When we talk about tragic figures in Bollywood, we rarely talk about Parveen Babi. Time, it seems, has erased the fact that the former sex-symbol was found dead in her Juhu apartment on January 22, 2005 in a pathetic state.
The death was so tragic that Parveen didn’t have anybody to fetch her some water to drink when she was gasping for her last breath.
Preliminary reports indicate that Parveen lay for hours on her bed writhing in pain but was unable to get to the door of her huge apartment to seek help because she couldn’t move. Her death belies her status as the numero uno Bollywood actress.
Parveen Babi, who was the first Bollywood actor to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, has been forgotten by Bollywood almost as quickly as she had left her acting career when she was still at her peak.
Actresses like Zeenat Aman, her Bollywood counterpart, cared two hoots about what the ‘society’ thought about her and dated men who were (at that point of time) much ‘below’ her in terms of glamour and wealth. Life was not the same for Parveen because she didn’t have the power to change her life after a point.
Even though she was regarded as one of most glamorous actresses Bollywood had hitherto seen, Babi was realising that something was going wrong inside her. She chose to take a break from her career and also from her boyfriend (Mahesh Bhatt) to be with her guru UG Krishmanurthy in the US. At that point, she didn’t probably realise that she was hurtling down towards paranoia and schizophrenia.
She returned a year later (1979) to work in many more films, most of which were super hits. But as she climbed up the ladder in her career, she was gradually getting sucked into the hellhole that her mind had created for her.
With many reported paranoia attacks on the sets, she quit the industry suddenly to be with her guru again. That was the last, the world saw of the glamourous Parveen Babi. When returned from the US six years later, she was a woman who just needed some attention and love.
Her secretary’s son, who was like family to her, often spoke about an incident where Babi had to hold up a sign with her name written on it at the Mumbai airport, for her secretary to recognise her. Parveen Babi was beyond recognition because of the weight she had put on.
It was then a steady decline towards isolation and paranoia. Babi shut herself away from the rest of the world, but would often scream for help from time to time. Her screams for help were ignored by everybody in Bollywood, but the filmi press fed on them like hungry wolves.
When Parveen first lodged a complaint against “a gang of Indian and Hollywood actors” trying to murder her, nobody saw that as a sign of trouble. She was left lonelier as Bollywood started treating her as an outcast.
Her last cry for help came in the form of an affidavit at the Mumbai court, saying that she has information about the 1993 Bomb Blast case. The court rejected her application when she couldn’t turn up in the witness-box.
The two above incidents were widely reported in the media and continued to find mention in gossip columns, but nobody came forward to help her.
Parveen had made a fortune, so she never needed financial help. What she needed was medical and emotional aid, which Bollywood denied her.
Then came the crash. Parveen died a lonely, shocking and horrible death even as she was bound to wheelchair because of the onset of gangrene in her right foot.
Bollywood largely remained absent in her funeral, except for the three men in her life who loved her dearly — Kabir Bedi, Mahesh Bhatt and Danny Dengzongpa. The three men ensured some dignity to the woman who loved them as dearly as her life.
She was lonelier in her death than she was ever in life. Two days after the death, her former boyfriend Mahesh Bhatt wrote an article narrating the tumultuous relationship that he shared with her. The article is one of the most candid accounts about the actress in the Indian press.
We have all forgotten about the actress and the subsequent news that appeared in the media later was only about her relatives filing their claims to get hold on her assets.
Here is the last televised interview of Parveen Babi. It’s the last time anybody saw Parveen.