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Genius with a troubled past

world Updated: Sep 27, 2009 22:33 IST

As dark and disturbing as Roman Polanski’s films are, the real life of the 76-year-old director is even more defined by horror, violence and sex.

Polanski, born in Paris on August 18, 1933 to parents who took him back to their native Poland, learned early about the dark side of human nature. He was eight when the Nazis took away his parents and he was forced to flee the Jewish ghetto in Krakow — an experience that lends an almost autobiographical tone to the 2002 movie The Pianist.

Wandering the Polish countryside, going from family to family and dodging German soldiers, Polanski saw first-hand the perversity and cruelty in people.

The experience shaped his performance as a teenage actor in post-war Poland in the 1950s, and underpinned his own short movies, made after a course at the Lodz Film School.

His feature debut, Knife in the Water (1962), an erotic thriller about a couple inviting a switchblade-toting hitchhiker onto their yacht, was acclaimed in the West and was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, even though it generated little interest at home.

Taking up offers in Hollywood, he moved to Los Angeles in 1968, where he set about making his first big international hit — Rosemary’s Baby.

In 1974, he returned to Hollywood and made Chinatown, an atmospheric tale in the film noir mould starring his good friend Jack Nicholson, giving himself a small part as a hood who slashes Nicholson’s nose.

Still considered a classic, Chinatown was nominated for 11 Oscars. But happiness was shortlived.

In 1977, he lured a 13-year-old model back to Nicholson’s house, where he plied her with drink and drugs and, by his own admission, had sex with her. Rather than face a 50-year jail sentence for statutory rape, he fled the United States.