(CNN) — Bollywood is paying tribute to Sridevi, one of the Indian film industry’s most popular actresses, who died suddenly Saturday at 54.
Citing family sources, the Press Trust of India reported Sridevi died after suffering cardiac arrest in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, where she was attending a family wedding.
Bollywood greats and Indian political elites authored a flood of tributes on social media to the actress whose work spanned five decades and included some of the country’s most beloved films.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the many who expressed shock at Sridevi’s death, with a tweet extending his condolences to her family.
Born August 13, 1963, Sridevi made her film debut as a child actor at the age of four in “Thunaivan,” a Tamil Hindu drama directed by M.A. Thirumugham.
Other films followed, including “Julie,” which marked her first foray into Bollywood at the age of 12. Her first leading Bollywood role came in the 1979 Hindi film “Solva Sawan.”
Four years later, Sridevi broke through to the list of Bollywood’s most highly sought-after actresses with the action comedy “Himmatwala.”
Sridevi’s credits include some of the most watched films of the ’80s and ’90s, including “Mawaali” (1983), “Tohfa” (1984), “Nagina” (1986), “Mr. India” (1987), “Chandni” (1989), “Lamhe” (1991) and “Gumrah” (1993).
“I think she really was one of India’s first female superstars,” Bollywood critic Rajeev Masand told CNN. “It didn’t matter who the male actors where, the movies were shouldered by Sridevi.”
“In commercial films, she was able to deliver great performances. Even when she was doing absurd stuff like playing a snake in the movie ‘Nagina,’ the performances were amazing,” he said.
Sridevi took a break from the limelight to raise two children with her husband, producer Boney Kapoor, before returning to star in the 1997 film “Judaai.” In the film, she plays an ambitious housewife who inadvertently marries a man who can’t afford the lavish life she aspires to lead.
Masand recalled watching Sridevi as she filmed “Judaai” in Hyderbad in 1996. “It was incredible,” he told CNN. “She was very, very conscious and very, very shy, and this is at the peak of her career.”
“When the director yelled ‘action’ … she just became another person. It was two different people. It was magnificent to see that,” Masand added.
“Judaai” was a box office hit, but it was Sridevi’s performance in Gauri Shinde’s 2012 hit, “English Vinglish,” that really solidified her comeback and confirmed her as one of Bollywood’s most treasured and enduring talents.
Sridevi took the starring role of Shashi, an Indian housewife who only speaks Hindi but is thrust onto the streets of New York to help arrange her niece’s wedding. After a series of humiliations, Shashi decides she needs to learn English and enrolls in a four-week crash course.
“The way the character has been crafted by Shinde, and interpreted by Sridevi, is gloriously feminine, and uniquely Indian,” a review in the Hollywood Reporter said at the time.
Sridevi is credited with inspiring a new generation of Indian actresses by portraying strength with beauty and grace with comedic charm.
“Sridevi is one of the last great heroines of Hindi cinema who could hold her own against any hero,said Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at the SOAS University of London.
“A great beauty, a talented actress, a brilliant dancer, a delightful comedienne, she is a true legend.”
Sridevi’s credits span Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada language films. She had broad appeal and was lauded for her captivating screen presence and versatility, even though she was quiet and reserved off-screen.
While some of the country’s most prominent stars took to Twitter to express shock at her death, Sridevi herself had 1.4 million followers.
Singer Adnan Sami tweeted that he was lost for words at the loss of “India’s sweetheart.”
“I am at a loss for words & jolted as if struck by lightening at this late hour of the night to learn about the shocking & tragic news & untimely demise of #Sridevi ji. Heartbroken. She was India’s sweetheart, an incredible artiste & a beautiful human being. Gone too soon,” Sami tweeted.
Actress Kareena Kapoor called Sridevi’s passing “heartbreaking.”
As India woke to the news Sunday, social media lit up with tributes to the woman described as a “rare superstar.”
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi offered their condolences.
Sridevi’s impact was felt far beyond India, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan also paying tribute to the actress, whom he met last December.
“Really enjoyed meeting Bollywood icon Sri Devi on my recent trip to India. So sad to hear the news of the death of such a terrifically talented actress, performer and producer,” he said on Twitter.
Sridevi is survived by her husband, Boney, and daughters Jhanvi and Khushi Kapoor.