She was the queen of the 70s. She was the glamorous siren who gave a makeover to the image of the Hindi film heroine. Every time she appeared on the screen, it was impossible to look away from her. From the way she carried herself to the unabashed way of choosing her characters, Parveen Babi was a trendsetter.
In a short career span, Babi was a part of various successful films. Her image was diametrically opposite from the saree clad bhartiya-nari who was usually the Hindi film heroine but that worked in her favour. Parveen was also the first Indian to appear on the cover of TIME magazine and that was a rare feat in those days.
As much as everyone remembers the success of this wonderful diva, we also remember her struggles with mental health.
It was in 2015 when someone as popular as Deepika Padukone gathered the courage to come out and speak about her depression. And that makes one wonder about Parveen Babi, who was misjudged by the world, called crazy by the masses and had no help in the darkest of times.
In a country like ours, where basic survival can prove to be a challenge, we are used to just rushing by our day and ignoring our health, even when it’s a physical ailment. The taboo about discussing one’s mental health is still so massive that commoners like us still find it difficult to talk about it in the open. The common notion of calling someone crazy or loosely using words like “paagal” doesn’t shock anyone. Empathy for those struggling with their mental health issues is still a far cry, so helping someone who is trying to come to terms with their issues is quite far-fetched.
The scenario was even tougher in the 80s. Parveen Babi, who dealt with various mental health issues, was treated like a disillusioned actress. She had accused various Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities of plotting to kill her and that sounded bizarre to many but many failed to recognize the warning signs. Parveen lived through the era when Hindi female actors were largely treated as eye-candy in a film. Their glamour was what attracted many to the theatres but Babi managed to stand out amongst the herd. And Babi was respected for the same but all the fan following she had gathered vanished within seconds when she needed some support. Colleagues who worked with her for many years were nowhere to be seen when Parveen was battling with those dark demons.
Mahesh Bhatt, Kabir Bedi, Danny Denzongopa have all spoken about Parveen’s mental health issues over the years. Bhatt even produced the film Woh Lamhe which was a semi-biographical account of Babi’s life but all of this happened much after Babi’s passing.
From being a successful actor who had producers queuing outside her house to someone who died alone, her life saw a drastic change. It wasn’t until three days after her demise that anyone even got a whiff that a celebrated megastar had now bid adieu to the world. Her demise was tragic but what was even more tragic that the woman who enchanted millions through her performances had no one standing by her side when she needed the strength to go on.
Parveen Babi will be remembered for her glamorous avatar but her life’s story will always be remembered as a tragedy, and that too, for no fault of her own.