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A star is reborn

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A star is reborn

Petchara Chaowarat returns to the spotlight after a 30-year hiatus

  • Published: 27/10/2009 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Outlook

Lips magazine has pulled off a scoop, and once again the latest issue of the magazine practically sold out even before it hit the shelves.

Petchara Chaowarat on the cover of ‘Lips’ magazine’s special pocket book.

The cover story features an exclusive interview with Thailand's legend of the silver screen, Petchara Chaowarat, who for the past 30 years has lived a reclusive life akin to Greta Garbo. In her heyday, she made up to 20 movies a month, totalling a mind-boggling 300 films in her 16-year career. But it was this overdrive, the constant exposure to bright spotlights and the lack of rest, topped by use of incorrect medication to treat her fading eyesight that finally caused her total blindness as well as all sorts of side effects that made her balloon up from her usual 48kg to a whopping 63kg, with all sorts of skin inflammations to boot.

It has taken decades for her to recover, and during this time she had all but disappeared from the public eye. But it was a coup de force when Mistine cosmetics successfully approached her to star in its new advertising campaign. What clinched the deal was the offer to donate part of the proceeds to the Pak Kret Skill Development Centre for the Blind.

Lips was quick to cover this rare emergence of a former goddess of the silver screen, with a special interview, a fashion spread - though Petchara had done a cover shoot before, this was her first fashion spread ever - as well as a compilation of a "behind-the-scenes" pocket book that not only presents the special fashion spread and interview, but also images and stories from the past when the Petchara Chaowarat and Mitr Chaibancha partnership was as legendary as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, or Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.

Vithasa Tor Saengchan

The pocket book comes in four different covers, and fans are known to be collecting all versions for their private libraries. And you have to admit, at 67 years of age, she is quite stunning to look at, hardly what you might have imagined of a faded and invalid movie star. Some people have remarked that she looks even better than she did when she was young and in her prime. The face, with its signature Mona Lisa smile, is slimmer and her cheekbones more prominent, but the eyes - oh, the eyes - are still undoubtedly the same eyes that beamed out to you from the screen or the billboards, limpid pools of luminosity that melted millions of hearts in the '60s and '70s.

In the interview, she described herself as a naive upcountry girl - she was the fourth daughter of seven siblings in Rayong - with a very strict upbringing. At the age of 14, she was affianced to a well-to-do businessman in Rayong. He had a dressmaking shop, and she was encouraged to take up dressmaking so she could help out with the business. The wedding never took place, however, as the young Petchara decided to run away from home rather than get married. After a short stay in Chanthaburi, she made her way to Bangkok where she helped out her sister's in-laws in their beauty salon. Her unexpected success in the annual Hawaiian Angel contest in Lumphini Park served to open doors to new opportunities. Ready to accept an offer of a sales job in a store - "The prospect of working in cool, air-conditioned surroundings was rather nice" - she was sidetracked by an invitation by producer Dokdin Kanyamarn to star in a film.

"It was a lot harder than I thought it would be," she said. With her protected upbringing, she was shy and soft-spoken. "I couldn't even show my teeth when I smiled," she noted. It wasn't until noted voice-over artist Juree Osiri complained that it was so hard to dub Petchara's role because she hardly opened her mouth that she realised she had a lot to learn and improve.

Warisara Apirakdechachai

Mitr Chaibancha provided great moral support for the up-and-coming actress, and soon the pair were able to guarantee the success of a movie. Audiences would walk away from a movie if their favourite hero-heroine did not lead the cast. Soon she was doing three film cues a day. In those days actors didn't see the script beforehand; they just appeared on the set and were briefed on the scene to be filmed. They often had to do their own hair and make-up, and even provide their wardrobe.

Contributing to her deteriorating eyesight was the fact that she usually drove herself to her film shoots. She only became aware of her failing eyesight when road accidents started becoming alarmingly frequent. One day she almost drove into a canal, since it looked like the road to her. Soon, the curtain came down on her blazing career.

But now, looking at the fashion spread in the magazine, you would hardly realise that Petchara is blind. To prime her for each shot, photographer (and Lips editor-in-chief) Sakchai Guy briefed her in detail about the Fly Now outfit she was wearing, the beautiful jewellery from Frank's Jewellery Creation, and the backdrop of the shot, so she could visualise and project in her mind's eye the final effect. Make-up artist Apichart Norasrethaporn revived the screen goddess, look especially the eyes, which he defined with the '60s style eyeliner that was her trademark.

Coupled with her petite figure, an undying sense of professionalism and a fearlessness that allowed her to even pose atop a high table, the result was an amazing fashion set that launched her return to the public eye. And for Petchara herself, it must be a relief that after so many decades, she still has fans who love her. Even those who were too young to see her films could sense they were in the presence of a special person indeed.

It couldn't have been more perfect.

Watanya Pimparat

Music student accolades

Thai music students shone in the 10th Osaka International Music Competition earlier this month. A total of 11 music students passed the qualifying round in Bangkok to attend the Osaka final, and of those, three - all from Mahidol University's College of Music - received various prizes.

Warisara Apirakdechachai, a pre-college student major in voice performance, won 1st prize in the voice category, the first Thai student to do so.

Vithasa Tor Saengchan, an undergraduate student, is a 4th-year Thai music performance major who plays the jahke, a traditional Thai stringed instrument. Vithasa received 2nd prize in the folk instruments category of Section II.

Five student playing the khim, a Thai stringed instrument, received 3rd prize in the folk instruments category of Section II.

Beside the students from Mahidol's College of Music, Gun Chaikittiwatana, a Grade 6 student who plays piano from Sarasas Witaed Thonburi School, received the Espoir prize (equivalent to 4th prize).

This competition has three main categories: Section I - piano, voice, strings, winds; Section II - early music, two pianos, piano four hands, duo, ensemble, folk instruments, concerto audition; and Section III - amateurs.

The Osaka International Music Competition aims to find and send out a number of young artists around the world to compete in an international setting. It distinguishes Osaka as an epicentre of arts and culture and endeavours to promote the peace and prosperity of the Kansai region in the 21st century.

Applause must be given to the other students, also from Mahidol, who made the cut into the finals, but didn't win any prizes. They are Nicha Pimthong, Nuttakarn Srisawat, Chatwut Supradit, Teerapong Submool, Saranporn Boonvanichyalert, Tanist Saengwichai and Thayarat Sopolpong.

About the author

Writer: Krissie Na Klongtoey
Position: Writer

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