Some call her Parveen Babi a legend and some, ill-fated. She rose to be one of the few early heroines of Bollywood industry who captivated the audience with her looks & enthralled them with their acts. When people saw her dance, the eyes were mesmerized and the feet couldn’t help but tap to the beats. Such was the grace of her presence; and the aura of her personality. The movies that she has worked in, have been entitled as classics; And the songs are still played today. She is known for her glamorous alongside top heroes of the 1970’s & early 1980’s in movies like Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar, Namak Halal & Shaan. She is often sited as one of the most beautiful actresses to have ever appeared in Indian cinema.
Parveen 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 resounding flop but Parveen was noticed and was snapped up for several more films. 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, much to the consternation of her contemporaries.
Throughout her career, she was thought of more as a glamourous heroine than a serious actress. She was also known as a fashion icon. Famous designer Manish Malhotra says, “Parveen Babi brought minimalism into fashion. She was always impeccable, not overdoing it even once.” She left India and acting 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. Later she entered into a relationship with film director Mahesh Bhatt. But something deep inside, niggled at her heart. The dissatisfaction and disillusion of the place where she was, the life she had. She didn’t quite understand it and dealing wasn’t easy.
Her career in films brought her runaway success. It also brought her terrifying loneliness, and an anguish that haunted her and left her life in shambles. The emptiness and despair brought her to the brink of madness, again and again. She tried to opt out several times. And each time she failed. She returned to films, to ride wave after wave of success. Cruel success. Success that brought her greater suffering, greater loneliness.
A little research about her shows the presence of an entity called UG Krishnamurti in her life. She terms him as her confidant, mentor and close friend. In a magazine release, she claims that there were times when she lost faith in herself and everybody around her and all the times she went to UG Krishnamurti for help. The insecurity not only filled her mind but also reflected on the outside. So much that she had to take another break from her films. Her friend and guru, Krishnamurti advised her to take a break and warned her from going back into the media industry. But after healing Parveen couldn’t stop herself from returning. The suffering came back after some time, insurmountable as ever.
She accused many foreign 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.
What followed next was shocking. On 22 January 2005, Parveen Babi was found dead in her Mumbai apartment after her residential society secretary alerted the police that she had not collected milk and newspapers from her doorstep for three days. The police suspected that she may have been dead up to 72 hours before her body was found. The cause of her death was not immediately known. She was found to have gangrene of the foot as a complication of her diabetic condition. The police ruled out any foul play and it was determined she had died from what appeared to be complications from diabetes.
But later research put light on a deadly mental affliction that reportedly haunted her till her last day – Schizophrenia. “Had they shown the same kind of interest, compassion and concern, perhaps the illness could have been more effectively treated and the course of her life could have been different,” tells Sunil Mittal of Delhi Psychiatry Centre. “For all we know, she probably would have been alive today.” Family support plays a vital role in curing schizophrenia that victimizes 10 million Indians. Says Puneet Dwevedi, a psychiatrist who deals with cases of chronic schizophrenia at Sanjivini, a counselling centre for the mentally ill: “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,” says Dwevedi.
That’s about how a genetic disease killed a beauty who made us fall in love with Indian cinema.