A sea of mourning fans turned out in Mumbai Wednesday to bid an emotional farewell to famed Bollywood actress Sridevi Kapoor, four days after she drowned in a hotel bathtub in Dubai, where she had gone to attend a wedding.
The sudden death of the 54-year-old actress, who won the hearts of Indians with a string of box office hits in the 1980s and 1990s, has prompted an outpouring of grief in India, where Bollywood is a rage.
In the morning, tens of thousands of grieving fans, some clutching flowers, waited patiently in serpentine lines to pay tribute to her at a private club where her body was kept so they could catch a final glimpse of her.
Huge crowds also stood on the roadside or followed a flower-bedecked truck bearing a giant poster of the star as it began its six-kilometer journey to a crematorium amid a tight security cordon. Sridevi's body was draped in the Indian flag as she was cremated with state honors.
Her sendoff befitted an actress who was called Bollywood’s first female superstar.
Geetanjali Prasad, 33, is one of the millions who have been in mourning since waking up Sunday to news of Sridevi's death.
“We’ve grown up watching all her movies and danced on so many songs of hers. I am getting emotional as I speak right now,” she said.
Besides ordinary people, a steady stream of Bollywood celebrities paid tribute to Sridevi. Her death was first attributed to cardiac arrest, but later authorities in Dubai called it a case of “accidental drowning.”
The actress had been lavished with praise and titles reserved for those who make it to the very top in Bollywood: “Icon,” “Queen of Bollywood,” and “Megastar.”
What made her win her way into Indian hearts? “There is a genuine connection people had with her,” according to Bollywood filmmaker, Sudhir Mishra, for whom the actress “epitomized the Indian film star” and an era of “popular filmmaking in India.”
“You take her in a musical, in a dance film, take her in an absolutely realistic film, take her in a romcom (romantic comedy); here is a person who is so malleable and so versatile and so skillful. She was a brilliant actress and a star,” Mishra said, adding with a touch of regret, “They don’t make stars like that anymore.”
Sridevi starred in about 300 films in her career, starting out as a child actor in south India, and making her debut in Bollywood in 1978, where she soon made her mark. She is best remembered for her role as an investigative journalist in the 1987 blockbuster Mr. India. Besides Bollywood, she starred in many films in southern India and was awarded the country’s fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shree.
Not only were many of her movies massive box office hits, she was one of the first people to win accolades for carrying films to success on her own shoulders in a country where film heroes tend to play the lead role.
She retired from acting after her marriage in 1997, but returned to prove her mettle yet again in two movies – English Vinglish in 2012 and Mom last year.
“She was truly pan-Indian,” filmmaker Mishra pointed out as millions of people from household maids to executives took out time to watch television coverage of her funeral or just share a thought about her. “What the film industry does -- it is one of the things that binds the country in a sense in a complex nation. It is quite important, these all India kind of icons,” he said.