As in life, so in death: lonely and lovelorn

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 23.01.05

Pyar karne wale? jeete hain shaan se, marte hain shaan se?

She romanced a nation, but lived a tragically lonely life in the failed quest for love. And the first Bollywood beauty to grace the cover of Time magazine died as she had lived, alone and anguished.

Parveen Babi was found on Saturday in her Juhu flat, probably two days after she died.

From the ultimate epitome of Bollywood?s Bohemian rhapsody to withdrawing herself into a reclusive cocoon, Parveen Babi rode the waves like none other. She even stole Zeenat Aman?s thunder with a combination of good looks and sex appeal. Carrying off saris and western wear with equal elan, she had Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and a whole generation in the eighties swaying to Jawaani jaaneman? (Namak Halal).

By the turn of the century, post-hibernation in the US, she returned to the public eye, gaining weight beyond recognition and ranting against co-actors and ?powerful people?. Parveen Babi then receded into a life of anonymity, obsessed with interior decoration and shunning the glamour world she once ruled.

Hailing from the nawab family of Junagadh, Parveen Babi did her schooling from Ahmedabad before entering Bollywood in 1973 opposite cricketer Salim Durrani in B.R. Ishara?s Charitraheen. Like her debut film, her second outing in Kishore Sahu?s Dhuen Ki Lakeer bombed, but those who saw her in the song Teri jheel si gehri aankhen knew it was just a matter of time before Parveen Babi broke the Bollywood barrier.

Sanjay Khan?s Chandi Sona followed and once the red-dress (un)clad legs crossed at the bar counter in Yash Chopra?s Deewar and caught Vijay?s (Amitabh) brooding eye, there was no stopping her.

Deewar personified the new Bollywood woman through her ? smoking, drinking, not shying away from a live-in relationship, and yet desperate for the sindoor in her maang. If the film made the coronation of Bachchan as the ?angry, young man? official, it also established Parveen Babi as the new western face ? and figure ? of the desi silver screen.

She never quite made it as the solo female lead but always added the glam quotient to big-budget multi-starrers like Amar Akbar Anthony and Shaan. Her on-screen pairing with Bachchan was a rage.

Steering clear of the mainstream mould, Parveen Babi dabbled in off-beat fare with Vinod Pande?s Yeh Nazdeekiyan, Esmayel Shroff?s Dil Aakhir Dil Hai alongside Naseeruddin Shah, and Hrishikesh Mukherjee?s Rang Birangi opposite Amol Palekar.

But in the 1980s, it was her personal life that hit the headlines ? her relationships with Kabir Bedi and Mahesh Bhatt, her association with spiritual guru U.G. Krishnamurthy and her sudden take-off to the US. Soon, she was a mere memory.

A jolt awaited her fans as she resurfaced as an overweight picture of vengeance, slamming everyone from Bachchan to Bill Clinton for her predicament. She threatened to show up with evidence against Sunjay Dutt for the 1993 Bombay blasts, but never did.

An actress whose real life often stepped more into the realm of fiction than reel life, the enduring image of Parveen Babi will be as Anita in Deewar ? long, open tresses blowing in the wind, voicing the desires of the woman on the edge, forever waiting to break free.