By RAFIQ MAQBOOL, Associated Press
MUMBAI, India (AP) — Lining up for hours and visibly grief-stricken, thousands of mourning fans paid their respects Wednesday to Sridevi, the iconic Bollywood actress who drowned accidentally in a Dubai hotel bathtub over the weekend.
Sridevi's body was flown home late Tuesday night in a private plane owned by Anil Ambani, a Mumbai industrialist and entertainment baron.
By early Wednesday morning, people had begun lining up along a security fence outside the private club near Sridevi's home where the body had been laid out. A string of Mercedes and Audis ferried family members, Bollywood stars and VIPs in through another gate, with squadrons of private guards ensuring things stayed under control.
One mourner, a man who gave his name only as Prashant, arrived at about 7 a.m., hours before anyone was to be allowed in.
"No matter how long I have to wait, I will wait," he said, clutching a small bouquet of flowers. "I'll wait until I'm able to pay my respects."
"I saw all her movies," he said, grief clearly visible on his face.
Inside the club, the actress's body was placed on a raised platform in a hall decorated with flowers. Her extended family, including her husband, producer Boney Kapoor, and her two daughters, stood by the platform as fans and colleagues walked past in respect.
While the family had requested that all media leave their cameras outside while viewing her body, some photographs emerged on news sites and showed Sridevi's body dressed in a vibrant magenta and gold sari with a heavy gold necklace around her neck and a large red bindi, the decorative forehead marking many Indian women wear. The red bindi is traditionally a sign that the woman wearing it is married.
By late afternoon, her body, wrapped in an Indian flag, began its journey from the club to the crematorium where her funeral took place according to Hindu customs. The body was carried in a truck decorated with flowers and a giant poster of the actress.
Sridevi, 54, was in Dubai for a wedding in her extended family when she died Saturday. Investigators in Dubai closed their case Tuesday and handed the body to her family.
Condolences have poured in since the death of the actress, who redefined the importance of the female lead in India's largely male-dominated film industry.
Sridevi, who used only one name onscreen, began her film career as a child actress and went on to star in regional films in southern India before making her Bollywood debut in the late 1970s.
By the late 1980s, she was a name to reckon with in mainstream Hindi-language films and was able to command top billing and dominate screen space in a film industry in which the heroine's role was largely relegated to a few songs and a handful of romantic scenes as the leading man's love interest.
Despite a life spent entirely in the movie business, colleagues described Sridevi as quiet and shy on the sets until she faced the camera, when several of them recalled how she would "transform" into the character she was playing.
In 1997, she married Kapoor, a producer on many of her films, and stepped away from cinema for many years while she raised her two daughters.
Her Twitter bio read: Actor-MOM-Housewife-Actor Again!
Sridevi returned to films in 2012 with "English Vinglish," where she played a quiet housewife who remains largely in the background until she decides to learn English to fit in with her family.
In 2017, she starred in "Mom," playing a woman out to seek vengeance for the rape of her teenage stepdaughter.
Over the last few years, Sridevi had been grooming her older daughter, Janhvi Kapoor, for her debut Bollywood film slated for release later this year.