History says Charlie Chaplin breathed his last on the Christmas of 1977. But millions the world over would say he lives on in their laughter, in their hearts, in his touchingly funny immortal tramp. How can an immortal possibly die?
In the very year that records tell us he passed away, thousands of children in the Indian metros, in the early black & white days of TV, were rolling with laughter without fail every Friday evening from 7-7.30 p.m.
Charlie was there, spreading laughter without saying a word - in 'the great beauty of silence', as he himself once said.
For an entire generation of Indians, the short films of 1914-23 that Doordarshan broadcasted in the late 70s will always shine in memory.
In his time, the movies that rightly brought Charlie international fame, admiration and controversy included 'The Kid' (1920), 'The Gold Rush' (1925), 'City Lights' (1931), 'Modern Times' (1936), and 'The Great Dictator' (1940).
The silent comedian, a master performer who needed no dialogue, Chaplin exploited the moving picture as no one else had ever done before, and some would say, ever since.
Exactly when Charlie the tramp emerged is unclear, but once it did, his rise was unstoppable. He became the toast of the world, the greatest entertainer of the age, adored by the public and admired by the great.
Michel Proust donned a Chaplin moustache, Marcel Marceau's dubbed him a 'super-marionette', Shaw called him a genius, Ninjinsky even praised his dancing.
His fans say, without real hard evidence, that even Hitler loved Charlie so much that he trimmed his handlebar moustache to match that of the little tramp. Which of course gave the strongly anti-fascist Chaplin the perfect opportunity to parody Hitler in 'The Great Dictator'.
Charlie Chaplin was perhaps the first superstar of Hollywood - until the coming of sound.
Charlie never took to the 'Talkies', as the silent era called movies with sound. He hated the talking picture.
'Talkies are spoiling the oldest art in the world - the art of pantomime. They are ruining the great beauty of silence. They are defeating the meaning of the screen,' Charlie famously said.
And how he made that screen come alive with his inimitable style - the endearing innocence, the superb pantomime and the magnificent acrobatics. In whatever he did, laughter was ever at his side.
The coming of sound heralded the decline of Charlie's magic in the movie theatres. But he never left the public eye - sex scandals, left-wing activities, exclusion from the US, exile in Switzerland followed by reconciliation with America, knighthood, revered old age - Charlie lived it all.
Charlie Chaplin did not die on Christmas day in 1977. He lives still in the laughter of countless kids, and their parents, around the world.
If he does die someday, it would be a sad day indeed.
(Soumya Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])
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