Star choreographer Saroj Khan saw Sitara Devi dance like an 18-year-old when she was actually 70. Such was the magic of the danseuse, whom Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Lata Mangeshkar will remember for her vibrancy and talent.
Sitara Devi died here in Mumbai on Tuesday. She was 94.
Her tryst with films included performed dance sequences in Usha Haran (1940), Nagina (1951), Roti and Vatan (both 1954), Anjali (1957) and the epic Mother India (1957), her final role in which she danced to a Holi song dressed as a boy.
Saroj Khan told, "I have seen her dance on stage at 70 and I can swear on my profession that she looked like an 18-year-old girl. She had a lot of stamina. She used to dance for three hours alone and every morning her practice used to go on. She never gave up dance till 80 or 85.
"Kathak is seen in Bollywood, but it's purity is missing. We have only seen her do it."
Veteran actor Manoj Kumar says Sitara Devi's biggest contribution was to make a classical form interesting for the common man.
"She was a pioneer. She was tremendous at this age as well. She was an institution. She lived her life well. Usually classical dance is boring for a common man, but she made it easy and interesting," he told.
Another fan of Sitara Devi's talent, filmmaker Prakash Jha tweeted, "Sitara is gone! Dancing into the heavens! Can never forget as a mesmerised teenager had watched her dance all night."
India's Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar posted, "Prasiddha Nrityangana, Abhinetri aur Gayika Sitara Devi ji ka swargwas hua ye sunke mujhe bohot dukh hua. Ishwar unki aatma ko shanti de. (I feel profound grief upon hearing of the demise of famous dancer, performer and singer Sitara Devi. May god bless her soul.)
Calling her death a "sad news", megastar Amitabh tweeted that she was a "legendary classical dancer, vibrant, and filled with the essence of rhythm and movement".
Composer Salim Merchant paid his tribute by tweeted, "RIP Sitara Devi Ji - The goddess of Kathak leaves us today but her legacy lives on forever."