“Main to beghar hoon… apne ghar le chalo… ghar mein ho mushkil… to daftar le chalo…” These very lines, picturized on the 70s superstar Parveen Babi, ironically sums up her entire life. She was a nomad at heart, a nomad in search of true love. The search led her to multiple relationships, relationships that lasted only a few years but scarred her forever. Soon she found herself entangled in a mental disorder known as schizophrenia, a little-known term even today. In spite of her tumultuous love life and mental illness, she managed to stay at the top of her game for more than a decade. Her covetous film career produced hits like Amar Akbar Anthony, Kalia, Khuddar, Mahaan, Do Aur Do Paanch, Namak Halal, Shaan, Majboor, Jani Dost, Rang Birangi, Suhaag et al. She acted in more than 50 movies and was one of the most sought after actresses in the late 70s and the early 80s. Parveen did the maximum amount of work with the then superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Their pairing never missed the bull’s eye and had a 100 percent track record. From being called poor man’s Zeenat Aman to carving a niche of her own, Parveen Babi lived a career every actress in showbiz dreams of.
I fell in love with Parveen Babi the moment I saw her in Amar Akbar Anthony. The song was ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves’. She was dressed in a long red dress with her trademark hairstyle. I was completely besotted by her beauty, her style, her elegance. The way she carried herself, the way she smiled, the way she moved. I was smitten. Such was her charm. Parveen Babi arguably was the most beautiful actress Bollywood ever produced. Her beauty earned her the privilege to become the first ever Indian actor to grace the cover of the TIME magazine. Even though she was the biggest sex symbol of her time, Parveen hardly experimented with her looks. Her hair probably remained the same throughout her career (with Majboor, Razia Sultan, Namak Halal being the only exceptions). Neither did she accessorize much. Her sex appeal lied in her simplicity, her minimalism. She was inherently sexy. Unlike her contemporaries (read Zeenat Aman), she never pushed the envelope in order to look sexy on screen. Neither did she kiss on-screen nor wore a bikini. What made her “the sex symbol” was the way she carried herself and the confidence she exuded both on and off screen.
Parveen Babi along with her rival Zeenat Aman completely revamped the Hindi film heroine both in terms of looks and the characters being portrayed then. The Hindi film heroine was no more coy and demure, she was bold and feisty. She drank, she smoked and even indulged in pre-marital sex. Both Parveen and Zeenat made western influences, which were once the traits of the ‘Hindi film Vamp’ (read a Helen or a Bindu), mainstream.
Parveen Babi was the star of the masses. Although she did act in a few movies towards the end of her career where she got to display her histrionics (like Yeh Nazdeekiyan and Rang Birangi), she will always be remembered for her glamorous acting credits. Her strength lied in the effortless ease with which she portrayed all her characters. She never went over the top and that was her accomplishment. As far as histrionics are concerned, the talent she displayed in the five-minute song ‘Main toh beghar hoon’ from Suhaag is enough to validate her brilliance as an actor. She is exemplary as a drunken, free-spirited girl in the song.
The film industry is a difficult place to thrive in. Very few achieve success and superstardom here. And only a handful are able to sustain their super success. Parveen Babi managed to do so albeit all her hardships and impediments. And to everyone’s surprise, she left it all, her hard-earned fame, her stardom, at the pinnacle of her career. She again managed to do something that very few will dare to emulate. But then, she was ‘the Parveen Babi’. The superstar who broke stereotypes (both professionally and personally). The superstar who believed in herself (even when the entire world knew she was delusional). The superstar who always played by her own rules and the superstar who was the master of her own fate.
Authored By – Abinash Gupta