Blessed with one of the most sweetly sounding names, a load of talent and raw sensuality, this lady is quite ageless. As the world celebrated her birthday recently, I took a dip into the holy waters of the past and emerged with two gems I would love to flaunt over and over again. An actress extraordinaire, an uncut diamond was she and a consummate performer on the silver screen.

The lady in question is none other than Sophia Loren. De Sica’s two masterpieces, Two Women and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow will be remembered as much for their cinematic brilliance as the fabulous performances of Loren. Sophia excelled in these two films in roles that were of contrasting nature and which, to an ordinary actress, would seem too formidable a proposition. Let us take the case of Two Women. For the record, she received an Oscar for Best Actress for her poignant depiction of a mother trying to save her only hope, her teenage daughter, apart from herself from the clutches of the beasts marauding her country at that time. A deeply realistic film, touching to the core and superbly emotive, De Sica’s humane component shone through the brilliance of Loren. She had played a deglamorised role in this film of struggle and her   bonding with her daughter and their ‘growing up’- rather, awakening to the realities of the outside world, was the subject matter of this classic. Subtle!

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is a landmark both in Italian and World cinema. Sophia played three different roles in this epoch-making film that has been copied in   various ways over the years in different languages. The seamless    merger of the struggling wife- eternally pregnant in order to sustain her family as well as to evade the country’s laws- contrasted with the role of   the rich wife of a diplomat who has the luxury of playing around with lovelorn men whose hearts she broke with such chilling nonchalance. She played a character which   lives in us, amongst us and around us in   this age of materialism, greed and pretence. The third role was the most remarkable in that Sophia, playing a prostitute catering to rich clients, showed that she had a heart. A conscience full of   care and need to help others is a rare one indeed and in this role, she excelled both as the fallen woman as well as the lady who saved the life of an enamoured would- be priest, showing him the right way. A role that, in a way, reminds us of the nautch girl in Raj Kapoor’s masterpiece Teesri Kasam- played by the peerless Waheeda who had deliberately shunned the protagonist’s love for the sake of retaining his purity. It was a role that had more grey shades than bright ones   but she combined the two superbly. In the end, we loved her heart in spite of despising her profession.

Apart from these two great films, I vividly recollect another famous role- of a hassled housewife not devoid of idealistic ideas – in A Special Day. Another film with Marcelo, this one was set against the backdrop of World War II and Hitler’s arrival in Mussolini’s Italy. As the monstrous shadow of the Fuehrer looms in the foreground, this film portrays a love affair between a much-mothered housewife and an Anti-Fascist countryman who had the heart to love her and discover in her something that her husband could not or did not.

Great things and memories remain for long. Their appreciation takes various shapes over time but   class prevails. So does our memories of this brilliant actress known as much for her black hair as Monroe was for her blonde looks. Add to those eyes with long lashes and those high cheekbones! She was with us yesterday, we love watching her today and will surely do so tomorrow if we have not lost the sense of appreciating true art.

:: Partha Basu

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