Curtain call: Legendary cai luong actress Thanh Nga (third left) in the drama Dem Khong Ngay (Nights Without Days) staged by the Thanh Minh - Thanh Nga Troupe in 1964. – VNA/VNS Photo Huynh Cong Minh
HCM CITY — The dramatic life and death of Thanh Nga, a hugely popular cai luong (reformed theatre) artist, has been immortalised in a new picture book that carries almost 100 monochrome photographs of the legend.
Thanh Nga – Life, Stage, Love and Fate showcases the work of Huynh Cong Minh, a 77-year-old photo journalist who specialised in cai luong theatre.
The pictures, which Minh shot between the 50s and 60s of the last century, mostly features the actress in action on stage, while some depict Nga in her daily life.
The pictures are juxtaposed with articles and stories by reporters and composers close to her, celebrating her talent and commitment to the art. It also contains behind-the-scenes anecdotes about her love life.
The pictures are amazingly clear and detailed, evoking vivid memories of the heydays of cai luong theatre, evidenced in elaborate costumes and make-up, sophisticated stage design and beautiful moves.
The pictures focus in particular on various dramas staged by Thanh Minh - Thanh Nga, the most succesful cai luong troupe ever for whom Thanh Nga was a lead actress, during its golden age between 1965 and 1967.
Noted for both her talent and beauty, Nga was the brightest star in the constellation of the golden generation of cai luong actors. Her stage success is unmatched by any others, according to cai luong aficionados.
Nga was shot dead at the age of 36 while struggling to keep her little son from being snatched by two kidnappers in 1978. Her death sent shock waves across the country.
“Everyone knows and admires her,” said photo journalist Minh, explaining why he focused his fourth picture book on Thanh Nga, while the previous three were about the art itself.
He said that when photos of Thanh Nga were exhibited at an International Women’s Day celebration early last year, many people liked them so much that they asked him to print them in a book.
“Some even paid me millions of dong to have the pictures printed for them in an album,” he said.
“The picture book features Nga from her very first days on stage when she was just a little girl to the moment she received the Thanh Tam Award,” Minh said.
Minh spent 15 years following every leading contemporary troupe and actor to capture moments of cai luong theatre, which he now treasures more than anything else.
He has a collection of thousands of pictures taken of almost 550 cai luong dramas staged between 1954 and 1968.
So far, he has published four picture books of which the first three feature just 12 dramas under the title “Cai luong Theatre – A Golden Age”.
“I’d like to show to young audiences today how cai luong was so popular in the old days,” he said. — VNS