Flashback Fridays: Tragedies of the luminous beauty Parveen Babi

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Ironical as it may sound, Parveen Babi, in one of her last television interviews had addressed life as “a precious phenomena on the face of this earth”. In a very happy and joyful mood, she had said that life should be respected, cherished, enjoyed and savoured and that we must make the best of it in the most positive way. But it’s really sad when one realizes that this luminously beautiful movie star died tragically young and desperately lonely on January 22, 2005, without her innumerable fans and colleagues understanding what really led to her premature death at the age of 56.

Perhaps, the only person who knew what Babi was going through was her one-time partner, Mahesh Bhatt. But even he was no longer around when the end came. Parveen Babi died alone, locked inside her apartment in Juhu.Bollywood and the press had declared her mad but the truth is that she was ill. It is believed she was suffering from a long term, severe mental illness that few cared to figure out. Some say it was depression, others insist she was schizophrenic.

Talking about her illness, Mahesh Bhatt had then said, ‘Parveen’s breakdown is an old story. But I wonder if anyone could imagine what it is like to live with a person who is going mad. The morning I left Parveen’s house before it all began comes back to haunt me. She was off to her shoot for Prakash Mehra’s film… and she kissed me good-bye. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see her as the Parveen that I knew.’

‘How can I ever forget that heartbreaking image of her, when I walked in to the house that evening, and found Parveen, in make up and a filmy costume, cowering in a corner, with a knife in her hand, shivering with fear? She looked like an animal, one that I had never seen before. ‘Close the door Mahesh,’ she whispered. ‘They are coming to kill us. Close the door quickly!’ ‘The tape contained a letter that Parveen had recorded and sent me, in which she talked about her approaching illness, her loneliness and her need to get out of the entertainment business. The silences between her words spoke to me more eloquently than her words did. The only regret I have is that I couldn't see her illness coming. Looking back, I realise now that there were so many signs that I just failed to read.’

Bhatt had further revealed that the actress later opened the doors to a traumatic incident in her life - she had witnessed the Ahmedabad riots, which deeply affected her. 'I think it was the killings of 1969 that she was referring to... 'You do not know what it is to lie curled up under a pile of mattresses, fearing that any moment the mob could stop the vehicle, pull me out and rape me,' she said in a tone that sent a shiver down my spine.


Babi’s modelling career began in 1972 and was quickly followed by her film debut with the film Charitra (1973) opposite cricketer Salim Durrani. The film was a flop but Parveen was noticed and she went on to give many blockbusters. Her first major hit was Majboor (1974) opposite Amitabh Bachchan. Along with Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi helped change the image of the Indian film heroine. She was one of the first Indians to be featured on Time magazine’s cover, in July 1976.

Surprisingly enough, Babi, who was the top heroine and ahead of her time in many ways, chucked up the sizzle of B-town at the height of her career in 1983, for her partner Kabir Bedi. But after enduring a broken relation, she came back to Mumbai in 1989.  People close to her felt she was disillusioned of the place where she was, the life she lived. She didn’t quite understand it and dealing wasn’t easy. Her career in films brought her huge success but it also brought her loneliness, and an anguish that haunted her throughout. 

It could have got to do with matching up to the industry’s image. As she had said in one of her interviews, ‘I was very westernised, my self image was very westernised and not many Indian roles suited me. I was an avid Hollywood movie buff which has given some.great comedies. I have an instinct for comedies.’ And something that really amused her to no end was, who in the industry had the biggest ego and who carried the largest mirror. ‘Bigger the star, bigger the mirror. Shatrughan Sinha carried the largest mirror. I was very secure, I carried a little one,’ she had said in a television interview with a hearty laugh. 

Perhaps, it was Bhatt who introduced her to UG Krishnamurti, a speaker and philosopher, who questioned enlightenment. She claimed UG to be her friend, confidante and mentor. In a magazine release, she had claimed that there were times when she lost faith in herself and everybody around her and at such times she went to UG for help. For some strange reason, Babi had accused many dignitaries, including Amitabh Bachchan, of conspiring to kill her but her petition in court was dismissed for lack of evidence. In 2002, she again hit the headlines when she filed an affidavit in the special court hearing the 1993 serial bomb blasts case, claiming that she had gathered clinching evidence against actor Sanjay Dutt showing his involvement in the case, but she did not turn up in court after being summoned saying that she was afraid of being killed.

