Bengaluru: ‘Amazing onscreen chemistry’ may be a tired cliche these days. But long before the terminology was even in vogue, film viewers in Tamil Nadu got a clear understanding of it thanks to the memorable pairing of Sridevi with two of the biggest stars, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.
Indian filmdom has seen many such crackling movie partnerships. But Sridevi-Kamal/Rajini combo deserves to be slotted among the very best.

Raj Kapoor-Nargis, MGR-Jayalalithaa, Amitabh-Rekha, Prem Nazir-Sheela all were great in their own way. But all these remarkable screen pairings were probably helped, in no short measure, by their respective alleged off-screen dalliance.

No such carry-over effect for Kamal-Sridevi or Rajini-Sridevi filmi partnership though. The trio, as it happened, appeared together on screen for the first time in the movie that marked a watershed moment on Tamil screen --- Rajini’s debut vehicle --- Moondru Mudichu.

In the film, Kamal was paired with Sridevi, but they get very little screen time together as Kamal character gets killed very early. And Sridevi goes on to become the stepmother to the Rajini character. Not the kind of start you’d think for the pair that later made the screen come alive with crackling romantic electricity.

(Shortly after this, Sridevi played Rajini’s wife in the film Gayathri, and that was their first ever ‘pairing’ on screen).

The next outing that had the three together was another milestone movie in Tamil, 16 Vayathinele. Kamal as the hero Chappani, Rajini as the villain Parattai and Sridevi as the dainty Mayil are etched in the collective consciousness of Tamil Nadu for ever. Mayil, swaying ethereally on a wooden swing crooning Sendhurapoove, is how Sridevi verily swung in as a ‘star’ in these parts.

After this, the three did not figure together in a major Tamil film again (Thayillamal Naan Illai featured the trio, but Rajini had only a guest role in it), and we moved to the phase where Kamal and Rajini had many a spectacular movie with Sridevi individually.

Kamal-Sridevi pair is the more written about as both had been child actors, and were blessed with conventional good looks, so much so that in the early 80s their faces were, if you will, the veritable emojis of lovey-dovey couple for the entire State.

Sigappu Rojakkal, Kalyana Raman, Guru, Meendum Kokila, Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu, Vazhve Maayam, Moondram Pirai were among the many films that Kamal and Sridevi did together as the hero and heroine.

In all these films (except perhaps Guru), Sridevi had roles that she could sink her acting teeth into, and she proved her talent more than quite adequately.  Of course, being ‘lookable’ youngsters then, much was written about their ‘romantic fit’ on screen, but there was an easy, organic understanding between the two, no more evident than in that iconic song Sippi Irukkudu Muthum Irukkudu song in Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu. In it, Kamal has to come up with poetic lines to Sridevi’s place-holder scat verses. The duo pull it off with such easy elan that singer SP Balasubramaniam (who lent the male voice to the song) later said that this was the song that came closest to the actors looking like real singers on screen.

Then there was Meendum Kokila. Sridevi as a coy Iyengar maami was remarkable for her easy realism at a time when most portrayals of Brahmin women on screen tended to be crude caricatures. The film also showcased Kamal and Sridevi’s penchant for comedy, something that is an important part of their oeuvre.
Of course, the tour de force for the pair has to be Moondram Pirai, in which Kamal got a duly deserved National Award, while Sridevi was denied an even more deserving honour. As the adorably amnesic Viji (Bhagyalakshmi), Sridevi literally walked into the hearts of Tamil audience and got herself a place that no one can ever replace.

Sridevi-Rajini screen pair, though less spoken about in popular culture, actually looks equally formidable. Despite their early appearances together, Rajini-Sridevi pair took off spectacularly with Priya, in which, ironically, the duo was not actually a ‘pair’. Sridevi’s love interest in the film is somebody else (Ambarish). But they had the main role, and soon enough they were cast together in many films in Tamil. Movies like Dharma Yuddham, Johnny, Ranuva Veeran, Pokkiri Raja, Thanikaatu Raja, Adutha Vaarisu and Naan Adimai Illai.

As the taciturn singer Archana, Johnny saw one of Sridevi’s best performances, and the quiet, mature love between her and Johnny (Rajini) is among the hall-of-famers in Tamil cinema. In Adutha Vaarisu too, the innate ease in their equation shown through brightly amidst the resplendent palace that the film was set in.

Sri Devi’s last film in Tamil in that period was Naan Admai Illai with Rajini.  The duo’s pairing and characterization for the first time looked alien in the film. Because by then, Sridevi was all set for a long career in Hindi. She was well and truly becoming a Bollywood diva.

And the loss was entirely Tamils’. Not the least for her movies with Kamal and Rajini.