The Original Divas of Bollywood: Parveen Babi

Parveen Babi was one of the most popular actresses of the 70s and early 80s and was known for the glamour and sensuousness that she brought about in Hindi cinema.

She lived a life full of zest and fun, a glimpse of which, we also saw in many of her roles. Along with her contemporaries like Rekha, Hema Malini and Zeenat Aman, she was responsible for bringing about a sea of change to the way Indian women were portrayed on screen. She played a crucial role in changing traditional mindsets and changing pre-conceived notions concerning women.

 Parveen Babi was born in the year 1949 in a Muslim family based in Junagadh as Parveen Wali Mohammad Khan. She was born to her parents only after 14 years of her. Her father, an administrator with the Nawab of Junagadh, passed away when she was only seven years of age.
 

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She landed her first film, ‘Charitraheen’, opposite cricketer Salim Durrani, while she was still in college. Though the film was a major failure at the box-office, Parveen Babi was instantly noticed. Her next two films also bombed but Parveen was accepted by the film fraternity and was signed on for almost nine films. Her fifth film, ‘Majboor’, finally put a rest on the initial flops of her career. Though she only played the role of an arm-candy to the reigning superstar of the time, Amitabh Bachchan, the film had opened the doors of success for her.

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The landmark film of her career was the film ‘Deewar’, as it established Parveen Babi as the ultimate glamour girl of Bollywood. Her image as the chic Western woman with trademark long locks and a feisty spirit found base with the film. Her portrayal as a woman who drank freely and indulged in pre-marital sex with her lover, (Amitabh Bachchan) was in defiance to the ‘norms’ of the society at that time. In a way, the film helped in bringing about a slight change in the way women were perceived.

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After ‘Deewar’ Parveen’s career, once again, hit a low phase with many of her films getting trashed at the box-office. However this spate of flops could not hinder her success as ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ turned out to be a goldmine for her. Though her role was not too significant, it is said that her role was the best amongst the other leading ladies of the film. Parveen was once again ruling the roost in Bollywood. She acted in many notable films like ‘Namak Halaal, ‘Shaan’, ‘The Burning Tran’, ‘Suhaag’, ‘Kaala Patthar’ and ‘Pati Patni Aur Woh’ among many others. In fact, her performance in her cameo in Manoj Kumar’s ‘Kranti’ was said to be much better than that of the leading lady of the film, Hema Malini.

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Throughout her career, Parveen Babi had to face constant comparison to fellow actress Zeenat Aman. The two ladies were always singled out because they were both considered sex-symbols, had long legs, flowing tresses, spoke anglicized Hindi, and starred in offbeat roles. They were also said to be the favorite leading ladies of Amitabh Bachchan. There was said to be a lot of rift between their fans over who really was the ultimate glamour queen of the industry.

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A great deal of credit for Parveen’s successful filmy career should be given to Amitabh Bachchan since most of her major hits were films that carried his star power. There can be no doubt that Amitabh Bachchan was the reigning superstar of the Hindi film industry, and acting alongside him bore positive results for Parveen. Parveen Babi was second only to Jaya Bachchan with regard to the maximum number of films opposite Amitabh Bachchan. They were even rumored to be having an affair with each other at that time.

Most of my films with Parveen were superbly successful. The audience liked us as a pair. 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!” – Amitabh Bachchan

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Parveen Babi never got married in her lifetime but she had a few relationships, some of which were tumultuous and had a negative impact on her. She dated some high profile names (mostly married) of the industry like Danny Denzongpa, Kabir Bedi and Mahesh Bhatt. She reported put her career on hold and took off with then boyfriend Kabir Bedi who was to play the title role in an Italian television serial, Sandokan. Her relationship with director Mahesh Bhatt was the one which remained the most talked about. The movie ‘Arth’, directed by Mahesh Bhatt, was the story of his extra-marital relationship with her, though he never really acknowledged it. Mahesh Bhatt, once again, presented her life on the silver screen with ‘Woh Lamhe’ featuring Kangana Ranaut as Parveen Babi.

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After acting in her last movie, ‘Akarshan’, Parveen disappeared from public view all of a sudden. It is said that it was a combined result of her association with spiritual philosopher, U.G. Krishnamurthy, the release of the film, ‘Arth’ and her disturbed state of mind (she was said to be suffering from schizophrenia) that led her to abandon everything and move away to New York. She returned to Mumbai in the year 1992, and had become unrecognizable owing to her bloated figure. Upon her return, she accused many high profile dignitaries, which included Bill Clinton and Amitabh Bachchan, of plotting to kill her. In 2002, she claimed that she had evidence against Sanjay Dutt in the 1993 serial bomb blasts case. She never turned up for the court hearings saying she feared for her life.

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Parveen had become a recluse by then and hardly anyone came across her. In 2005, she was found dead in her apartment. She had reportedly been dead for three days and, apparently, no one had noticed her slipping away from life. For a woman who led such a glorious life, the end to her life was largely abrupt and undeserving. She, who had entertained millions, died a lonely death after years of isolation. Irrespective of what her life had become, the ultimate queen glamour had given her all to her career and the people she loved. She was very different from the ‘herd’ of actresses and her uniqueness was the main element with which she ruled more than a million hearts.

More from the original diva series:

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