Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kebayas and Crowns

I woke up with a headache – I was feeling the after effects of the champagne and the wine. I was in the afterglow of last night’s celebrations and my spontaneous acceptance speech. Next to my bed, the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay reminded me of the thrill of winning an award for telling the story of a global reunion of close colleagues. More importantly, it was validation of the strength of the relationships that were established in the innocence of our youth in the 80s. Despite time and space, we had been able to pick right up where we had left off, even though all of us were now parents with children almost the age we were when we had formed the close bonds of friendship.

Who would have thought that when I initially penned my diary of events since the auspicious trip to London that it would become a movie script that would bring together a constellation of stars. As director, Clint Eastwood was able to bring to life the emotion, laughter and quirkiness of each of us. Halle Berry played Iranthi Anandappa to perfection, even getting her “Yah” expressions interspersed so effectively.

I had wanted to play my own role, but Reese Witherspoon’s convincing performance made me realize that it would never have been such a Box Office hit without her. Her sense of stylish elegance combined with her bubbly personality brought out all the subtle nuances of my mischievous personality. She had won her second Academy Award for Actress in a lead role. Halle Berry had won her second for Actress in a supporting role.

Colin Firth was an excellent selection to play Jeremy Soertz who had a confidence with a soft aura of endearing arrogance that was more charming than offensive. I must admit that my initial trepidation about George Clooney playing Prince Kamalanesan was eradicated when Clooney brought out Prince’s “aw shucks sincerity.”

Yes, Clint Eastwood’s casting was spot on. Aishwarya Rai as Maya Daniels, Jim Carrey as Fabian Rooff. Charlize Theron as Becky Wambeek. He even managed to get Shahrukh Khan to play the role of Siva Ramachandran. Khan had turned down the role of the game show host in the blockbuster Slum Dog Millionaire, so the fact that he signed on for our movie was beyond belief.

My reverie was interrupted with my phone ringing off the hook and my Blackberry was signaling the flood of emails. I realize I need to get my coffee so I can focus on the time differences in the various parts of the world and call each one of SQ Eighties team who had made the reunion possible. This award was for each of them who inspired the story.

We were the Royal Flush … all the high value cards in the same vein. Although we were each different, the unifying factor was our common interest in doing the best job we could. We didn’t compete with each other, yet we helped each other succeed. We shared our successes and our disappointments. We had the best time of our lives – unfazed by whatever was going on. This was before TV, the digital age or the Internet. Our entertainment consisted of any kind of get together – lunches, dinner parties, picnics and playing pranks.

As I held the Oscar in my hand again, I smiled thinking back to 2012—the year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 60 years of wearing the crown as Monarch of Great Britain. It was the year that started the global reconnection of the Colombo Singapore Airlines staff of the eighties. The era when the Singapore Girls of Colombo wore their Kebayas with pride and the team embraced the airline’s motto “In Pursuit of Excellence.”

And I reached for the phone to call Iranthi to thank her for her encouragement to develop the script that eventually became the blockbuster movie that earned me my first Oscar and the thrill of working with Sir Elton John on the lyrics for the songs. That was the crowning moment of my life because it doesn’t get more Royal than that!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Building Bridges in London

Ever since I remember I have wanted to visit London. Growing up in a former British Colony that had gained independence just 10 years before I was born, we were still pretty much influenced by Great Britain. My father's love for English literature instilled a passion in his children for the written and spoken word. I took this passion a step further by studying drama and excelling in the works of William Shakespeare. 

Beyond the literature, my father encouraged us to read about Britain's rich history and about the time when the sun never set on the British Empire. I was a frequent attendee at the Colombo British Council screenings of British history or Shakespearean films. One movie that fascinated and intrigued me was "Bequest to the Nation" - the movie about Lord Horatio Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

And of course, who wasn't taken up with the whole Royal wedding fanfare in 1981? 1981 seemed to be an auspicious and eventful year. My brother Josh married Magdalene in May that year, Prince Charles & Lady Diana's fairytale wedding was in July and I got married in October. By strange coincidence, Queen Elizabeth was visiting Sri Lanka on my wedding day on October 24, 1981!

Fast forward to 2012 ... Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana's son William and Kate will be celebrating their 1st wedding anniversary. HRH Queen Elizabeth II will be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee as Monarch. The venue for the Summer Olympics will be ... London! It seemed like the perfect time for me to plan my much anticipated visit to London.

My original plans were to stay with a friend of mine who had been asking me to visit him for almost 30 years. His requests had become more eager after he and his family visited my family in 2005. So in March, I finally made the arrangements. I planned to be in London for 10 days, doing the usual "tourist things," visiting the places of interest that I had read so much about and then return home to celebrate my birthday with my husband.

And then, 1981 took over. My sister Jean gave me the London phone number for Philomena (my brother Josh's sister-in-law). We had both been bridesmaids at Josh & Magdalene's wedding. She insisted that I stay with her a few days and that I also visit her sister Catherine in Scotland. And then, I wrote a casual email to a couple of my former colleagues from Singapore Airlines who had been living in London for more than 25 years, as long as I had been living in the United States. Iranthi, my former colleague who had joined Singapore Airlines in 1981 responded that she would love to host a lunch at her place the day after I arrived.

Then, during a conversation with Dennis and Cecilia, friends of mine from my teens, I learned that they would be visiting Dennis' sister Rosemary in London on their way to Prague. Dennis had been the choir leader at my church and had sung "Ave Maria" at my wedding. I hadn't seen Dennis and Cecilia for almost 30 years, because I had moved out of my home town after I got married.

Needless to say, with all the interconnections of 1981, my plans became fluid ... I reconnected with close friends I had not been in touch with for almost 30 years. My first cousin Geetha and I had reconnected via Facebook after more than 35 years. Her mother and my dad were siblings and had shared the same love of literature and history. My dad and I would entertain her with excerpts from Shakespeare and she also participated in the  ribald jokes and repartee with the rest of my family. She loved to go with us to the movies and we had seen "My Fair Lady" a couple of times because it enjoyed a successful six month run in the cinema circuit in Sri Lanka. Regretably, After my father's death in 1979, we had grown apart. I was finally going to meet Geetha and her family! 

From the time I landed at Heathrow, I had the time of my life in London and Scotland. I was tourist by day, but friend, confidante and "sister" by evening. Geetha made our physical reunion so memorable and she made my visit unforgettable. I visited most of the places that I had planned on seeing. 

I stood in Trafalgar Square beside Nelson's Column and I recalled the life and times of the victorious Lord Horatio Nelson. As I gazed at most of the 24 bridges in Central London, I gained a deeper understanding of Britain's naval supremacy of yore. I visited many war memorials and felt the sense of heroism of the brave men and women who brought freedom to Europe and the West. 

I was in awe at London's Parliament where a former Chemist brought men to tears and earned the nickname "Iron Lady" ... the true seat of Democracy where integrity is still valued and expected. And there was Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, untouched by the relentless bombing by Germany.  

Dwarfed beside the towering statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower in Grosvenor Square, I could sense his power as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe in WWII. As I walked around this area, I was transported back to the time when the greatest minds were formulating strategies to win the war.

As I reflect on my visit to London, my feelings can be summed up in the statement I made standing in front of Buckingham Palace. "These may not be the Pearly Gates, but I sure feel like I have died and gone to heaven."

While I enjoyed visiting the places of historical significance, what resonated most for me was the rekindling of the relationships ... the building of the bridges. I reconnected with people I hadn't talked to in decades ... people who knew me when I was very young. I will continue to nurture and strengthen them because that is what recharged me emotionally and spiritually. The nuances and significance of 1981 will not be missed.