Sridevi died on the 24th of February 2018 at the age of 54. At the time of death she was preparing, and rather was on the path to a great second innings of her life. She had made a comeback into cinema with a film called English Vinglish and acted in a revenge drama called Mom. Her daughters were growing up and she took an active interest in their careers and her daughter Jahnvi is all set with her first film on the verge of release. Sri, as she was known to her fans and colleagues was having a wonderful time of her life. She was also looking very svelte with her slim demeanour, almost getting close to the body of a young woman. And then she died, in her bathroom, at first thought to be a heart attack and later diagnosed as a death by accidental drowning. The incident took place in a hotel room in Dubai, a city she was visiting on the occasion of a marriage in the family. Deaths such as this means police investigations which were duly conducted with routine post mortem. As the television channels were reporting these events to the tearful fans of Sridevi one English Channel reported a strange thing, and which was that contrary to the initial idea that Sridevi fell ill immediately after she came back from the wedding party, it seems that the wedding happened two days prior to her death which was the 21st and she remained back in Dubai while her husband and her daughter returned to Mumbai. It was said that on the 23rd, her husband attended a function in Uttar Pradesh and returned to Dubai on the day of her death, in fact barely fifteen minutes prior to her death. The return was unplanned as he just popped out from nowhere to give a surprise to his wife, the wife being already scheduled to return on the morning of the 25th or the very next day after the day she died. Such strange turn of events gave rise to suspicions and rumour mills worked overtime to construe that indeed the beauty had been done in by the beast of her husband.
Speculations around her murder went to such heights that media rooms became parallel forensic laboratories of journalists sinking into employ bathtubs to say how she could have possibly drowned. To most Indians the bathtub is a strange contraption and though many moons ago the film Padosan was alert enough to bring the contrivance into familiarity of a modernizing India by placing Saira Banu into a bathtub, in which she sang while she bathed, the media beams were the first time ever that the Indians of the present generation saw a bathtub!! This immediately caught the eyeballs and a story got its prime visuals and the murder mystery nicely gelled around it. We may refer to Deleuze when he says that the cinema becomes the cinema by placing objects into their world and the bathtub, in this case became that central object around which the drama was created. The speculations around her death was a way to make sense of rather unexplained events namely the circumstances leading to her death.
R G Collingwood says in his treatise on art written in 1932 that a work of art becomes art due to its incompleteness because art does not become so until and unless it is viewed by an audience. A drama in dress rehearsal, a painting in wraps and an unreleased film are not works of art for though they are complete in themselves as they have not been viewed by their audiences. The audience responds to works of art at various levels of depths, though first they would respond to the medium and then gradually travel into the idealism of the art. The final meaning of a work of art is the meaning which the audiences award to it through their interpretation. This is why, film stars, embodying the very medium of the cinema into them must be subject to such interpretations. Rumor mongering is a way of “completing” the star image. Sridevi could not have been “consumed” as it is without the audience having its interpretation added on to her.
We need to know everything about stars in a way we do not need about the others. Soldiers may die in Kargil, terrorists may kill in Basra, and people may starve in Mali how do we care? For these are stories in themselves and do not require our viewing in order for them to become stories. Cinema does and so do other forms of spectatorship which includes the television. This is why the shrill voices of the anchors try to tease our senses, leading to the phenomenon of the Sansani. Sridevi died mysteriously because neither the cause of death nor the events leading to those conditions were revealed. While the media has been accused of sensationalizing her death into a possible murder, it is true that the actor’s death leaves many questions unanswered and the family by not calling a press conference to provide the details has not helped satiate curiosity.
