Sex or talent

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Nov 25 2012, 07:33am hrs
Death of Dutch actress Sylvia Kristal last month (October 18) brought back 1974 images Id seen of hers as a half-nude poster girl on an oversized cane chair. I remember shying away from it in my early Parisian days as I walked around Champs Elysses, the worlds most beautiful avenue that joins a 12-roads roundabout. In a cinema hall there, her filmEmmanuelleran to packed audiences for 13 continuous years. When its filmmaker Just Jaeckins brother happened to become my client much later, curiosity drove me to question the films controversial strands. Does thefemme fatalelabel stick permanently to actresses who enact sex obsessions of film directors Take the illuminating stories of three women:

Woman 1:Sylvia Kristal objectified mens sexual fantasy afterEmmanuelles instant global success. Emmanuelle was portrayed as an innocent learner of sex. Enroute to Thailand to join her diplomat husband,coup de foudre(love at first sight) with a stranger in the aircraft resulted in love-making in business class, perhaps a first such instance on film. This film may possibly be the first to indicate Thailand to Westerners as a sex adventure destination.Over 600 million spectators worldwide went gaga over Emmanuelle, a role that trapped her forever. She couldnt escape being defined as a sex icon in all her 50 films. She was paid just $6000 forEmmanuelle, a film that grossed $650 million. Banned in whole or parts in several countries,Emmanuellebecame the biggest Japanese tourist attraction after Eiffel Tower. Japanese women, as per a blog post, would stand up and applaud in surprise and vengeance when Emmanuelle was on top of a man because it seems their culture requires women to be submissive. For the first timeEmmanuelleintroduced soft porn into mainstream cinema.

I was dressed, but people preferred me naked, Sylvia wrote in her 2006 autobiographyUndressing Emmanuelle.Her life depicted how an artist can drown in depression unless she takes care of her image, creativity and prosperity. She battled with tobacco and alcohol. Cocaine enslaved her, she describes it as more of a super-vitamin, something very fashionable, not really dangerous. She had many destructive relationships with older men, one of whom sold all her properties leaving her to die in a small Amsterdam flat with lung, liver and throat cancer at age 60. Her extravagant sexuality broke taboos and gave enormous unimaginable pleasure to people, but doomed her career as a film heroine.

Woman 2:In a 1986 TV show, Catherine Ringer declared she never liked soft propositions like posing nude inPlayboyorLui. Famous French singer, poet and artist Serge Gainsbourg, the other program guest, interrupted her every sentence saying, Youre a whore. She retorted, Im a hardcore pornography star, thats not prostitution. Multiple clients arent paying me for sex, just a cameraman filming my act. His next attack was, Your acts disgusting. She retaliated, Youre disgusting in public too, unshaven, probably smelling with your liquor and cigarettes. He evened the score, If youre so professional, first fix your teeth before showing them in sex acts.

Incredible creativity has since catapulted Catherine Ringer from porn icon to Frances phenomenally successful rock and pop star. Modeling since the age of eight, she worked in theatre, dance, song but didnt make enough, so switched to pornographic movies likeLa Fesse, Body love, Innocence impudiqueamong others. Then she met Fred Chichin in 1980. They went into music recordings under the name Les Rita Mitsouko. Their punk-rock-synth-pop-jazz songMarcia Bala rose to number two on French record charts. They worked with Jean Luc Godard in his filmSoigne ta droite. Creatively using Hindi filmy dance in Western style, Catherine made a video in India calledLe Petit Trainin 1989. This blockbuster clip was the frontrunner to introducing Bollywood to Western rock and pop. After husband Chichins death in 2007, Catherine penned 12 powerful tracks in a solo album, proving that a previously ignominious reputation can be turned into respectability. Theres perhaps not a second example in the world of an inventive singer starting off highly criticised, but whose ingenuity lifted her to the pinnacle of success. She created a musical genre.

Woman 3:On the success path having completed 12 films, Catherine Deneuves next role was incredible, discomfiting and dicey. She plays wife to an aristocratic Parisian doctor who lovingly understands that shes not yet mentally ready to sleep with him. Yet when in a taxi her friend reveals a scandalous tale of prostitution among their peers, to which the taxi driver gives unsolicited endorsement, she experiences a shocking, breath-stopping thrill of taboo. She gets the address of a sophisticated Parisian brothel, presents herself and is lured into becoming a high class prostitute in thismaison close(whorehouse).She says shes available from 2-5 pm only so the brothel owner names herBelle de Joure(Daytime Beauty).

Sent to satisfy another aristocrat customer, Belle de Joure fails miserably. Shes unaware that his preferred foreplay is being chided then whipped. Instead, she becomes the favourite sex-partner of a gun-toting young Italian gangster with horrible broken metal teeth, consequences of hoodlum activities. This astonishing Surrealistic movie of Spanish director Luis Bunuel was so unique that Catherine Deneuve got elevated to another level, as the all time elegant French beauty in spite of her prostitutes role at age 23. At 69 years today, shes made 111 films, is a model, entrepreneur, philanthropist, political activist. She participated in existential philosopher, feminist writer Simone de Beauvoirs 1972 Manifesto of 343 Sluts for legalising abortion. These 343 prominent Frenchwomen exposed themselves to criminal prosecution by falsely admitting they had abortions. French Health Minister Simone Veil legalised abortion in 1975. Ill later trace her outstanding journey from Auschwitz death camp to French health minister.

The fragility of womens sex appeal can ruin or raise careers unless theyre alert and self-controlled. Im inspired to narrate next week onwards how women artists to activists have to struggle to establish their liberty, personality and creativity. Such movements raised the confidence of young women even in India.

Shombit Sengupta is an international Creative Business Strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at