“Love has changed, so stories also will change. Tell me, if you fall in love, will you send your special someone kitaab mein purza daal ke (notes hidden inside books)? Now, the grammar of relationships has changed. Now it’s all about a boy saying, “Hi Mom. This is so and so..we are friends..and this weekend we are going to Darjeeling.” Conversations and connections are becoming easy now. Pehle the boy would stutter and stammer in front of his mom. He would be like, “Maa.. Maa.. yeh yeh.. he wouldn’t be even able to take the girl’s name..and just say, yeh mere college mein..” And it was up to the mom to fill in the gaps. Time, people and language have changed, so scenes also have to change. In today’s films, mothers speak in English and drive cars. This is good progress. If the woman has changed, then stories will also change.” – the inimitable Gulzar
Read this brilliant interview of Gulzar’s by Harneet Singh.
*This extract has been reproduced from Mint, published on May 10, 2016.
A 24-hour long romantic relationship is not much to talk about. But when it includes a sense of incompleteness throughout, and the protagonists of the love story are keenly aware of the impossibility of their wishes coming true, there is a sweet poignance that makes it the one day of your life you will remember most fondly.
I recently revisited Roman Holiday, one of my favourite Hollywood classics; it was one of the first DVDs I purchased when I began earning, and I have watched it far too many times to count. The delightful love story also told me that I was going to fall madly in love with Audrey Hepburn (anyone who has visited this blog in the past will know how much I adore her) and Gregory Peck, for whom I don’t know if their talents are superior or their looks are.
Now as an oft-repeated plot, which could be viewed as too simple for modern audiences that enjoy experimental and cult cinema, Roman Holiday is about stifled Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) of an unnamed European country on a goodwill tour of the continent. Longing for freedom and less stoicism in a life governed entirely by protocol and with no space for the occasional whim, she breaks down one night. Despite the sedative her personal doctor administers on her, she sneaks out of her embassy-lodging into the free world. She walks down the streets all by herself, she breathes in the sights, watches the sounds and tastes the smells till the sedative takes over and she falls asleep on a low pavement, mumbling a Keats poem incomprehensibly.
Enter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) – An American journalist deputed in Rome, handsome, street-smart, and a strange but likeable mix of gentlemanly-cocky. He feels protective of the well-read, well-dressed “drunk” girl and ends up taking her home to keep her safe from goons. The brilliant first meeting establishes that neither knows who the other is. The next morning Joe finds out the identity of his guest and decides to make money by selling his scoop (an exclusive story about the Princess and her personal life) to his editor. He employs his shutterbug friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert at his funniest) to take candid pictures of the royal person impersonating a commoner, enjoying the mundane things regular people take for granted, like walking on the streets incognito, getting a haircut, sitting at a cafe, enjoying a gelato by a fountain, and just visiting random places in the city. There are memorable scenes on an iconic Vespa, in a police station, on a boat, by the wall of wishes and at the mouth of truth, each as warm as the next, as Anya and Joe take the audience on a tour of the city.
Now predictably, by the end of a very eventful day, Anya Smith (the princess changes her name to hide her identity) and Joe Bradley are in love and acutely aware that they cannot be together. With a heartbreaking goodbye they part ways; she still unaware that Joe is a reporter, and he, resolved to never share her clandestine escapade with anyone ever. They meet again, as strangers, and exchange coded messages, just like close friends sharing secrets in a public setting do. Princess Ann holds her position, duty, honour and responsibility as her nation’s ambassador very close to her heart, and no matter how tempting the prospect of a very normal and humdrum life with Joe is (their conversations just before they part make you ache), she knows she has a moral responsibility towards a life she was born into. Joe understands her dilemma and lets her go. He doesn’t sell his scoop on her, forgoes the five thousand dollars he was promised even though he needed the money, and gifts her a set of the candid pictures of her during her outing in Rome, all with a warm smile. The backward-moving tracking shot of him walking out of the grand hall where they meet the last time portrays how far out of his reach she is and will continue to be, and that he realises that and chooses to leave his dream far behind him and move on.
A naive and nubile Audrey Hepburn in her debut Hollywood vehicle earned her first acting Oscar from this film. The original screenplay by Ian McLellan also won an Oscar (in 1992, a posthumous Oscar was properly credited and given to blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo, who actually wrote the screenplay), quite understandably for the subtle messages they convey throughout the film with their sharp screenplay. The cues and clues are so “everyday” in their nature, they are hard to pick up in the first viewing. For example, when at Joe’s apartment, a slumber-induced Princess Ann struggling with her stoic and stifling upbringing asks him to help undress her, he only undoes her necktie. The necktie is symbolic of her straitjacketed life as royalty, and he removes it and takes her along on a day full of small pleasures of a life free of obligations of high-born, political nature.
Director William Wyler (Dodsworth, Wuthering Heights, Ben-Hur), who has explored several genres successfully in the span of his brilliant career, ensured that this reverse-Cinderella story struck a chord with its audience by being the perfect combination of a fantasy romance set in the real world. Shot on location in Rome, the film is a lovely and clever contrast to films that belong to the Italian neo-realist era, whether intended or not. Of course, you will point out that this is a Hollywood film and not a European production, but to see the same locations mean/say/do different things in say, a Bicycle Thieves and a Roman Holiday, is quite interesting. The very quality of this film juxtaposes the sometimes harsh sobriety of neorealist cinema
Roman Holiday is one movie I suggest everyone should watch. No matter what your sensibilities or cultural background, you cannot not like a film so dreamy, yet real.