On reading the news about Anita Ekberg’s demise yesterday at age 83, I naturally revisited some of her work, in particular the iconic Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) scene in Federico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960). The allure of a stunningly beautiful woman, or for that matter any woman at all, frolicking under a waterfall is so universal because it is so primal. I was instantly reminded of a similar scene by the Indian master auteur* Sanjay Khan’s ‘Abdullah’ (1980) from a particularly peppy song’ ‘Bheega badan jalne laga’ composed by Rahul Dev Burman (‘My wet body is on fire’) featuring Zeenat Aman.
In terms of their sheer physical beauty Ekberg and Aman are favorably comparable except that the former looks a little less attainable because of her Nordic aloofness. In reality, she was not so unattainable as evident from her romance with Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Rod Taylor, Yul Brynner and Errol Flynn, as reported by The New York Times.
Other than a few fleeting moments of sameness between Fellini’s Trevi scene and Khan’s desert oasis scene, there is, of course, nothing in common between ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Abdullah’. Nevertheless, I was tickled while comparing the character of Marcello Mastroianni being beseeched seductively by Ekberg and the brazen and creepy voyeurism led by Danny Denzongpa’s character focused on Aman’s obvious oomph.
Incidentally, Matroianni plays a journalist in the movie which made me wonder why I have never caught such breaks in my career. The nearest thing to a life form under a waterfall that I have encountered in my career was a buffalo lazing under a murky waterfall during one of my travels in India in the 1980s. The buffalo was chewing the cud with its mouth frothing. It was not a sight that could turn you on. I suppose you get the picture.
It is not my case that Khan copied the Trevi scene in ‘Abdullah’ but it is also not my case that he did not. The point is I have no idea. However, it is a good thing that he stretched out the wet frolic over an entire song where Zeenat Aman is letting us know that she is expecting. Also, in case it was lost on us that voyeurism under the circumstances was inevitable, Khan had Danny’s character along with his band of unwashed bandits act it out with as little finesse as possible.
In contrast, the Trevi scene was a bit too short. As it transpired much later, it was shot in Rome in February when the fountain water was very cold and Ekberg had to be lifted out of the pool because her legs had gone numb. I read that Mastroianni kept warm by downing a few pegs of vodka.
I recognize that this is not much of a tribute to Ekberg but I did not intend to make it one. This post was only about the two scenes two decades and some 5000 miles apart by two directors who were also as far apart. I speculated in my mind how Fellini might have handled ‘Abdullah’ and Khan ‘La Dolce Vita’ and immediately banished the thought.
Purely on a tangent, ‘La Dolce Vita’ is not the same as ‘Dolce and Gabbana’.
* If my sarcasm is lost on you, there is nothing I can do.