When Sreekumaran Thampi, a veteran Malayalam film director whose most prolific period was the seventies, cast Srividya in the title role of the television serial Amma Thampurati, he was hoping against hope the veteran Malayalam actress would triumph over adversity and live long enough to complete the mega serial.
That hope came unstuck Thursday night, when Srividya passed away at the Sri Chitra Thirunal Hospital, Trivandrum, having completed just 35 episodes of the planned mega-serial; she stopped shooting two months ago, as her final battle with cancer consumed her time and energy.
'She was one person who loved life, and loved to live,' Thampi said in tribute over various television channels. 'When I met her at the Sree Uthradam Thirunal Hopsital in Trivandrum two days before her death, she was being given a blood transfusion.
'At that moment too, she spoke of going home and eating good food. She survived the last few years only because of her will power and desire to live.'
She has in her time played the sufferer from acts of god and man in umpteen films, but in real life, she refused to martyr herself to the disease that consumed her. Thus, she never revealed that she had cancer, never asked for sympathy, never looked for flocks of VIP visitors or the homage of nostalgic fans.
Only two people were with her during her final battle -- actor and former minister Ganesh Kumar, the son of former minister Balakrishna Pillai, and his mother. She didn't have a flock of relatives around her bedside either; as for friends, the only constant was Thampi, who was almost like a sibling.
Though born to ML Vasantha Kumari, one of the most illustrious of Carnatic singers, it was dance, not music, that captured Srividya's early interest.
Though she did learn classical music, it was as a classical dancer that she earned an early reputation. Her interest was fanned by the fact that when young, her mother often left her in company of the famed Travancore sisters Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini, actresses and dancers all.
She was 13 when she broke into Malayalam cinema; three years later, she first captured the popular imagination with her role in Chattambikavala (1969), opposite the then 60-year-old Satyan, who by then had won a national award for his role in Chemmeen and was firmly installed as Malayalam cinema's most iconic star.
K Balachander, the doyen of Tamil cinema, brought her to the Tamil marquee opposite Kamal Hassan and 'Major' Sunderrajan in the 1972 film Apoorva Raagangal. Though she was 19 at the time, she played the older woman for whom the young Kamal falls; it is a different matter that she went on to play Kamal's mother in Apoorva Sahodarargal (Appu Raja, in Hindi).
She has been paired opposite the leading actors of two generations. She has played mother to the likes of Mammootty (with whom she has also been paired as wife, lover and sister), Mohanlal (she has also played his sister), Nagarjuna, Chiranjeevi et al.
Her heyday was the seventies, and though she acted in Tamil and Telugu as well, it was Malayalam cinema that saw her at her best. She won a Kerala State acting award for her role in Sreekumaran Thampi's Jeevitham Oru Gaanam.
Life doled out the good and bad in uneven measure. Thus, while in her profession she made the transition from star to top quality character actress with ease and grace, her personal life was marked by a series of traumas.
At the peak of her career, she married businessman George Thomas, only to end up in an abusive marriage that lasted nine years. She ended up losing her money and assets; it took a prolonged court battle, which ended in the Supreme Court, before her home and other properties were restored to her in the late nineties.
And by the time she resolved that trauma, illness claimed her. It was while she was bereft of her earnings and her property that she moved back to Trivandrum from her home town Chennai, and began focusing on television serials, in which she quickly made a mark, starring in several well received ones.
Through it all, she retained her interest in dance and not too long ago, performed the first full dance recital of her life, in Kozhikode, Kerala a performance that lasted three hours.
Kaithaprom Damodaran Namboodiripad, a Carnatic singer and popular lyricist, was responsible, and the event had its genesis in a chance meting on a train.
Kaithaprom asked her, 'Why hasn't the daughter of ML Vasantha Kumari given a single kacehri in her life?'; the ensuing discussion ended with him persuading Srividya to make her dance debut.
He later remembered that she was extremely grateful to him for his persuasion.
Srividya's body has been taken to her residence at PTP Nagar, in Trivandrum; it will lie in state at the VJT Hall, for public homage from 10 am Friday (October 22). At 12.30 pm, she will be cremated at the Karamana Brahmana Samaja crematorium.
'Life did not give her anything to smile about, because she was always battling against something or the other,' her close friend Ganesh Kumar said of her.
Perhaps it is a mark of her character that Srividya's smile warm, ever present is the final memory those who knew her, and admired her on screen, will cherish as the final keepsake.