre, red-eyed Boney Kapoor stood in a corner surrounded by his family and friends from the film fraternity.
Fashion designer Manish Malhotra broke down and was consoled by film-maker Karan Johar, who was also unable to control his grief.
Rani Mukerji, a close friend, sat near the body.
While the gates for the general public opened after 10 am, fans from across the country had started queuing up to pay their last respects to the “Chandni” star since 6:00 AM.
People came from as far as Karnataka and Chennai for one last look. In the crowd was a group of fans from Karnataka waiting to pay their respects to the actor.
“We were there even at Anil Kapoor’s bungalow earlier and will not leave Mumbai without seeing our idol,” said a fan waiting in the line.
The body of Sridevi was flown back to Mumbai on Tuesday night after the Dubai authorities determined that she had accidentally drowned in her hotel bathtub.
Sridevi’s death initially led to a frenzy of speculation and questions about what could have triggered the death of an apparently healthy woman.
“This is not the time to analyse the reasons or belittle her passing away. Let us instead resolve to bestow on her the dignity of death & show her the respect she deserves. We owe it to her…” is how actor-politician Hema Malini put it.
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