Beauty Personified

Ethereal

Parveen Babi died unsung, exactly seven years ago. She was perhaps the most stunning Bollywood actor, despised in death as much as she was adored during her days as an actress.

Tragic : Parveen Babi

She enjoys the distinction of being the first Indian heroine to be featured on the cover of the prestigious Time magazine, the picture being from her incomplete Chamatkar, directed by Pramod Chakravorty and co-starring Rajesh Khanna, in July 1976.

She was conscious of her beauty and flaunted it to the brim, living life as if there were no tomorrows, getting into relationships with married men like Kabir Bedi, Danny Denzongappa and Mahesh Bhatt who later capitalised on her life and made up stories in a series of films like Arth, Woh Lamhe and Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee that dubbed her as a neurotic of sorts. She was amongst the first to don a bikini for Vinod Pande’s Yeh Nazdeekiyan (83).

Also called magical, mystical and mesmerising, Parveen Babi started out as a model in 1972, prompting designer Manish Malhotra to comment: “Parveen Babi brought minimalism into fashion.” Her first screen appearance was in B R Ishara’s nondescript Charitra opposite cricketer Salim Durani (73), followed by Kishore Sahu’s Dhuan ki Lakeer. In all, she has worked in 57 films, her last appearance being in the unheard of Iraada (90).

Some of her well known films were opposite Amitabh Bachchan — Majboor (74), Deewar (75), Amar Akbar Anthony (77), Suhaag (79), Kaalia (81), Namak Halaal, and Khuddar (82). She was also part of Desh Premee, Shaan, Do aur Do Panch (80), and Mahaan (83). It is widely believed that she had a great crush on Amitabh Bachchan, even a brief relationship with the megastar, which is partly blamed for her lunatic behaviour in her later life.

Parveen, who had style and oomph, was underrated as an actor, though she could light up a scene with her physicality, transferring her persona into every role she essayed. On-screen, she seemed she was her natural self and not acting. Sadly, she was odiously compared to the westernised and more popular Zeenat Aman, to whom she had to sometimes play the second fiddle. Though born into a Muslim family where her father (whom she lost when she was barely seven), Vali Mohammed Babi, was the administrator in the princely state of Junagadh, Gujarat, her upbringing wasn’t subjected to any conservatism.

She was westernised to the core, and unlike many of her other illustrious contemporaries, she never hid the fact that she smoked cocaine and drank wine at industry dos. Speaking to actor Shekhar Suman in a television interview towards the end of her life, she talked about her Bollywood stint, never for a moment sounding as if she suffered from any mental sickness, and her flair for comedy: “You see, I was a very westernised girl, always.

So there were not many Indian roles that I could play or very Indian sentiments that I could portray. I was an avid Hollywood film buff and had an instinct for comedy. In fact, the one role I had enormous fun playing was in the not-very-well-known film called Door Desh with Raj Babbar, as a wheeler-dealer girl.” The conversation also revealed that she had a repertoire of great jokes, but when asked what according to her was the biggest joke, she said, “Amitabh Bachchan being named as the most handsome guy.”

She was at the peak of her career when she did the disappearing act on July 30, 1983. However, she returned in 1989, as a plump woman, a shadow of her old glamourous self, making unfounded allegations against most people in the industry, and accusing Amitabh Bachchan of plotting her murder. She was found dead in her Juhu apartment in suburban Mumbai on January 22, 2005, reportedly from severe diabetic complications. It sure was an end that the actress didn’t deserve.

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