Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life -41

Jottings : Slice of life -41
Audrey Hepburn - An elegant and authentic life
When you look at Audrey Hepburn, the thing that strikes you first with tremendous force are those large eyes, eyes that are not merely beautiful, but deep placid pools revealing honesty, spontaneity and deep love of life. You can keep looking at them forever. Nothing else about her needs to speak. Her eyes does all the talking needed, and all we lose ourselves in those bright orbs, and through them into the character and person Audrey was, is , and will presumably be for generations to come.
The history of World cinema has seen no better ambassador of its art, or a more imitable icon of what an actor could achieve in global arena with fame, publicity and the reach it brings, than Audrey Hepburn did in her public life which spanned over 40 years. Hers was a special life indeed. Born to royal blood. Her mother was a baroness and her father an aristocrat. Cuddled and happy, the 1930’s she was born in quickly turned into a nightmare of worse kind. Holland was brutally invaded by Nazi Germany, and the massacre and inhumanness that followed gave young Audrey a first account experience of poverty, appalling misery and death.It also gave her a premature depth , which she would have perhaps not known otherwise, and a sense of destiny which sometimes only catastrophe can trigger. Her mother and she escaped to England, and the baroness had to work hard to make ends meet and give her growing, vivacious daughter a decent education. Food deprivation during war time made sure that Audrey was never going to plump. Her lithe, thin figure, long slender neck which hoisted her angelic face chiseled to perfection was all she would physically be throughout her life. But her inner glow was visible even at that tender age. Her teachers, friends remember her tremendous sensitivity to life and a willingness to be a good listener. She was always a center of attraction, with a spring in her feet and twinkle in the eye. It was not surprising when the emerging world of Cinema quickly took note of her. From brief modeling, a stint in theater and few brief movie appearances in early 1950’s, She was quickly spotted by William Wyler when he was planning his masterpiece - The Roman Holiday. It was the era of Elizabeth Taylor, the bewitching beauty. Because she was unavailable the role landed in the lap of Audrey. It is interesting how Wyler asked the cameraman to continue shooting her screen test, even after the director had called “Cut”. It was the after-cut footage that showed Audrey at her relaxed,elegant and effortless best. And it was this important element that Wyler wanted for princess Anna in her Roman Holiday. With Gregory peck as her Male star, It was to be the perfect launching pad for any aspiring actress. The Six months the crew spent in Rome filming, is still a legend in Hollywood circles. It was clear the world of cinema had found its most elegant ambassador and actress beyond the ordinary. The young Audrey playing the role of a princess caught in the trappings of royal mandates, escapes for a day to the outside world, meets this debonair and struggling journalist, and through him experiences simple joys that life offers, returns to her position much more mature, composed and grownup. It is a fairy tale story, but the honesty and grace Audrey bought to the role would remain as hallmark of her personality throughout her acting career. There has never been a princess so appealing, beautiful and dignified as Audrey was in Roman Holiday. Seventy years later, a new generation still stand in awe as they watch Audrey walk down the aisle in her immaculate Givenchy attire.
The fifties and sixties were the glorious periods of her professional acting career. She was lucky to get choice roles to play, and great directors and costars to work with. Call it providential, if you will, but sometimes destiny is self made. Audrey believed in it. In Sabrina(1954) she played a poor chauffeurs daughter forced to chose between two lovers, then in 1956 as the pivotal Natasha Rostov, Tolstoy’s most regal and enigmatic character in “War and peace”, during the filming of which she met her Husband Mel fewer and with whom she was live with for twenty years before they divorced; in 1959 she was mature enough to switch to a Nun’s role in “the Nun’s story”, silencing critics who were beginning to rank her amongst the beauty dolls doubting her capacity to play serious roles; followed by Truman capotes “Breakfast at Tiffany’s" in 1961. The controversial role of a high society call girl was never played with such innocence ever before or after. And then in 1963, Cary Grant ,who was then leading Male icon paired with her in “ Charade” - a sensitive portrayal of an elderly man in love with a younger girl.
At this distance, Audrey’s roles will look pretty stereotyped. It is a natural reaction to something imitated countless times decades of cinema that followed .But what is important and inimitable is the authenticity she bought to all those roles. By mid seventies, she knew her time to move on had arrived, and in 1976 she featured in “Robin and Marian” alongside Sean Connery, one of her last full length movies. It is my favorite film of hers. In it, her inner glow shone with greater intensity than ever. Those deep eyes radiated fulfillment and sense of peace. She had come a long way from a sprightly young girl to a woman of depth and maturity.
When most actors are undecided on what to do next after their blazing career in Cinema, Audrey had no problems deciding. She knew her work lay with young children who were deprived of life across the globe. UNICEF was her choice of work. As their ambassador from 1988 to 1993, she travelled to different countries spreading warmth, positivity and goodwill and carrying the message of UNICEF to impoverished families. It was the crescendo of her life. Unlike so many models and actresses these days, who wear the crown of UNICEF, but barely step out their comfortable surroundings, Audrey was passionate about her cause. To her, the image of an actor was only an entry point for the work she was trying to accomplish. And during her years as ambassador for children, she had banished acting completely from her life. That phase was over.Her commitment to work in hand without any distractions is a trait she displayed in everything she undertook.
To me, what is amazing was the personality and finesse she bought into movies. In 1993, when she was diagnosed with rare form of cancer, and died soon after, the world of cinema and all others whom she had touched in million ways remembered her not so much for her acting performances, which was extraordinary, but more for the unconditional love, spontaneity and empathy she possessed, and so amply gave away to everyone she cared. Who can forget Gregory Peck’s extempore eulogy on television delivered in choking voice and tearful eyes. He ended his tribute with a poem Audrey loved. It is poem written by Rabindranath Tagore titled “Unending love”. The last two verses of that beautiful poem is worth quoting in full, and fitted Audrey's life vision well.
“You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.
Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.”
The dreams of a generation began and ended with Audrey - a lady gifted and blessed to charm, elevate and educate.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,

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