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12 flights of stairs at 72? Asha steps in

Gadkari's claim contested

By Rasheed Kidwai
  • Published 24.04.17
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Asha Parekh with Salman Khan at her book launch

April 23: Actress Asha Parekh has contradicted Union minister Nitin Gadkari's claim that she climbed 12 flights of stairs to lobby for a Padma Bhushan last year, hitting back at the BJP leader in her recently released autobiography.

In her memoirs, The Hit Girl (Om Books International), the yesteryear star also described her meeting with Gadkari in Mumbai as the "worst mistake of my life".

Parekh was not among those who were conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2016.

At an event in Nagpur last year, Gadkari had claimed the veteran actress had met him to seek his recommendation for a Padma Bhushan, the country's third-highest civilian award.

"Asha Parekh had come to me seeking recommendation for the prestigious Padma Bhushan award, saying that she was entitled to it," Gadkari had said in Nagpur.

"The lift to my residence was not working, she climbed up 12 floors, I felt very bad. I asked her why she took the trouble. She said I have received the Padma Shri, Nitinji, now I want Padma Bhushan. I said you have received Padma Shri, it is like Padma Bhushan (only). She said 'no'. She said she has done so many films. Asha Parekh is a big name truly but somewhere she felt that she should get the Padma Bhushan."

In her memoirs, penned with the help of film writer Khalid Mohamed, Parekh does not deny that she had met the former BJP chief.

"It was a close friend in Delhi who persuaded me to meet an influential politician to do something about upgrading the title of Padma Shri given to me 24 years ago. This friend, without much ado, fixed up an appointment with Nitin Gadkari, Union minister for road transport and highways, when I returned to Mumbai," Parekh says.

She then recalls her meeting with the minister at his Worli residence. "The first question he asked me was, 'How old are you?' Taken aback I replied, 'I am 72, sir' after which he said abruptly, 'Okay fine, go. I will recommend your case for the title of Padma Bhushan'."

Parekh said she was subsequently shocked to read Gadkari's comments in newspapers that she had climbed 12 flights of stairs (since the elevator was out of order that day) to plead for a Padma Bhushan.

"I was shocked. Where was this coming from? I cannot climb up one flight of stairs. If I had attempted to walk up to 12 storeys, I would have had to be rushed to hospital. To top it all, the elevator was in perfect order," she writes.

Contacted by The Telegraph, sources close to the Union road transport and highways minister said he didn't want to comment or join issue with Parekh.

The actress, however, goes on to say: "I am from the land of Mahatma Gandhi (Gujarat). I have always been proud that I share my date of birth with Gandhiji. It was in order then to accept the honourable minister's slap across my face and turn my other cheek with silence. The minister's statement hurt me to the core but my upbringing is such that I could take it in my stride."

Parekh had been honoured with the Padma Shri by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in 1992.

When her memoirs were released last week in Mumbai, actor Salman Khan, who wrote a moving foreword, described Parekh as an enigma.

"They don't make them like her (Parekh) any more. Perhaps that is stating the obvious but my generation and the later ones have missed out on the great era of our movies when stories of innocence and grace ruled the screen, when boy-met-girl stories were wonderful, feel-good entertainers. No compromises, no need for self-publicity 24x7, no catering to a single-screen or a multiplex audience," he wrote.

Parekh was one of the top stars of Hindi cinema from 1959 to 1973. She worked with top heroes of that era, including Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt and others.

Parekh served as chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification from 1998 to 2001 when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA was in power and acknowledges actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha for recommending her name.

It was Pahlaj Nihalani, the current censor board chief, who had broken the news of Sinha recommending her name. Parekh recalls telling Nihalani: "You are joking. Shatru would be the last person on earth to recommend me."

But Nihlani insisted that it was BJP MP Sinha who had told Vajpayee and Sushma Swaraj, then information and broadcasting minister, to consider Parekh as a possible candidate to head the censor board.

When Parekh was in her prime, she and Sinha had shared an uneasy relationship. Someone had told Sinha during the making of Sajan (1969) - his debut Hindi film - that Parekh had been heard saying: "Who is this silly fellow throwing airs?"

Sinha had got even, telling a film magazine that after doing a scene with her in Sajan, he would wash his hands with eau de cologne.

For years, the two were not on talking terms. In 1980, Sinha's friend Reena Roy tried to play peacemaker but Parekh refused. "There is no need Reena. Please let it be," she said.

Reena, Parekh writes in her memoirs, told her she was being "uppity".

Parekh says the "needless and longstanding silence" between her and Sinha was broken in 1998. "I called him to thank him. The past is behind us," she writes in her memoirs.