Monday, January 24, 2005


[Jabberwock beat me to it, but when has it ever been too late to write an obit? And, anyway, it's just my weekly off that came in the way]

Now, most things have been said already. Difficult to say something very new. And, well, I am obviously not the only one to have worshipped the hem of Parveen Babi's flowing, synthetic gowns from the time I saw Amar Akbar Anthony and Namak Halaal at age five or thereabouts.

But then, an old lover's gotta do what an old lover's gotta do.

It wasn't the fact that Parveen Babi was the only heroine of the time - apart from the very similar but yards behind in terms of natural oomph and class Zeenat Aman - who appeared on screen the way a Hollywood heroine did. Well, synthetics apart. She wore clothes not many others did. Or didn't look half as good in.

She moved with a kind of urbane grace and elegance no Mumtaz or Raakhee or Zeenat did. She acted (well...) with a kind of naturalness that no one else at the time did. She danced better than most others. And, yes, she looked better with Amitabh Bachchan than anyone else has - before and after.

Jaya Bhaduri doesn't count. Hema Malini was classless and downright ghaati (for want of a classier word), and spoke with an accent even my Asit Sen clone of a father found funny. Padmini Kolhapure and Poonam Dhillon have always been off the radar. Tina Munim...don't even know why I remember her.... And Rekha...yes, the partnership with Amitabh was good, but they didn't act in as many good movies together as PB and AB did. Silsila comes to mind. As do Namakharam and Do Anjaane. But that's about it. Raakhee has to rank higher than Rekha, simply because of the number of good movies they did together, including the classic Bemisaal. come back to Parveen. What was it about her that made me fall in love with her at the enlightened age of five? Can't just be her oomph. We were far younger than the five-year-olds of today when it comes to figuring out oomph. And five, in any case, is a tad too young.
Doordarshan newsreaders were hot enough for us, as slightly later was Kitu Gidwani.

It had to be her class then. Pure and sheer class. She looked good. With or without Amitabh. She looked good in the Amol Palekar film I saw her in, she looked good dancing to Pyaar Karne waale and Jawaani Jaanemaan. She smiled classily. She spoke the way we did in the cities. She stood up to her heroes, even in those days of 100 % male-centric films.

Then I grew up...discovered the world outside Doordarshan. Discovered beautiful women like Deborah Kerr and Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. And later Michelle Pfeiffer and others. Back home, there were various pretenders to Parveen's throne with the gradual diminishing of the line between 'vamps' and 'heroines' in what we can call commercial cinema, and the gradual move towards more urbane-looking leading ladies.

To Parveen's advantage was the fact that her gradual phasing out coincided with those terrible and morbid decades: the 1970s and 1980s. Yuck!!! Even Neelam looked bad. Parveen continued to rule, even if she was not current.

And then she resurfaced. It must be an issue of one of the film magazines my mother used to subscribe to. She was a bloated, hideous wreck. They said it was excessive drinking, OD-ing on a variety of things, pining about Amitabh. Don't know which it was, but Parveen was finished. She had ruled for over two decades...while acting and while being an absentee. But the magic was over. It was time to move on. Read her name a couple of time in between...something to do with Sanjay Dutt, something to do with the extreme persecution complex she went through.

Did I feel bad she had to go down like this? Not really.... About her death. Again, not really. No one deserves to lie dead at home for three days before being discovered. She didn't either. But they said she died of a gangrine in her leg. Which became septic and so on... surely Parveen Babi didn't deserve that. Otherwise, doesn't make a difference.

But the news of her death came like it might happen when you meet an old friend and the usually inane conversation veers towards an old girlfriend (or boyfriend) who was totally out of your radar for all the years in between. Doesn't really mean anything in the larger sense, but for that one fleeting moment, you feel a little tinge of something. The same happened with this news. I called my mother up, spent a couple of minutes talking about Parveen. And after that, it was over. Like it had begun. From nowhere. For no reason.

And then you find the Jabberwocks of the world in competition. And you realise the futililty of it all.... And after writing a longish blog, wonder whether it was all worth it.