Asha Parekh – Memories
I started as a child artist, and not as a heroine, as most would think. I was performing on stage once when the late Bimal Roy saw me and asked me if I would work in films. I was too tiny. Without realising, I just said yes. So, I got into films. My first film was Baap Beti which the late Bimal Roy directed. After that I was back to studies. I was schooling in J. B. Petit High School.
The late Prem Nath once said, “I’ll come to the show only if Asha is dancing.” There was a function in school. But my mother said, “She doesn’t know how to dance.” Because I used to dance only to the music of records. But Prem Nath insisted. So, in 10 days my mother prepared me. I remember that it was my first stage performance. My mother didn’t know how to drape me. She draped her Benares silk saree round me like a dhoti. I was a plump child, so I looked very fat. When my mother went into the auditorium to get the reaction, she heard one person commenting, “My God this poor girl dances so much but is still so fat, does not reduce.” It was funny. That’s how things started moving.
It was after this that I learnt to dance. I learnt kathak from the late Mohanlal Pandey. Slowly, I started learning classical dance. Then came a time, when Vijay Bhatt came and said that he wanted to sign me for Goonj Uthi Shehnai as the heroine. I was hardly 15 or 16 years old. But, on the first day itself, he decided, that I was not star material and I was thrown out. When I. S. Johar offered me a film, I could not accept it because of the verbal agreement not accepting any outside films which I had with Vijay Bhatt. So when I got thrown out of Bhatt’s film, I was without work. I was completely shattered.
At the mahurat of Bahurupiya, I met S.Mukherjee. When he came to know that I was doing nothing, he invited me to Grotto Villa, his house. He advised me to join acting classes. I was not interested. I ran away. But, a week later, he sent the car saying, “Why aren’t you coming?” Then I went for a screen test for Dil Deke Dekho. And I got selected. That was my first film.
Dil Deke Dekho was with Shammi Kapoor. It was fun working with Shammi. I remember we were shooting in Ranikhet and the make-up man did not turn up. It was Geetaji, who said, ‘Come I’ll do your make-up’ and it was she who did my make-up. She used to pick me up, put me around her shoulders and run around saying, ‘I am going to adopt her’. She would tell Shammiji, ‘let’s adopt her’. It was great fun. Shammiji also helped me a lot. It was my first film and I didn’t know how to sing romantic songs. Shammiji taught me. That’s why I think, I had a little bit of his style. When the film was released, it was a very big hit. After that I had several hits. I was signed by late S. S. Vaasan for Ghunghat and Gharana also were successful films.
The release of my first film was a very memorable event in my life. It was stardom overnight. There was a very big premiere. A huge crowd had collected. I didn’t know whether I was going in or coming out. My bottom was being pinched and I was screaming away. It was really funny.
Dil Deke Dekho turned out to be a major hit. It was released on my birthday. I was very nervous. The music was also a very big hit. The comedy was very nice. That film had a lot of newcomers in it. It was Usha Khanna’s first film as a music director. Siddu, the villain, made his debut with this film. Rajendranath was introduced as the comedian in this film. Altogether, there were too many newcomers.
Though not into films, my family was associated with films. My grandparents financed films. They didn’t like me getting into films. But, destiny willed it so.
I started my stage work after this. I started a ballet I called ‘Chauladevi’. We did about 400 to 500 shows. Then we did ‘Anarkali’. That also became very popular. My popularity in films helped to a certain extent. I feel very proud that I used to do public shows. They were not for Lions Club or Rotary Club. Our shows were so popular that tickets used to be sold in black. That was a very big thing according to me. Also the rapport between the audience and me was great. I could get the feedback immediately. I did a lot of shows, in Bombay and out of Bombay. People, who have seen those shows still remember them. We also toured all over the world.
My parents had an inter-religious marriage. My father is a Gujarati and my mother a Bohri Muslim. I am an only child. My parents loved me very much, but were very strict: I was a tomboy, always among boys, playing, fighting. The girls around me were all grown up and used to keep ordering me about, ‘Yeh leke aao, who leke aao’. With dancing, my life took a different turn. I was staying in Santa Cruz and had to go to school in Flora Fountain, after that I would go to Dadar for my dance classes. Life was not all fun and games all the time when I was young.
