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Source:  http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/25365/beauty-from-an-age-ago-resurfaces

Beauty from an age ago resurfaces

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Opinion » Opinion

Beauty from an age ago resurfaces

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

Naturally we wonder, what finally lured the ageing princess out of her padlocked bedchamber?

Petchara Chaowarat, now 64, was last seen on screen in the tragic mother-and-son drama Ai Khun Thong in 1978, before Thailand's most celebrated actress in history, the cervine-eyed sovereign of our 16mm cinema, chose to flick the light off and pull the curtain over her own illustrious career. At that time Petchara, the Siamese beauty with the most glistening of eyes, was going blind. The irony - the misfortune - couldn't have been harsher.

For 30 years Petchara totally withdrew from public life, her privacy severely guarded by herself and her family. When the National Film Archive asked for her handprints as a keepsake for the Thai Film Museum, the staff were requested to go to her house in Ramkamhaeng with a block of wet cement, so she didn't have to travel to the premises and risk being photographed. The extent of her public activity was limited to a brief stint as host of a country-music show nine years ago, and she only gave an interview to the journal published by the Thai Film Foundation.

"[In the 1960s] I shot 20 films a month, and I had no day off," she recalled her life in the interview. "Then after 1978, I devoted my time trying to cure my eyes, but it didn't work... I didn't allow anybody to see me... Sometimes I wanted to gouge my eyes out... Why couldn't I see? How could I live like this?"

Yet she lives, and in the past week Petchara came back with a bang. The petite actress, who appeared in a few hundred movies between 1962-1978, has made a surprising comeback as TV presenter of a local cosmetic brand. She appeared on the buzz-brewing television commercials, looking precious, happy and old. Robed in elegant gowns, she even posed for the fashion pages of a popular glossy, with the digital marvel complimenting her classical polish. On TV or in those photos, the first thing you'd look at are her eyes. And you'd be disappointed if you expected to see two lightless caves of faded glory. Those eyes, slightly vacant, remain fabled.

Petchara

Whatever lured the ageing legend out of her hermetical void, this must be considered a successful case of modern PR. It's a triumph of advertising to turn - or at least try to turn - a legend into a living ad, a myth into a material campaign. But despite the cynical fact that the goal of all ads is to sell stuff, the return of Petchara to national media may have had a few cultural implications. Here's the legendary actress whom everybody under 40 only heard their parents talk about but never actually saw. Petchara is the missing link between generations that has now resurfaced. And despite the nature of her reappearance - in a cosmetics ad - her story, now being retold in several articles, is a reminder of the day when "stars" weren't just pretty faces with aristocratic surnames and big attitude, but were hard-working professionals trying to make a living.

Petchara was the biggest star in the pre-television, pre-multiplex, pre-tabloid age - her rare public appearances during her heyday in the 1960s, when she co-starred with the late Mitr Chaibancha in over 100 films, could create an earthquake of excited humanity. She came from a humble family; she used to work in the rice fields in Rayong, an experience that benefited many of her roles. When she began her acting career, in Bantuek Rak Pim Chawee in 1962, Petchara found herself in a labour-intensive industry that demanded her to work non-stop, literally, for over a decade. Shooting movies in those days required the actors, apart from being good-looking, to be very disciplined, very diligent, and very professional. It was a career that needed to be taken seriously, and not with the kind of colourful caprice that overweening Thai stars seem to subscribe to.

Of course a lot has changed since Petchara's halcyon years. Actors now have to work in TV, where they waste their talent engaging in prime-time slap parties, while audiences have become more voracious about the secret lives of their tabloid stars. Fame has become so transient that it's worthless, and most actors are after superstardom rather than professional integrity. Maybe it was a good thing that Petchara had quit in 1978. It's nice to see her back, happy and confident, and hopefully that's that. Hopefully she won't be dragged out into the showbiz jungle and sensational talk shows. That would be another irredeemable misfortune.

  • Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post real.time section.

About the author

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Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Reporter

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  • MOO MOO

    Discussion 2 : 10/10/2009 at 08:41 AM2

    It's very nice to see her back, in spotlight again.

  • Somboon

    Discussion 1 : 10/10/2009 at 06:06 AM1

    Yes, I still remember watching her movies with Mitr in the 60's. I remember "Insee Daeng" or Red Hawk. I am glad she is coming out and showing that she is still well beyond her age.

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