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From Monroe to Sridevi: Tragedy under the glow of talent, charisma and charm

By Adv Masood Peshimam*
Marlyn Monroe was an American actress, model, singer famous for playing sensual, seductive and tempestuous role. She became one of the most popular sex symbols of 1950s. Her talent, charisma, charm and above all her bold exposure of the body contributed to her meteoric rise.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Monroe spent most of her childhood in foster homes and at an age of orphanage and married at the age of sixteen. While working in radio factory in 1944 as part of the war effort she was introduced to a photographer from the first motion picture unit and began a successful career. The work led to short lived film contracts with Twentieth Century Fox (1946-1947) and Columbia Picture (1948). Over the years her career graph in the film made much of headway.
Monroe faced a scandal when it was revealed that she had posed for nude photos before becoming a star, but rather than damaging her career, much of interest was provoked in the films. She progressed to a gorgeous celebrated star. With an increasing appeal Monroe turned to be a huge commercial success and had the credit of winning a golden globe for the best actress for her work in “someone like it hot”. Her effervescent performance continued to allure millions of hearts.
However, notwithstanding her winning accolades and acclaim Monroe’s troubled private life received much attention. She struggled with substance abuse, depression and anxiety. She had two highly publicized marriages to retired baseball star Joe Dimaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, both of which ended in divorce. On August 5, 1962 she died at the age of 36 from an overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles. Although Monroe’s death was ruled a probable suicide, several conspiracy theories have been proposed in the decades following her death.
At the time of her death Monroe had suffered from mental illness and abuse for several years and had not completed the film "The Misfits" released in 1961. She had spent 1961 preoccupied with her various health problems. In April 1962 she had begun filming "Something’s Got to Give" for 20th Century Fox. The studio publicly blamed her the production’s problems, and in the week preceding her death, Monroe attempted to repair her image by giving several interviews to high profile publications. However, her attempt to revive her fortunes did not go flawless.
Monroe died on August 5, 1962 at her home in Brentwood around 3 am. She had locked herself in her bedroom. Her death was officially ruled a probable suicide by Los Angeles County Coroner’s office based on precedents of her overdosing and prone to mood swings and suicidal ideation. No evidence of crime was found, and accidental overdose was ruled out to be the large amount of barbiturates she had ingested.
Despite the Coroner’s verdict several theories suggesting murder or accidental overdose have been proposed since 1960’s. Even the American President John F. Kennedy was suspected to be involved in her death.
The American President late John F. Kennedy was very much fascinated by the charm, grace and beauty of Monroe. In the bitterest phase of cold war with then USSR on Cuban crisis Kennedy could explore the intimate space with Monroe to breath solace and comfort.
Monroe’s story is outdated but holds relevance. There are two sides of the coin. One side is fairly glamorous and quite brilliant but the other side is quite disappointing, gloomy and sometimes horrifying. Many a time the internal failure is subsumed under the fake show of glory. The projection is different from reality. The obvious is in contrast with the oblivious. There may be models and actresses basking under the glow of glory and glitter but surrounded in mysterious pain. High profile public figures, particularly film celebrities, have their moments of pain and anguish.
In the teeth of competitive richness and affluence, crass materialism, consumerism, and huge commercialization of values, the celebrity status is to be maintained at all cost, though the cost is very high. It’s not only the failure of keeping pace with the materialist requirements of maintaining the celebrity status which breeds frustration but there are other unhappy happenings casting their shadow over the lives of public figures.
Bollywood’s glamorous star Parveen Bobbi had a lively film career but her death was painful. She had remained confined in her flat unattended and uncared, from where some obnoxious smell emanated. Another veteran actress Meena Kumari also had an overdose of alcohol wallowing in some pain and anguish. The instances of celebrities experiencing internal complications galore due to variety of reasons.
Sridevi, the picture of astounding success in her film career, who died recently cannot be compared to Marlyn Monroe or anyone else for any personal complications. She had her children despite her earlier affair with the veteran actor Mithun Chakrovarty. She made her debut at the age of four and continued to dominate the silver screen for long. She took gap for some time and bounced back with her elegance and style.
She was the picture of dignity and grace as she did not indulge in an iota of vulgarity. Her acting was fabulous which had earned her a massive fan following. However, notwithstanding her good career, the moment of her sudden death was rather disturbing. Her death was due to “accidental drowning”, as described by the Dubai Police. She fell into the bathtub of her hotel room. Ingredients of alcohol were found. The traces of alcohol communicate difference in the privacy and the public appearance.
In this context it is not out of relevant to quote CP Surendran in "Asian Age" (28 February 2018), who said, “A few years ago, a friend of mine and sharp TV personality who comments on movies and stars, wrote without mentioning Sridevi by name that the actor was hooked reportedly on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. A lethal combination, he called it. Pressure does it. How to be in front of a camera and not look a fairy? How to walk the red carpet rubbing shoulders with say, Deepika Padukone, the Deepika Padukone of today? That’s why you will see ageing stars, say Rekha retire into the shadows where they wrestle with the reality of what they had built their life on -- the gaze and its utter absence."
Following Sridevi’s death one of the social media messages said she had several plastic surgeries because the “patriarchal world demanded it”. The insinuation of alleged cocktail of drugs and plastic surgeries explain the failure to match with the appearance. The stress and anxiety cannot be discounted from the external world of make belief.
Notwithstanding the insinuation, the fact remains that Sridevi has beautifully entertained people with her beauty and dignity. Sridevi was not only a brilliant actress of Bollywood, she was equally devoted to her family, particularly her daughters, who were exceptionally nurtured and taken care of by her. She was an epitome of discipline in acting and maintained the same in family life. She had a style and grace on the silver screen which equally stretched to public appearance.
What is no less important to note is that, while lauding the distinguished grace and elegance of Sridevi in her public life, the fact remains that there is a dichotomy between the personal and public behaviour of many a celebrity. The celebrities who make a lot of display of humanity and charity many a time lack in level headedness in personal life. People with vast fortunes cannot resist an air of arrogance. The intoxication of money and power supersedes all intoxications. Celebrities many a time don’t remain down to earth, may be due to some sort of compelling circumstances.
Nawazuddin Siddique was quite candid with the fact that he is not down to earth. He was in a chat with director Nandita Dass in a TV show on her film on great Urdu fiction writer Sadat Hassan Manto. It is said that superstar Salman Khan runs a trust that caters to the needs of the poor and needy for meeting medical expenses. It’s a great job. The question is whether any common man can approach the trust and what would be the behaviour of the bigwig.
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*Based in Kalyan, Maharashtra

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