The Doomed Diva : Parveen Babi
With the 70s , Bollywood welcomed a whole new era of bold, brazen and shocking new cinema. Chetana explored a new wave that brought to audience a shocking and daring new representation of the Bollywood heroine that was uninhibited. The leading lady Parveen Babi couldn’t last long in the industry but definitely opened the doors for a new crop of young heroines who dared to trade in forbidden territories.
Zeenat aman and Parveen babi are often labelled as the sex symbols who redefined the Bollywood heroines sati Savithri image and brought a dynamic sexually liberating change in the way the leading ladies were portrayed on Bollywood screens. Babi didn’t have any great backing like aman who was promoted by dev Anand and got a good backing from manoj kumar and Raj kapoor as well. Babis first film charitra was a Commercial flop and she could’ve well been dismissed off as another rehana sultan or Radha saluja. Not one to succumb to industry norms babi marched ahead.
Post 1975 babi arrived with a big bang. Films like deewar and majboor opposite the reigning king amitabh Bachchan catapulted her to stardom and she was soon placed in the top rank of A list heroines. In an era dominated by the quintessential Dreamgirl Hema Malini it was babi who held her own.
Inspite of her successful ranking at the box office with multiple hits including blockbusters she was still labelled as poor men’s Zeenat aman. While aman was considered a foreign returned beauty pageant winner, babi who started with b grade projects was considered lesser sophisticated. Not only did babi brush up her fashion sense she soon became a style icon and teenagers at the time started emulating her on screen dressing trend.
Babi had the producers eating out of her palm and the audience drooling over her long tresses and slender figure. Her mesmerising hypnotic eyes and seductive dialogue delivery only added more sex appeal to her enigmatic persona. During the period 1975- 1982 babi continued giving several hits like amar Akbar Anthony , kaalia, khuddar, Shaan, do aur do paaṅch, suhaag ( all opposite amitabh Bachchan) , kranti and others. Her on screen pairing with superstar amitabh Bachchan was a lucky bet that set the box office aflame.
In 1976 she became first Indian actor to be featured on the time magazine cover. Even though her sex symbol image was overpowering and she never really got noticed for her acting capability she did perform with ease in performance drive roles in new wave parallel cinema like yeh nazdeekiyaṅ and rang birangi in 1982-83. Her flamboyant bohemian lifestyle turned her into a controversial celebrity. As opposed to the traditional Indian image portrayed by Hema Malini or Rakhee , babi flaunted a completely contrasting and highly controversial personal life. She smoked and drank publicly , had open relationships with Danny dengzongpa, kabir bedi and mahesh bhaṭṭ. She was uninhibited and unapologetic and never hid her personal lifestyle from the gossip magazines. Even though her lifestyle was full of controversies she never let it affect her career , according to sources including her secretary claim that babi was meticulous and systematic in handling her film assignments and gave priority to film shoots.
Her downfall started when she started hallucinating and suffering from constant panic attacks, she suffered a major nervous breakdown on the sets of jwalamukhi and was immediately replaced. She was diagnosed with s chronic case of schizophrenia. She migrated to the US in 1983 even though she had several film offers in hand. Reason given for her migration was her apparent treatment for depression. She returned back to India in 1990 and was beyond recognition having put on unimaginable weight, the treatment hasn’t helped as she continued suffering from nervous breakdown attacks and turned into a recluse. She cut out her relations with all Bollywood members and stopped attending any film functions or parties. During this phase she also blamed several ex co stars of conspiring her murder.
Parveen Babi passed away in 2005 after suffering complications in diabetes. Hers is an poignant and extremely sad case of a small town girl with big dreams who became a huge Bollywood star and finally died lonesome and sorrowful. Till date remembered for her style ,elegance and immense gratitude Parveen Babi will always be known as the bohemian Bollywood beauty who rose to superstardom and then vanished into oblivion.