Lt Gen Baljit Singh (retd)
RECENTLY a news report revealed that Audrey Hepburn’s memorabilia went for $6.2 million at a recent London auction. To my generation, Audrey Hepburn was synonymous with the Hollywood film, Roman Holiday, not just because it was a box-office hit, but it ushered a paradigm shift in the genera of entertainment movies. Here was Audrey, who, with her untamed vivaciousness, innocence, impish smile, boyish hair and exquisitely tailored trousers and shirts (as opposed to pleated skirts and frilly blouses), became a symbol of the new, alluring feminism. There was something in the manner she kick-started her Vespa scooter, accelerated to 60 kmph from a cold start and headscarf fluttering wildly, that made her the harbinger of a subtle aspect of women’s emancipation the world over. But there were no scooters in India then, so a handful of bold women took to cycling for a start!
Shortly after its premiere, Roman Holiday came up for screening at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. By then, such was her spell over the young and old alike that the cinema management was prevailed upon for three consecutive screenings on a Sunday. But what especially caught my fancy this time was the cinema wall. In the background was the picture of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and superimposed over it, was a life-size image of Audrey, waist upwards. It reminded me at once of the stunning studio photograph of the actress by Karsh of Ottawa, which I had seen in a book titled, Portraits of Greatness.
This was also the time I had graduated to a state-of-the-art Rollieflex camera. What better opportunity to test out the camera than photographing Audrey from the poster! I exposed an entire film-roll of 12 frames, with varying combinations of aperture opening and shutter speed. The results were better than my wildest hopes and the photo-processing studio could barely cope with the rush for copies from Gentlemen Cadets! The largest blow-up was 14×12 inches, and one such, under a cut-mount frame, went up on the wall facing my bed. For several days, there was constant coming and going to my room, till the lights-out bugle.
During a routine tour of the rooms one day, the inspecting officer noticed the portrait. And to this Gentleman Officer, the portrait was synonymous with the forbidden display of glam-girl pin-ups! The next day, in an atmosphere of general gloom, I was arraigned before the Company Commander, charged with ‘an act unbecoming the conduct of a Gentleman Cadet’. While reading out the offence report, the Company Commander held aloft the framed photograph as an ‘exhibit’ linked to my crime. Fortunately, this being my first act of misdemeanour, I was administered a mere warning and promptly marched out of the office. I could have dropped dead with the release of tension, having feared relegation by six months or even expulsion from the academy, altogether.
Sadly, the Audrey Hepburn portrait was confiscated and it went up on the wall facing the bed — of the Company Commander!
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