Parveen Babi is perhaps the prettiest actress to have
ever appeared in Bollywood cinema. She undeniably lit up and
overpowered the screen with her presence. The fact that Parveen
was paired with Amitabh
Bachchan in 8 films during the peak of Big-B mania attests
to her stature and star power. It seems to have taken a superstar
of Bachchan's stature or should we say only a superstar of
Bachchan's stature could stand side by side with the presence
of Parveen Babi. Amitabh and Parveen complemented each other
in the heady first years of the "Angry Young Man" phenomenon.
They were paired to each other as the tragic lovers in the
seminal "Deewaar" (1975), which is (although a secondary part)
one of Babi's most enduring and memorable roles.
From "Amar Akbar Anthony"(1977)
In "Deewaar" Parveen Babi showed the prospects of a maturing
serious actress with much potential. Perhaps she was too pretty,
unconventionally Westernized in her look and lithe body and
it is very obvious from just one glance that her role in the
film would not be the typical Indian heroine. It was Parveen
Babi and Zeenat
Aman who revolutionized the look and body image of the
Bollywood female. Their athletically sculpted bodies and jet
set looks modeled after Western tastes signaled new trends
for what was desirable and fashionable on the Bollywood screen.
The influence of the Zeenat and Parveen explosion of the early
to mid 1970s still reverberates today. Current actress' like
Basu are often compared to Zeenat and Parveen even though
it has been 25 years since their heyday.
This said, Parveen Babi was only a major star in Bollywood
for a short period. Her star status really began in 1974 with
"Majboor" (again opposite Amitabh Bachchan) and peaked with
her performance in, "Amar Akbar Anthony" (again with Amitabh)
Parveen continued to act through the 1980s but her star
and image were continually diminished as the years past. She
was type cast because of her Western good looks and (like
Zeenat Aman) uninhibited nature to 'reveal' (the term for
wearing provocative clothes) and received parts as the 'other
woman' or 'bad girl' and her acting talents were overlooked
and never allowed to stretch after her promising beginning.
Parveen was relegated to 'item dancer' status and exploited
because of her fabulous face and voluptuous figure.
There was also a tortured and erratic side to Parveen
that began to emerge in the late 70s. It was the first stages
of schizophrenia that would eventually consume her being and
end her career in films.
The stories of Parveen Babi's erratic behavior filled
the Bollywood gossip fan magazines of the late 70s and early
80s. Her very real mental illness was covered up by the press
and the Bollywood publicity machine. One could sense a certain
puritanical morality at work, with gossip eluding to the "Westernized"
wild girl who was a bit mad. The publicists and journalist
termed Parveen's battle with schizophrenia as 'Her long standing
illness' and the general consensus was one of don't ask, don't
One would think that if Parveen Babi had been stricken
with cancer or with any other disease besides the mental illness
of schizophrenia she would have received overwhelming public
support. However in the 1970s and still today, there is a
fear and suspicion of mental illness. Schizophrenia like all
other diseases is a treatable illness but it takes it's toll
on the psyche.
The actualities are murky and the general press refers
to whole periods where Parveen Babi just 'disappeared' which
I guess is the friendly euphemism for being committed. One
thing is clear, for an earnest period Parveen sought mental
and spiritual solace through alternative contemporary spirituality.
She followed Osho the Indian "Love Guru" for a few
years and became involved with the teachings of Krishnamurti.
Parveen Babi passed away on Jan. 20, 2005, she lived in virtual seclusion meeting on family and a few friends the last few years of her life. May she rest in peace. Her name
will always be synonymous with that certain Bollywood
sexiness every hot young actress aspires to capture.
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