cinema Reviews

‘Parveen Babi’ review: Prisoner of the white lights

Before the advent of Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, there were only two types of heroines— the vamp who smoked, drank and wore western clothes and the good girl who wore a sari and wept buckets. And so while Zeenat’s Jasbir tripped the light fantastic in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, (1971) Parveen Babi as Sunita lived in sin with Vijay in Deewar (1975) or captures Anthony Gonzalves’ heart as Jenny in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).

Time freeze

In Parveen Babi, film journalist Karishma Upadhyay chronicles the highs and lows of Babi’s life. Her film career kicked off with B.R. Ishara’s Charitra (1973) and wound down in 1991 with Iraada, with a couple of absences along the way. While the book tells the story of a shy girl from the royal family in Junagadh in Gujarat through the prism of Babi’s mental illness, the book is addictive for capturing the zeitgeist of the 1970s and ’80s.

Starting dramatically with Parveen threatening to jump out of a car and strip on Andheri flyover, on the verge of a breakdown, the book moves back to Parveen’s childhood in Junagadh, losing her father at the age of six, her difficult relationship with her undemonstrative mother, Jamal, her move to Ahmedabad to study in St. Xavier’s College in 1968 and her move to Bombay to try her luck in films.

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In college, Parveen reinvented herself morphing from a painfully shy salwar-kameez clad girl to a gorgeous, confident-looking woman. Parveen’s excellent memory helped her get by college with minimal effort and also stood her in good stead during her acting career. She was not the best actress around, she was conscientious and would always remember her lines.

Upadhyay chronicles the three great loves in Parveen’s life — actors Danny Denzongpa and Kabir Bedi and director Mahesh Bhatt. Having spoken extensively with all the three men, Upadhyay is able to create an unforgettable picture of a woman who loved not too wisely but too well. While Parveen’s obsession with Amitabh Bachchan is mentioned, and the rumoured affair delved into, there is no quote from the Big B.

Myths busted

Along the way there are myths busted such as Parveen’s drug addiction (the actor never touched them). Apart from the three men, Upadhyay spoke to over a 100 people who knew and worked with Parveen from her college friends to her manager Ved Sharma who went far beyond the call of duty and costume designer Xerxes Bhathena. The book also quotes from film magazines with screaming headlines such as “Parveen Babi’s fight for sanity” or “Kabir Bedi exposes the lies Parveen told” and “Parveen Babi: Fed up of being the poor man’s Zeenat Aman.”

With all the conversations around mental illness, it is distressing that things have changed and still remained the same in 40 years. The book quotes from ‘The Confessions of Parveen Babi’, which the actor wrote for The Illustrated Weekly in 1984. Parveen’s description of her breakdown is poignant especially as she continued to work, while in an increasingly fragile state. The industry was not very kind to her when she went away. They, however, welcomed her back every time thanks to Sharma’s hard work and her work ethic.

The photos in the book from the cover photo of a still from Namak Halal (1982) of Parveen performing ‘Jawani Jaaneman’ in a daring gold leotard to the back cover picture of the controversial ‘Khwab bankar Koi Aayega’ from Razia Sultan (1983) are well chosen. There are also pictures of Parveen on set, on the cover of Time and candid shots where her natural grace shines through.

Full of interesting nuggets like the venerable Shabana Azmi’s pet name being Munni (!), Parveen living at Basavangudi in Bengaluru to recuperate and her love of reading, the book brings alive the fun and freedom apart from the heat and heartbreak of the days when the common man could only guess at what the stars were up to in their ivory towers.

Parveen Babi; Karishma Upadhyay, Hachette, ₹599.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 5:43:08 AM |

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