Remembering the man who gave us Pink Panther
My first Blake Edwards memory is from The Party (written, produced and directed by Edwards), a film Wikipedia describes as relatively unknown, but one that remains massively popular on our shores because of Peter Sellers playing an Indian. And Amitabh Bachchan aping a scene from it in Namak Halaal.
Despite the nuances -- Sellers learnt to play the sitar from Ravi Shankar even if he only had to twang some strings for a few seconds in the opening credits -- the film is unashamedly, perfectly slapstick, a finessed director working with a genius actor to create a symphony of sublime disharmony.
Sellers' Hrundi V Bakshi might have darkened his face and epitomised an accent-cliche our diaspora is still trying hard to shake off, much as he did the smell of caviar from his fingers, but it was a sensational performance. In a film that used it immaculately.
Image: A scene from The Party
Inspector Clouseau: The Unlikely Superstar
And then I stumbled upon the films starring Sellers, one of the finest actors of all time, in his most recognisable role. Edwards and Sellers collaborated in The Pink Panther series, one which started with Inspector Clouseau in a supporting role and turned him into an unlikely superstar.
Sellers was at his absolute best. But Edwards provided the delicate framework, the elaborate backdrop that made his comedy truly effective, enhanced it to a fine degree.
Playing foil to a fool isn't easy -- just look at the difference between (American comic actor/ filmmaker) Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films -- and Edwards and Sellers embarked on a truly inspired tango.
Image: A scene from The Pink Panther
Edwards' sparkle still remains
Edwards' cinema, even at its most droll, is about sophistication.
The most comic of scenes -- like those of a man resting his arm on a globe only to be rotated into a hilarious, sudden fall -- are buffed and polished and cleaned up till they shine. Above all, the films of Blake Edwards are about elegance.
This was epitomised, of course, in his glossy adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast At Tiffany's. While the novella, about a gay romantic befriending a prostitute, was darker and stiller, Edwards dipped his version into champagne -- and the sparkle still remains, after all these years.
Image: A scene from Breakfast At Tiffany's
Rest in peace, Mr Director
Last week, on December 15, Blake Edwards passed away of pneumonia. He was 88. And six years ago, he had won an honourary Academy Award for his body of work.
It is an eclectic filmography, this -- from the moody loveliness of Days Of Wine And Roses to the whimsical self-parodying of S.O.B. to the ridiculous Great Race, with the most iconic pie-fight in history. It is one worth discovering at your own pace, and one to delight in, for the nuances and niceties he brought to the form, and for the flourish and lightness of touch that still unfailingly bring a smile to the face.
Rest in peace, Mr Director. Somewhere up there Inspector Clouseau just took his hat off, in memoriam. And then tripped over a cloud.
Image: Blake Edwards