Asha Parekh: Recall value

Asha Parekh

Asha Parekh’s seventh floor apartment in a suburban residential society is unique in its layout — with everything from the room itself to the décor following a circular shape. As I enter, the lady is busy speaking to her homeopath about the do’s and dont’s of diet. Attired in a salwar-kameez, she orders tea even before the interview takes off.

For those who came in (very) late, Asha Parekh, a trained Kathak dancer, began with small roles, and made her debut in Dil Deke Dekho (1959). What followed in the 60s and 70s was a virtual hit-streak and it was only at the end of the 70s that she shifted to character roles. Her initial image of an incandescent heroine soon was amalgamated with pithy performances in films as varied as Do Badan, Meri Soorat Teri Aankhen, Chirag, Kati Patang, Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki and others.

Born in a middle-class Gujarati family with a Hindu father and a Muslim mother, she was enrolled by her mother in classical dance classes at an early age, and when Bimal Roy saw her dance at a function he cast her as a child artiste in Baap Beti (1954).  But despite her sustained success, Asha was never just the actress. She had her own dance troupe and performed ballets even abroad, had a film distribution concern jointly with mentor and favourite filmmaker Nasir Husain, and did and still does a lot of social and charitable work.

In the 90s she also produced very successful Hindi and Gujarati television serials, even directing Jyoti and Kora Kagaz, and later became chairperson of the Censor Board in a very controversial tenure. “But the people there still remember me and call up, and they gave me a beautiful send-off.” Was the interesting trivia true, that a producer rejected her a day before S Mukerji signed her for Dil Deke Dekho? Smiles Asha, “Actually I had attended a premiere of Raj Kapoor’s Behroopia and S Mukerji met me there and asked that I meet him the next day.”

The film marked the beginning of a long relationship (with personal shades according to the grapevine) with writer-filmmaker Nasir Husain and yielded six more hits, while in his Manzil Manzil she played mother to hero Sunny Deol. It also began an association with hero Shammi Kapoor. “We struck up a great rapport. I look up to him and he is the co-star I respect most. I would look forward to shooting with him as he made work fun rather than seem like work!” Shedding light on why she did her next three films with Kapoor only after a long gap, Asha explains, “I was doing a lot of films in Chennai (Madras). And he would rarely work there.” She modestly accepts that she did tend to “pick up the right scripts” as an explanation for her extraordinarily high success-rate. “I would read a lot of books too.”

Asha Parekh accepts that she was never considered a great actor because she mostly did light, breezy roles. “But comedy is very difficult — it’s about the right timing and perfect dialogues delivery,” she points out. “But I was applauded most for Kati Patang, but two of my best performances came in Raj Khosla’s films Chirag (which did not do well) and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki, in which I walked away with the sympathy because I was Tulsi, the underdog, even though my role was very short.”

Asha cherishes Bharosa because a crucial sequence between Asha and Nana Palsikar ended up being directed by hero Guru Dutt because the director fell ill. “It was a mind-blowing experience! The way Guru was moving the camera and his way of explaining what and why he wanted was very different from directors in those days who just expected you to blindly follow their instructions.”

About her extraordinary songs, not less than 50 hits if a compilation was ever made, she says that she left it to her composers. “But sometimes I did attend the recordings, like I recall a Laxmikant-Pyarelal recording and another with Usha Khanna, who also worked on my serials.” But there was one standout example where she got producer S S Vasan to drop a song composed by Ravi because it was too similar to composer’s mujra in Chaudhvin Ka Chand. “Vasan-saab immediately ordered him to scrap it. I have never met a man of his calibre. So many of the filmmakers then were giants!” she raves.

Among other directors whom she respected tremendously are Vijay Anand, Nasir Husain, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Raj Khosla of course. “I had a great tuning with all my heroes from Raj Kapoor with whom I worked late in Chor Mandali to Manoj Kumar, Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Joy Mukerji and others,” says Asha.

Asha is in her most relaxed phase today, giving great attention to develop the Asha Parekh Hospital that has recently reopened after 15 months of lockout. Socially, she is also a part of the Film Industry Welfare Trust. But why is she not doing more serials, though they were so successful? “I am just taking a break,” she says. Why did she never direct a film though she worked on two serials? “I had six months of pre-production for Bhairavi for Plus Films, but there were creative differences about the climax,” she reveals. ”
Asha enjoys a few of today’s films like A Wednesday, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Mumbai Meri Jaan and Billu but feels that the dances and music are a hotchpotch mix in most cases. “Where is India in the dances and the songs?” she asks. “There is too much of a make-believe where a village boy sings songs in Switzerland! Why are there very few filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali who present our rich, colourful culture so well? We must bring that back.” And are there any specific incidents that has made her career worthwhile? “There are so many, but I especially value my Padma Shri, received at the hands of president R Venkataraman, and my Filmfare award, because I received it from Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.”

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