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    Volume 6 Issue10 | March 16, 2007 |

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When Stars Fold into Memory...

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Something of aesthetics dies out with the demise of a good artiste. In the death of Rosy Afsari something of substantive beauty has gone to the grave. She was tall, she was fair and she had in her being a strong dose of the feminine personality which easily translates into grace. We who went to school in the 1960s were mesmerised by that grace in her, even if she was not always the leading lady in the movies our parents took us to watch. There was serenity in her, equipoise of a kind. The end of her life puts out the lights on her era.

When you reflect on Rosy, you cannot but dwell on those who have gone before her. You do not, to be sure, put all of them on the same pedestal, for reasons that ought to be obvious. But what you certainly will do is think back on the no-nonsense attitude they brought into their acting. Go back to Richard Burton. He was a Welshman who remains etched in the memory not merely because of his cinematic skills but also because of the clear elucidation of words in his delivery of dialogue. Every word, every phrase was pronounced to perfection. You could say much the same about Gregory Peck, whose thick voice appeared to lend him an authoritative air. That old exchange in a movie between him and Christopher Plummer remains part of the consciousness, for some very good reasons.

And among the many reasons why we keep travelling back to the past, especially in the world of artistes, is the seriousness of purpose they brought to the screen. Which is why when you recreate the world of Dilip Kumar, you tell yourself with a sad shake of the head that there has never been anyone quite like him. Be it in the movie Aan or Ram Aur Shyam, Dilip remains inimitable for his acting prowess. Besides, have you ever noticed the suavity with which he uses the Urdu language, not just in the movies but in real life as well? As one would say, there is something khalees about his delivery of a language out of which has emerged some of the finest poetry in the world. There was then Sanjeev Kumar, who died too early, too young for us to be able to come to terms with the happenstance. He was a serious actor who could with ease slip from a tragic into a comic role. He shared tragedy with Jaya Bhaduri; and he fooled around with Moushumi Chatterjee. When the matter turns out to be one of high romance, you think of Uttam Kumar. There is the lanky, very young Uttam in Bibhash, singing 'Ato Deen Pore Tumi Gobheer Andhar Raate'; and then there is the late thirties Uttam happily taking Sharmila Tagore for a ride on the wings of 'Prithibi Bodle Gachhe Ja Dekhi Notun Laage'.

For quite a few of us, the old scene of Razzak singing the Mahmudunnabi number, 'Borho Eka Eka Laage Tumi Paashe Nei Bole', even as a demure Kabori watches from behind a curtain, remains a defining moment for youth. It is a song we have sung for years; and in our middle age, it keeps reminding us of the spring which yet flows through our sensibilities. And there lies the beauty in a recollection of the clouds that have floated by. You remember Rahman as he sings behind an alluringly angry Shabnam in the movie Talaash -- 'Kuchh Apni Kahiye Kuchh Meri Suniye' -- and then turns naughtily as the lady turns to face him. How often were the times when you practised that turn on your own? The past, Sir, is what keeps us going. There is, in that sense, never a present. And the future is forever a world of dreams. Anyone who has watched George C. Scott in Patton will have a fairly good idea of the real Patton who rushed through the war blowing Nazi Germany into smithereens. Scott's angry outburst, 'A whole world at war? And I am left out of it?' rings in our ears yet. And then comes the climax, 'I must be allowed to fulfill my destiny'. Scott refused to accept the Oscar for the movie. That was a brave thing to do, something not many are equipped to handle well, or at all.

When you muse on movie acting as it used to be, you think of the desperate, forlorn Sophia Loren making her way, in Sunflower, to the snow-submerged Russian village where Marcello Mastroianni lives with his new wife. You can almost hear her heart crack at the discovery; and in you, despite yourself, you feel the anguish that suddenly strikes Mastroianni as his past explodes into his present. Old movies, you might tell yourself, often tell us stories of ourselves, of the dreams we once shaped around our sensibilities. Laurence Olivier was, and remains, for my generation an icon whose stock rises higher with the passing of the seasons. As Othello, he reminded us of the murderous male jealousy that could throttle a loved, desirable woman. As Hamlet, he will forever be a hearkening back to Shakespeare, to the indecisions that make half-men of many of us.

Rosy's passing is once more a hint of autumn. You sit back, gloomy in the knowledge that someday, perhaps sooner than you know, the astral Catherine Deneuve will pass on. On a day of rain and thunder, the cerebral Aparna Sen will fold into memory. Stars, like everything else, burn out through their furious journey in space.


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