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SLICE OF LIFE

Beauty from within

V. GANGADHAR

THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Radiating a special charm ... Audrey Hepburn.

THE process of selecting beauty queens can be quite dangerous. Take the case of Homer's Iliad. The Greek prince Paris favoured a particular goddess and the pleased goddesses promised him the most beautiful woman as his wife forgetting that her choice, Helen, was already married to King Menelaus of Greece. Helen's elopement with Paris led to a destructive war between Troy and Greece. The only saving grace was the addition of the phrase "Trojan Horse" to the English vocabulary.

Indian mythology mentions another beauty queen, Ahalya, whose features were culled out from the features of other beautiful women. The result? Though married to a rishi, Ahalya was tricked into a love affair with Indra and cursed by her husband into becoming a slab of stone.

Earlier this year, a contestant for the "Miss India" title in Mumbai was discovered to be married, a "no-no" according to the contest rules. The organisers were embarrassed by the unfavourable media publicity. Beauty queens in other nations also got into trouble. Some had taken drugs; others were pregnant...

If selecting a beauty queen from the current beauties was so problematic, imagine the hazards in selecting "all time" beauty queens. A recent effort by editors of women's magazines, fashion designers, fashion photographers and make up artists, elected the late Audrey Hepburn as the most beautiful woman of the last 100 years.

The choice may surprise many. Beauty queens among Hollywood stars? We think of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Angie Dickinson, Grace Kelly (she finished fifth in the current list), Hedy Lamarr ... but Audrey Hepburn?

I am no expert, but feel there are different kinds of beauty. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Hedy Lamarr were the provocative, sensual kind. They are never mentioned without references to their sex appeal.

But there are other kinds of beauty — of the serene, ethereal kind. Do we think of Ingrid Bergman as a sex symbol? She was never associated with skimpy bathing suits, low cut gowns and short dresses.

I guess Audrey Hepburn's beauty was of the same kind. She was never a sex symbol, in fact, she laughed at such a projection. She was thin, never voluptuous and, in films like "Nun's Story", covered from head to toe. Yet, as Sister Luke she radiated a beauty that was hard to ignore. In her maiden film, "Roman Holiday", she projected youthful charm and exuberance.

No one would call the Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle of "My Fair Lady" beautiful. Yet Audrey breathed a special charm into the role. And remember the impishness she displayed in "How to Steal a Million" where she was co-starred with Peter O'Toole?

Sex appeal and allure could not last long. The kind of beauty Audrey Hepburn had defied age and the process of growing up. It was not just physical.

As the judges explained, it came partly from within. Perhaps, that explained her choice as an ambassador for the UNICEF.

The "all time great beauty" list had Egyptian queen Cleopatra in the 86th position. How did the judges arrive at this? Did they have any evidence on how Cleopatra looked.Like Cleopatra, Helen of Troy was also a historical figure. How was she left out of the list? Beauty can be deadly and destructive, though not the kind which Audrey Hepburn had. It had a soothing effect on the beholder.

In "Sabrina", Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, fought for her hand, not with sword and shield, but like gentlemen, and accepted her decision. That was the Hepburn magic.

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