Asha Parekh turns 79: A look at how the Jubilee Girl battled depression and loneliness
Veteran Bollywood actress Asha Parekh turned 79 today. Read on to know how the actress battled depression and loneliness.
It was no mean feat to earn the sobriquet of ‘Jubilee Girl’ amidst established frontliners including Waheeda Rehman, Nanda, Sadhana and Mala Sinha. The glamorous Asha Parekh with chartbusters like Aaja aaja (Teesri Manzil), Jaiye aap kahan jaayenege (Mere Sanam), Aaja piya tohe pyaar doon (Baharon Ke Sapne), Achcha to hum chalte hain (Aan Milo Sajna) was also the highest-paid female lead in the late ’60s.
Considered ‘lucky’ for every hero, right from Shammi Kapoor, Joy Mukherjee, Biswajeet, Shashi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, Asha was indeed the Midas maiden. Beyond the careening and preening, she was also a noted dancer. Her other achievements include being director and producer of hit TV shows like Kora Kagaz and Kangan, Ex-President of CINTAA (Cine and TV Artistes Association), the first female Chairperson of the Censor Board, distributor of 21 hit films, founder of the Asha Parekh Hospital in Santacruz. Truly, Asha Parekh’s identity went way beyond pancake and paparazzi.
So, it does surprise that a woman, so dynamic and multi-faceted, could suffer from depression and encounter suicidal thoughts as is also mentioned in her autobiography Asha Parekh: The Hit Girl (An autobiography with Khalid Mohamed). Whether it was due to the vacuum left behind by her deceased parents or just the void in her life, having chosen to remain single, undeniably Asha found herself in the dark alleys.
“People believe I’m just about glamour. But the highlight of my life is not just being a filmstar… I’m an emotional person. I follow my heart, not my mind. I come across as a tough person. But I’m not all that strong. I tend to brood when someone hurts me or when I believe I’ve hurt someone,” she once explained her sensitive disposition.
Asha began her career as a child artist in Madhubala’s film Jwala. Later, director Bimal Roy cast her in Maa (1952) and Baap Beti (1954). At 16, producer Subodh Mukherjee and director Nasir Hussain roped her in for Dil Deke Dekho (1959) opposite Shammi Kapoor. Her fortunes changed overnight. She went on to star in a blitzkrieg of Nasir Hussain films - Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Teesri Manzil, Baharon Ke Sapne , Pyar Ka Mausam and Caravan (between 1961-1971).
If Nasir Hussain gave her a glitzy image, Raj Khosla cast her dramatic roles in Do Badan, Chirag and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (between 1966-1978). With director Shakti Samanta, she did Pagla Kahin Ka and the Filmfare Award winning Kati Patang (both in 1970).
Maker & Muse
A buddy to her co-stars, Asha says she was never hit upon by her heroes. But yes, she did fall in love – not with a leading man but filmmaker and mentor, the much-married Nasir Hussain. “I’m human too. I did fall in love…Yes, Nasir saab was the only man I ever loved. I was enamoured by him. I loved him. But it was not meant to be,” she once confided while talking to Filmfare.
Asha, who upholds certain values, didn’t want to be dubbed a ‘home breaker. That’s why she never considered marriage with Hussain. “You’re hurting somebody, and it gets so much worse if children are involved — they grow up with all sorts of insecurities,” she said in an interview (Verve).
Believing that love and dignity go together she said in a throwback interview, “Love in those days was hidden. There was a pardah. Sachai thi, depth thi. But today there’s no therav. Today we have become so practical, that we have lost out on emotion.” In fact, so dignified was her presence in the married filmmaker’s life, that his daughter Nuzhat and son and actor Imran Khan even attended Asha’s book launch a few years ago.
Reportedly, Asha did come close to tying the knot once with a professor from the US. Reportedly, it was his insensitive comment, “I have a girlfriend and you’ve come in the way!” that left Asha shocked.
Still trying to give the relationship a last shot, she called to wish him on his birthday, when he began ‘rambling in Gujarati’. The two normally conversed in English and this change in dialect left her perplexed. “I learnt that he was in bed with his girlfriend while talking to me. It upset me. I took it quite badly… but eventually, I got over it,” she reportedly shared.
Her parents, Sudha aka Salma Parekh and Bachubhai Parekh, however, were keen that their daughter settle down. But Asha was put off by ‘fussy’ suitors. “The narcissism was repulsive!” she reportedly remarked.
Over time, her mother also reconciled with her daughter’s decision as apparently, some astrologers didn’t foretell a happy marriage for her daughter. Asha was also aware of the fragile nature of some industry marriages. “The men used to philander…Those marriages endured, only because the lady… mastered the art of forgiveness or even ignorance at times,” said Asha in an interview.
On another occasion, she said, “It was destined that I should not marry… I’m happy I’m not married. I can see the stress that exists between parents and children today.” She underlined she didn’t ‘miss a companion’. “If marriage is not in your destiny, your spouse may leave you or he may die. And you may be left by yourself again. You come alone and you go alone,” she said stoically.
Depression and back...
Asha was the product of an inter-caste marriage. When her mother, Sudha, the family’s backbone, passed away in 1990, it left her father and her devastated. While she continued to do character roles in films like Raiszaada, Ghar Ki Izzat and Professor Ki Padosan, the changing work ethic also left her dissatisfied.
Bachubhai Parekh passed away in 2003. With the passing away of both her parents, Asha, now finding herself absolutely lonely, felt a certain ‘hollowness creeping in’. “It was a bad phase for me. I was totally alone and I had to manage everything... It did put me in depression. I was feeling miserable and had these (suicidal) thoughts. Then I got out of it. It was a struggle. I had to take the aid of the doctors to get out of it,” Asha reportedly told PTI.
At one point in time, Asha, who adores children, wanted to adopt one. “I did come across a child that triggered a fervent maternal instinct in me. But he was suffering from some birth defects. The doctors refused to let me adopt him… I was adamant on adopting only him,” she said while speaking to Verve. Soon after, her mother suffered a stroke and Asha’s attention was diverted towards her care.
Today, Asha’s learnt the mantra of staying happy. “Either I brood and stay miserable or I keep myself occupied and fight depression. The choice is mine. I have been in that space. I don’t want to get there again,” she stated.
Asha’s happiest with her girl gang comprising Waheeda Rehman and Helen. The spirited trio has travelled to Turkey, Alaska, Canada, Maldives… along with making trips to wildlife sanctuaries. Also, Asha who’s deeply spiritual, believes in the power of saints and shrines she frequently visits – including Sai Baba of Shirdi, the Velankanni Church and the Tirupati temple. Guess, it’s faith that leads her fortitude. “The fear of the way you’re going to end does get to you. Life’s so uncertain,” said she. We couldn’t but agree.