Talking about the actress' mental health, Puneet Dwevedi, a psychiatrist dealing with cases of chronic schizophrenia had said few years ago, 'Babi was a typical patient without family and human ties and not amenable to getting treatment. Support from family would surely have helped.' The reclusive actress, psychiatrists say, was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in which a victim is prone to all sorts of grandiose delusions and hallucinations. 'When she accused Amitabh Bachchan and others of a conspiracy to finish her career, people should have read it as a warning signal rather than ridiculing her,' said Dwevedi.

Perhaps it was her grudge against Bachchan, that she had ridiculed him in one of her television interviews questioning his winning the title of the ‘Star of the Millenium’. She said that it was the greatest joke of the millennium and that how could he have superceded personalities like Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley and Laurence Olivier amongst many others. ‘And even the bigger joke was when Amitabh Bachchan was nominated as the 10 most handsome men of the Indian century...Dev Anand, Feroz Khan, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Dharmendra, or even Sanjay Gandhi can be called the good looking men...’ she laughed.

However, Bachchan, who had done quite a few films with Babi - MajboorDeewaarAmar Akbar AnthonyNamak HalalShaanKaaliaMahaanDo Aur Do PaanchKala Patthar, had remained gracious and polite in his interviews post her death. When he was asked if she made a difference to Hindi cinema? Big B had replied, ‘Oh, certainly! She was one of the first Indians to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. She was very meticulous about her career. She had a very efficient management system. Her secretary and managers were very efficient. She lived all on her own, and was very self-dependent. I sincerely feel she was a very genuine, honest and down-to-earth person, very loving and caring. And that's how I'd like to remember her.’ Further, touching upon her mental condition, he said, ‘I don't really know what happened. It wouldn't be ethical to talk about her condition. The nature of her illness was such that she was terrified of people; she wanted to be left alone. She deliberately distanced herself from everyone. We felt by associating ourselves with her, we were causing her more grief.’

Bachchan further went on to say, ‘She brought in a new, bohemian kind of leading lady to the screen. We'd work on all these films and go our own way. But because we belonged to the same social circle we'd visit each other, listen to music. She was a very fun loving, light-hearted person. Always full of joie de vivre! She never interfered with anyone's work. On the sets, you barely knew she was around. She completely minded her own business. What happened to her is really sad. I feel very bad for her. We'd meet socially very often. We all belonged to one big group -- Romesh Sharma, Danny Denzongpa, Reena Roy, Smita Patil, Javed Akhtar, Parveen,’

Babi was actor Danny Denzongpa’s first girlfriend, but Danny’s friendship and closeness to Bachchan, had distanced the former lovers. ‘Because I was friendly with Amitji (Bachchan) she started suspecting I was his agent. She would keep on writing complaints against him to the police and other departments. Then she came to point where she didn't want to see me because of my friendship with Amitji. I was there for her funeral. What happened to her is very tragic,’ Danny had said. ‘She was my first girlfriend. We lived in the same building. She was on the 4th floor and I was on the 1st floor. Although I was dating Kim, Parveen would drop in quite often. She was okay then. Later she became psychologically unstable. She became very sick when she was dating Mahesh Bhatt. Mahesh told me of her condition and I went to see her. It was then that I found out she was frightened and paranoid. The way she ended up was very tragic. I was in touch with her until I got married. Even when became unwell I was in touch with her,' Danny was further quoted saying. 

Some claim that Babi's mental disorder was a result of substance-induced psychosis and alcoholism. Some blame a series of failed relationships with Danny Denzongpa, Kabir Bedi and most importantly Mahesh Bhatt. Some link it to a genetic disorder. And some even to an adolescent trauma where reportedly a young, trembling Parveen was hidden under a heap of mattresses in a truck by the nuns of her school during the Ahmedabad riots in the ’60s. The fear of being killed dogged her all her life…only to eventually kill her.

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Parveen Babi was beautiful. I wish she had a better situation.
I think if Danny D. hadn't dumped her and instead had married her she would have been in a more long term stable condition.
She seemed to like him as a friend.
Kabir Bedi did dangerous drugs with her, which may have made her mental condition worse. Then he abruptly abandoned her for a career in Italy.
Mahesh was already married and was unwilling to stay with her in her worsened condition.
There were plenty of fans (like me) that were more than willing to marry her, but she only wanted to be with the big names who only used her and made her medical condition worse.

