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Our History’s Heroines

Heroes are remembered but legends never die.

First Asma Jahangir, Pakistan`s celebrated human rights activist, and now Sridevi Boney Kapoor, a movie star par excellence, our heroines are leaving us way too soon, eclipsing away the sunshine from our lives.

South Asia’s Trinity of Heroines: Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir and Sri Devi were tireless campaigners for humanity’s lost souls, giving direction, guiding us till breathing their last.

All three of them encountered a shocking, controversial and untimely demise, like that of Princess Diana’s, reminding us that life is swiftly unforgiving in it`s fleeting nature. For we will never know if “Kal ho na ho” (tomorrow comes).

Sri Devi, Asma Jahangir and Benazir Bhutto all left a void in their fields that cannot be filled.

Not even by the best of us. Sri Devi – Bollywood`s truly first female global hit, was already a superstar before she graced Bollywood.

She devoted 50 years out of her 54 short years on this planet to entrancing audiences worldwide.

Benazir Bhutto was already a gifted orator and charismatic leader before entering politics.

Her debate speeches at Oxford University were mesmerizing.

Asma Jahangir was a right`s advocate prior to completing her bar-at-law. Her advocacy brought luminescent light to the darkest of souls.

Sri Devi burst into Bollywood from very modest beginnings. It is historically inaccurate to label Sri Devi a “Hindi” film heroine because her greatest gift to South Asia was the justice she rendered to the vast cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity of our region.

Through her inimitable screen presence, her immense body of work in Tamil, Malayam, Telugu and Kannada, especially her black and white movies opposite Kamal Hassan, vividly illustrated that South Asia is a multi-cultural “mosaic” and not a “monolith”, however, tyrannical decision-makers would like you to believe it so.

Sri Devi ji’s justice to linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity was excellently exemplified in Thalapathy Vijay’s Puli (a Tamil film) she performed after 20 years, proving that she always stayed true to her cultural roots, causes and anchors.

Similarly Benazir Bhutto rendered justice to the rich and varied cultural tapestry of South Asia with her immeasurable contributions in Saraiki.

Just as Benazir Bhutto gifted a vision to millions of young girls to enter into politics, Asma Jahangir gifted hope to minorities and the downtrodden within our society,  Sridevi gave hope to women of ethnic minorities everywhere, especially women of Tamil, Malayam, Telugu and Kannada background, that they too can aim for the stars and shine.

That they too can break glass ceilings.

An often over-looked and underrated achievement of Sri Devi is her triumph for “women`s empowerment”, again I cannot help but draw parallels with Benazir Bhutto and Asma Jahangir.

In most of her films, men played (at bitter best) second fiddle to her unprecedented unwavering strength of characters.

Sri Devi was (and always will be) a very gifted, adaptable and versatile artiste. Very shy, reserved, introverted, humble and authentic yet when required by distinguished Directors her riveting energy and comedic timing would magically unleash on stage, in for instance her hit film “Chalbaaz” or her vibrant dances in Yash Chopra’s “Lamhe”.

Sri Devi, Asma Jahangir and Benazir Bhutto were home-makers, maestros, mentors and mother figures to so many.

All three of them are revered in lamentably male-dominated, jealousy-driven, cut-throat films, politics and legal industries, infamous for back-stabbing and cat-calling.

Sri Devi, Benazir and Asma Jahangir’s élan was effortless, their inspiration iconic.

Their films, books and speeches will keep delighting us with awe. After life her legend (like that of Asma Jahangir`s) looms larger still, by uniting two nations, namely Pakistan and India.

Agree or disagree, like it or lump it, art, advocacy, human rights and gender empowerment have no boundaries, no borders, only “bridges”. Legends never die.

They are forever Immortalized. Sri Devi, Asma Jahangir and Benazir Bhutto`s continue to live through an undying legacy of authentic female voices, past, present and future, who will “try” their very best to emulate their grace and greatness.

With heavy hearts, wearing our hearts on our sleeves, we have had to unwillingly part ways with Sri Devi, Asma Jahangir and Benazir Bhutto : to collectively bid them a final “Judaai” (farewell) but they forever remain the “Chaandnis”, the “Bijlee Ki Raanis” the “Hawa Hawaiis” the “Naginas” of our conscience.

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