Parveen Babi’s battle with schizophrenia through her career and eventual lonely death in 2005 and theories abounding around Sushant’s Singh Rajput’s death, show how Bollywood treats those with mental disorders.
She was a beautiful actress who was alluring and yet outspoken. Bollywood actor Parveen Babi was a sensation when she came into the Hindi film industry in the early 70s and the media and the audience just couldn’t get enough of her. Her life, however, was not just filled with ambition and dizzying success but also failure, heartbreak and trying to find peace in spirituality. Parveen Babi continues to fascinate us and journalist Karishma Upadhyay’s book ‘Parveen Babi: A Life’ (Hachette India) tries to bring us her life in her own words.
Ask Upadhyay what made her gravitate towards a biography of Parveen Babi and she reveals, “I have to admit that writing a book on Parveen wasn’t my idea. It came from an editor at Hachette India. There was a lot about her life that was fascinating. I was very curious to trace her journey from being one of the biggest actresses of Bollywood in the 70s and 80s to being so alone in death that her body was only discovered three days later.”
Having spent three years on researching Parveen Babi and speaking to people in the film industry like the actress’ lover Mahesh Bhatt, Upadhyay discovered many new things about the actor. “One of the first things that I learned from her colleagues in the film industry was that she had a photographic memory. Parveen could memorise dialogues very easily. At a time when film stock was expensive and directors didn’t want to do too many takes, this ability endeared her to them. Her friends from college in Ahmedabad all spoke about this gift of hers. Parveen was like a hungry sponge who learned from every conversation and experience. It’s this ability that helped her quickly transform from a wide-eyed small-town girl to Bollywood’s first Bohemian sophisticate,” says Upadhyay.
Going through the biography, one finds that putting it together would have been no mean task. Upadhyay reveals that researching the book was a huge challenge because it’s hard to find archival material about Bollywood films or film magazines in most libraries. “Parveen was a media darling and I was very keen on having her voice in the book as well, so it was imperative for me to get my hands on magazines from the 70s and 80s,” she adds.
With Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s recent demise and reports of him being bipolar, celebrities dealing with mental illness is once again a topic of interest. Parveen Babi’s battle with schizophrenia through her career and eventual lonely death in 2005 and conspiracy theories abounding around Sushant’s Singh Rajput’s death, shows how Bollywood treats those with mental disorders. “It’s been almost four decades since Parveen quit movies and one would think that a lot would have changed in these years. Everything that’s going on in the news right now, however, shows us that nothing has changed whether in the industry, the media or the audience. People seem to be ready to believe the most outlandish conspiracy theories but they find it hard to believe that someone could possibly have been suffering from mental health issues. We need to have more conversations about mental illness and normalise asking for help,” explains the author.
But having spent quite a few years working on this book, you wonder what the author would have liked to ask Parveen Babi had she been alive today. “I’d want to know what kept bringing her back to the industry. U.G. Krishnamurti, who she leaned on for support and followed, had told her after her first public breakdown in 1979 that a career in showbiz wasn’t good for her mental health. She took a break for a few months but then she returned to complete films like ‘Kranti’ and ‘Shaan’. After she completed these films, instead of leaving, she signed more films,” signs off Upadhyay.