And Mahesh Bhatt tries to draw attention to how difficult it was for HIM … I am not surprised that her condition worsened when she was with him, a man who could not see beyond his own needs and difficulties.

He even went on to make films based on her condition – in ‘Arth’ he portrays her as a negative character who becomes imbalanced (it is implied that she deserves this for breaking his marriage) - how does he think that affected her mental health?

Parveen babi was very gorgeous. Sad how her life was in real life

The problem with Indian society is that people only sympathise with mental illness after it's all over. It is all about making fun of mentally unbalanced people's comment until then. This woman was dead for three days , until someone found her body. But I remember two girls later giving interviews about their beloved aunt. Indian society is a joke. If anyone goes little over the so called traditional life , he or she does not have in society anymore.
RIP Parveen Babi. Her long hair and small waist are dream for many ladies.

She was truly gorgeous. Its when I read this that I think about so often being a star is a very sad, lonely, depressing life. We only ever see the glamour behind it but there is a sadness in someone who always wants something - they always want something more - their next movie, next brand, next shoot, next role and they are always so insecure about themselves, their looks, their position (I don't mean any of this in a bad way at all). I suppose it's similar to a business executive who is always striving for more in terms of ambition - except with acting there comes the insecurity of looks and not having true friends. Nowadays since actors and actresses SEEM or appear to be so accessible with their snapchats and instagram you can forget that they are going through struggles as well. I am sure Shah Rukh is not a very happy person for example. They need to somehow find some peace with themselves at the end of the day.

Only Bipasha can play her onscreen, go check out her pics in red gown from iifa 2015

She was schizophrenic yet she still worked in films which is quite brave!

what was Parveen Babi suffering from? what happened to her?

Mental illness is as much an illness as physical is. It's important to have the awareness that suffering emotionally and mentally is probably MUCH worse than physical illnesses, because those have some easy fixes. A traumatic experience like the riots can definitely mess anyone up! Her voice on the phone "I want to kill you" in Mr. Natwarlal still haunts me. What a beauty and talent she was, of Indian cinema! May her soul rest in peace.

I agree with one of the comments below. We need more awareness on mental illness. We should learn when to take actions and how to treat them as persons. When someone has diabetes we feel sympathy for that person, but when someone gets mentally sick we term them as "pagal" or mad.. we insult them and sometimes get scared of them. How horrible it must be for those people who face these issues in the. society

All I can say is Amitabh Bachchan is a true gentleman..till date I have not heard him saying anything bad about anyone. No doubt he is super star of millennium..

She was in love with Amitabh Bachchan, after she couldn't have him she began to ridicule him in interviews. Parveen was very obsessed with Amitji

Sir Lawrence of Arabia? LOL. I think you meant Sir Laurence Olivier

It could be a reference to the movie 'Lawrence of Arabia' starring a young , handsome Peter O'Toole in the title role.

I have watched that interview. she said Sir Laurence Olivier. It was with Sherkar Suman. Do watch it, its fun.

When you lead a lonely life with no one to support and care about you, your so called family only speaks to you when they need something out of you, you loose faith. You stop trusting the world around you. You scare away the love that might be coming to you. Leading to such mental illness. If only the people who call themselves her boy friends cared to reach out to her and help her. What's the point of it once the person is gone. But that's the truth of life. No one reaches out. No one has time. People only come to you when they need something from you.

100 % correct, people read. learn and be kind to each other.

She was a very beautiful n intelligent lady. She was used and abused by many. Very unfortunate that she suffered and no one helped her.

It's so sad what happened to her. It highlights the lack of awareness around mental illness and how people are still reluctant to talk about it because they feel it's something to be ashamed of. She was an icon and a trendsetter, she stood apart from all the rest both in her career and unfortunately in her personal life. RIP Parveen, I hope she's finally found peace.

The only actress that had the gall to open awareness and speak of her own experiences on depression was Deepika P. Deepika opened up a foundation as well. It such a stigma that some people had the nerve and ignorance to accuse her of being an attention seeker and garnering publicity. Even Sonan Kapoor accused her wanting pity from the public. Shame on such people!!!!!! I wonder how those same people will deal with it when it happens to a loved one of theirs?

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