As a heroine, life was different. I am a private person. When I am at home, I relax, laze, read books, listen to music. I used to go to parties but never enjoyed myself. I would get bored. I wouldn’t know what to do. In my time, parties were also different. They used to start at 8.30 or 9.00 p.m. not like now when parties start only at 12.30 in the night. Because, I was working the next day, I had to get up in the morning and go to work and so could not stay out. Those days I used to work 30 days a month. It was later that the second Sunday no shooting rule was passed.
I think God has been very kind to me. My life has not been very turbulent. I think I have given the maximum number of hits. Even if films didn’t do well, the music did well. But everybody has to have a dip when one goes up, one has to come down. So with me also, slowly the decline began. Then I started concentrating more on dance. I went abroad for practically one and a half months. I went to England, Germany, France, Holland, U.S.A., Canada. I also represented my country in the Sydney festival, went to SPARTA conferences at Ceylon.
I really enjoyed working with Aruna Irani in Caravan. She is a very fine person. We were great friends. She was very frank. I have done quite a few films with her. I have a good rapport with all the heroines. If I don’t like a person I don’t work with him or her. I try to avoid them. I have never had problems with any of my co-stars or, any of my directors.
My male co-stars were all thorough gentlemen. Shammiji was very protective towards me. If after a shooting, I had to leave and there was a huge crowd gathered outside, Shammiji would say, ‘I’ll entertain them, and you get out’. Which hero of today would do that? It was the same thing about Sunil Dutt. I remember we were shooting for Hum Hindustani and my car had a breakdown. He had reached Igatpuri and we were at Wilson Dam. He realised something had gone wrong and came all the way back to where we were and picked us up. Even Rajendra Kumar would go out of his way to help us. He would say, ‘No, the girls have to be looked after. Nobody should misbehave with them’. There was a lot of affection.
I used to love adventure. I was shooting for Kanyadaan with Shashi Kapoor at Madi. Mohan Saigal, myself and a couple of others, we went to Rohtang Pass. Our car broke down in the middle of the jungles. There were a lot of bears in the jungles. We didn’t know what to do? We got off the car and started walking. Then these people sent the car. What a firing I got from Shashi Kapoor. My people were crying, there was a big hangama.
Dev Anand had his own style of working. He was an introvert. It was fun working with him. He was a very handsome man. I remember, we were shooting for Jab Pyar Kissi Se Hota Hai at Filmistan. A group of 200-300 girls had come from Punjab. We were in the sound room seeing a song and the girls just rushed in. The way they were ogling at him, it was fun to watch. Dev Anand ka jo craze tha, it was something unbelievable. It was the same with Rajesh Khanna. Girls would go mad.
Today times are different. The trend is changing. We are becoming more westernised.. Our dress sense, music and dance have all changed. During our times, buxom women were more appreciated, whereas today thin girls are appreciated. I, personally like our culture. I would not like to be totally westernised.
Even in those days, films did have western dances, but there also used to be one Indian dance, not necessarily classical. But today’s dances are not dances, they are exercises. Earlier one could recognise a Vyjayantimala’s dance, or a Hema Malini’s dance or a Waheeda Rehman’s dance. But, it is not so now. Times are changing. People’s attitudes are changing. It is not only among film people, but all over.
It is difficult to say which film is more dear to me. All were good. I was attached to all of them. But the roles in Kati Patang, Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki, Chirag, Do Badan were very nice.
I was always interested in direction. I did a serial in Gujarati called ‘Jyoti’. It became a hit. I directed it myself. It was heroine-oriented. All the big stars worked in it like Rohini Hattangadi, Pallavi Joshi, Rita Bahaduri, Reema Lagoo, Ragini.
After this, I did a tele-film in Gujarati called ‘Drashtikone’. After that I made a spot for dowry.
Then for afternoon transmission I did ‘Palash Ke Phool’. I also did a film based programme called ‘Baje Payal’ which did 55 episodes. It was very well made.
Later, I did a serial ‘Dal Mein Kala’ directed by Gyan Sahay. Shammiji and I were the co- producers. Reena Roy and Navin Nischol worked in it. Reena and Navin were very sweet.
I wanted to become a doctor but I saw a railway accident, which made me realise that I cannot become a doctor because I cannot bear to see blood. My mother was all along associated with the hospital that was originally known as Santa Cruz General Hospital, but is popularly known as Asha Parekh Hospital. I donated the top, surgical floor. I love to do things that are of use to society – Rashmi Kundoo