As she gives her stamp of immortality, Asha Parekh rewinds to an eventful career.
Asha Parekh. The name unspools myriad memories but three have withstood the test of time. The image of a chirpy girl, barely out of her teens, eager to embrace the good things of life. The picture of a teary-eyed pristine beauty whose flight has been brutally cut off by circumstances. The reflection of the other woman, that Tulsi can never be planted inside the four walls. “Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai”, “Kati Patang” and “Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki”, the titles complete the unsaid.
Recently, UTV Stars immortalised Parekh with her hand imprint at the Walk of the Stars at the Bandra-Bandstand Promenade in Mumbai and the feisty lady is in a mood to reflect on a star-studded career. Discovered by Bimal Roy as a child artist, rejected by Vijay Bhatt and nurtured by Nasir Hussain, Parekh says in her early films she was largely playing herself on screen. “I was a tomboy at home and in most of my early films I was just playing little variations of what I was at home.” She is candid enough to admit that she was not really looking for performances in films where all she had to do was to fall in love and head for the hills. “I didn’t mind it. Why would I? I was young and I was getting to see all these beautiful places. It was like a picnic with perks. I was a star first and then became an actor,” says Parekh.
In the ’60s, together with Saira Banu and Sadhana, Parekh represented a new lot of starlets, whom she describes as slightly more liberated than the generation before them. “I mean we looked the part in those hill romances. It was not just about the good location, we had to make it believable.” When nothing worked, songs saved her. “That way I was very lucky. My films always had hit songs.” Her attitude spiralled many a myth around her. She shares her birthday with Mahatma Gandhi but she is no champion of peace. Such was the fear of the ‘Jubilee queen’. In fact, once she even joked that whenever she entered the studio everybody would run for cover. Perhaps it is this frank approach that created an impression she didn’t want to work with Dilip Kumar. Parekh denies having made such a statement. “I always loved his work. It was just a matter of coincidence that we didn’t get to work together,” she clarifies.
If Husain saw the naughty side in her, it was Raj Khosla who saw a budding tragedy queen when he cast her in films like “Do Badan” and “Chirag”. “Rajji was a master of technical details, always ready to improvise. He was fond of those round trolleys to make the scenes more absorbing. Nasir sahib, on the other hand, wrote beautifully and didn’t want changes to be made in his story.” However, she rates Vijay Anand with whom she worked in “Teesri Manzil” as the complete director. “Teesri Manzil” reminds one of Shammi Kapoor, Parekh’s first co-star in “Dil Deke Dekho” whom she fondly called chacha. “He was my teacher when it came to emoting in front of the camera.” Another star with whom her pairing was guarantee for box office success was Dharmendra. The two worked in five films and all made big money. Parekh rates “Aaye Din Bahar Ke” as her favourite with Dharmendra.
One of the few heroines who had a life beyond the arc lights, Parekh took her passion for dance seriously as she used to take breaks from her acting to take her troupe for world tours and then she got into something as drab as film distribution at the peak of her career.
“It was Nasir Sahib who got me involved with distribution business. It happened by chance. When Nasir Sahib offered Gulshan Rai the distribution rights of ‘Teesri Manzil’ and ‘Baharon Ke Sapne’, Rai said he will only distribute ‘Teesri Manzil’. Miffed by his attitude, Nasir sahib decided to launch his own distribution company and asked me if I would like to take charge. I reluctantly agreed but soon I started taking interest in the business. There was a time when I used to go to office every morning and take part in the business of cinema,” reminisces Parekh. It is said a distributor knows the pulse of the market but Asha has a different opinion. “Nobody can gauge public’s mind. I can say this from my experience. I backed and distributed a film called ‘Rakhi Aur Hathkadi’ thinking it will be a big success but it could not last even five days at the box office.”
With “Kati Patang”, her career took a decisive turn. “I wanted to take a break from my glamorous image and by chance Shaktiji came with this subject of a widow.” It is still a mystery as to why Shakti Samanta picked her over Sharmila Tagore with whom he had given two back-to-back hits in the form of “An Evening In Paris” and “Aradhana”. Did she get it on the rebound for the newly married Sharmila didn’t want to be seen in a white sari on the screen? Parekh refuses to throw light and comes up with a curt, “I have no idea.” Four decades later the film is remembered more for its songs than the melodrama that it generated around the tale of a widow. “It was true to its times and that’s why it got such a tremendous response from the audience. Social mores change with time. What people find progressive now, may not be seen in the same light a few years down the line,” says Parekh, who was the first female chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification.
In the late 90s she had a wonderful run on the small screen with series like “Kora Kagaz” hooking people with sensitive subject and solid performances but Parekh has no patience for mediocrity that comes with daily soaps. “TV is not my cup of tea anymore,” she sighs. Still active, she has formed a group of aged actors together with Waheeda Rehman and Helen where they keep in touch with each other and go for holidays together so that loneliness doesn’t get the better of them. “I have no regrets. It has been a wonderful journey,” Parekh signs off.