Deleuze says that the most defining and unique feature of the cinema is movement and stars who embody cinema are also movement images as well. Things happening to them are visible and expressed through their bodily movements. This is why we must know how exactly the details of the movements; woman fell into the bathtub, if she was going out in fifteen minutes then why was the bathtub full? What was the state of the body when she drowned? Was the bathroom door locked or open? If it was open why so? Was she clothed or undressed when she was found? If the heart stopped after she drowned and not drowned because her heart stopped which is why we have accidental drowning then how did the drowning happen? If she had fainted and fallen into the bathtub then why did she faint? If it was plain fainting then why did she not regain consciousness as soon as the head hit water? A cardiac arrest by which the heart stops suddenly would still be credible but that was ruled out by the Dubai forensic. So it was all going fine for television to raise doubts over the naturalness of the death and many sharp observers among celebrities like Taslima Nasreen and Saroj Khan and even the veteran Wahida Rahman found reasons to sharply question Sridevi’s death as was claimed due to natural causes. The channels got some doctors on board and even the medics had no clue of how one could possibly drown in a bathtub though such deaths are not that uncommon in conditions of utter inebriation, which was not the case with her because it was minutes before she decided to postpone her bath and instead accompany her husband for dinner and went in to quickly wash up means that notwithstanding the fact that she was a teetotaller she was at least at that time not drunk. TRPs shot up and then came the abyss.
The abyss came in the form of journalists going overboard and actually pronouncing the judgment that Sridevi was murdered suggesting that the husband did her in, otherwise how do the truly unusual sequence of events of her staying back with her sister and yet living in a hotel room and suddenly the husband arriving on the scene to rather shock than surprise her and rushes her for dinner so much that she decides to postpone her bathing routine and instead moves in for a mere touch up which explains why the door was not locked and yet fills the bathtub in to the brim knowing that she will not bathe and in no time falls deep into the water. The doubts were legitimate but the presentation crass. Even before the matter had been properly reprinted there was a jump to conclusion with a great deal of finality. The doubt was not a problem, the haste with which the doubt was concluded into a belief was the tackiness of the whole episode. However, the excitement of a possible murder as long as Sridevi’s body did not fly back sustained, but once it did and the family was cleared by the police and the possibility of murder foreclosed the media lost the match and the ranks within television began to dissipate. There appeared a divide between the Hindi channels and the English ones with the latter distancing itself from the former, the Hindi channels which asserted the murder as a gospel truth now being proved so wrong emerged as the losers. Some English channels even apologized for the excess committed by their class alter egos, namely the Hindi ones.
The twist to the story as above comes with Hindi journalist Bhupinder Chaubey who said that behind this boorish behaviour of his ilk lay the financial model of the television channel owners who, in pursuit of ever higher profits, compromised on the wages of journalists. Every channel is guilty of mass layoffs and pushing wages down to entry levels. The fear of being laid off if one does not bring TRPs and the disincentive of never getting a pay raise makes journalists crouch right back into standards those are only entry level. The doubts over the death was not crass but the unsophistication of the mind that cannot hold a doubt and rushes into a conclusion was revealed to be poorly developed. The problem of the media is that its profit models are non-conducive to the proper development of the intellect and hence intellect is compromised by losing all its fine edge of pursuing deeper into thoughts. The line that divides the mediocre and the excellent is in the power of adherence, the latter can hold on to things longer through rumination, reflection and reason. The mediocre is abrupt, hasty and impatient but this is not to say that their doubts were unreasonable.
Soon voices were raised within the broadcast media and the social media of how badly Sridevi is treated in her death. These voices objected to doubts raised over the death and hence whatever rationality the mediocres had shown were now thrashed out of the arena. With a part of the English language media apologizing,the category of people who found nothing unusual in the death and wholly in sympathy with the husband crooned on the crassness of the media, flew to the social media and normalized the situation by literally condoning off the voices of doubt and in effect, pushed Sridevi under wraps. The doubters became the losing mediocre and those who did not doubt were the upper classes. Lower classes are imitative of the upper classes and soon the population who were in doubt graduated to the sanitized zone of being beyond doubt. That was the end of Sridevi. Stars end when they become complete, when fans no longer continue to interpret them and this is what the moralists have done by shouting down the numerous fans who refused to take in the circumstances of the star’s death on face value. The moralists waged a class war against the doubting brains not realizing that doubt is brainy though hasty conclusion is stupid. It is because of the haste that the doubters stand to lose their way.
But why were the moralists so eager to let the doubts be? Why did the moralism become a sign of a social upper class? The most apparent reason could be that the moralists spoke in the same voice as Sridevi’s family and friends and by echoing the sentiments of the establishment they adhere to the same status as them. So from being a fan they quickly jump into being the inner circle. And as the inner circle always does they take her away behind the walls of visibility that separates the star from her fans forever. Strange that the family does not seem to be puzzled as well.