Our formative years were full of fun and coupled to them was a careless, happy –go- lucky lifestyle that went naturally with it. The gay abandon and freedom we enjoyed was all within the family for we enjoyed doing things together. Life was simple and modes of entertainment simpler. No Cineplex, no DVDs, or play stations or speed dating. A good game of cricket followed by a refreshing ice soda, topped by a steaming cup of coffee with a bun, perhaps, was the ultimate luxury. My interest in movies as a source of entertainment was influenced by my uncle who belonged to the era of Douglas Fairbanks, Spencer Tracey, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and a host of others who gave that aura of sheer mysticism and glamour to Hollywood, which makes it what it is today. Uncle was particular about the movies we saw, especially the English movies. He out rightly discouraged the slam-bang-wham types, excepting, of course, the Westerns starring John Wayne, Gary Cooper and the ilk. Uncle acquainted us with the top genre movies including the noire category made by Hollywood. The list of films ranged from Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music to Scapegoat, Stagecoach and Gunfight at O.K. Coral. However, my all time favourite is The Sound of Music. ‘Do Re Me Fa…’ , ‘I’m sixteen going on seventeen….’, oh, what numbers, simply out of this world-or mind blowing by today’s parlance. For sheer magic of music and visual excellence the movie is miles ahead of its genre.
But for unalloyed intellectual treat My Fair Lady takes the cake. Elders at home took great pains to explain the essential hypocrisy of the British and their unique trait of laughing at themselves. That, perhaps, has moulded my present opinion. Based on Pygmalion by the great English dramatist, GBS, this captivating musical, a Twentieth Century Fox Production, won the best film Oscar(1964). The name Pygmalion refers to the king of Cyprus who fell in love with a statue of his own making. The beautiful statue was bestowed with life and turned into a more beautiful maiden whom Pygmalion married, or so the story goes. Henry Higgins is an English linguistics professor without peer. He is also a misogynistic bachelor-brash, arrogant but totally committed to his work. The Covent Garden scene where he meets scruffy Eliza Dolittle, superbly portrayed by Audrey Hepburn, a common flower girl with a Cockney accent, is uniquely scripted and refreshingly filmed.
Professor Higgins takes on Eliza under his tutelage in order to transform her from a rustic flower girl to a lady who captures the majesty and grandeur of the English language with impeccable articulation. They train together and enter into a cantankerous relationship where Eliza threatens Higgins, “Just you wait Henry Higgins”. Eliza has to work unceremoniously as part of his innovative speech devices much to the anguish of Col Pickering who sympathises with the girl for the ordeals she suffers. Higgins bets with Pickering that he will be able to pass Eliza off as a Duchess in six months time. The big day finally arrives. Pretenders, masqueraders, and polyglots arrive incognito to de-mask Eliza. They tease, torment and taunt Eliza who stands unnerved by their verbal sallies. Eliza steals the show with His Majesty leading the dance with her, much like the Cindrella of the fairy tale. Eliza transcends expectations beyond measure. Higgins finds it difficult to believe in his own handiwork and concedes defeat, saying: “ I have grown accustomed to her face”.
Astonishing sets, captivating costumes and excellent photography together with immortal tunes like’ “Get me to the church in time”, “I could have danced all night” transform the movie into a classic. Down to this day the movie ranks as an all time favourite for our entire family. The supporting cast in the form of Alfred Dolittle (Stanley Holloway) in the role of Eliza’s eccentric yet charismatic father is no less endearing. Alfred delivers some of the finest lines in the film, and remains my favourite character to this day. Our own Bollywood has many a times borrowed thematic contents from Hollywood classics of the early sixties and seventies. Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi and picked up its theme from It Happened One Night, while The Sound Of Music provided the concept for Parichay. Devanand’s Manpasand adapted substantially from My Fair Lady. In doing so the Bollywood attempt was bold but not a patch on the great movie. However, Devanand as Higgins and Girish Karnad as Col Pickering just manage to keep the movie afloat.
Going back to my favourite, the most exciting part of the movie is where Higgins and Eliza sing the ditty “The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly in the Plain”. Suddenly Eliza discovers that the tone, timbre and modulation of her voice have acquired the Queen’s accent. The exhilaration and joy of the Professor is a delight to watch. Even Pickering and the house maids join in the fun as the song goes on and on. The scene is one of the high point of the movie. The acerbic wit in the allegory authored by the redoubtable GBS is commendably brought out in the film which for me remains a moving experience.
First published in Local Area Magazine titled ‘Nava Arunodoi’ in 2009. The article has since been re-edited.