Parveen Babi – Memories
I was one of those snooty people, who never really wanted to get into Hindi films. I didn’t watch them either and was more keen on my modelling career. I did a lot of ramp modelling and ad modelling. It was then that B.R. Ishaara spotted me and offered me Charitra. Since I wasn’t interested, I turned down his offer. But much to my surprise, he literally chased me till I finally accepted. That’s how I got into the film industry. Since I had lost my father at the age of 10, it was difficult for my mother to come to terms with my career. Eventually she did, when she saw that I was managing pretty well and that I was not in any way, abusing myself or the family name. I come from the Nawab family of Junagadh but I was born after 1948, and the princely states were already dissolved by then. I never forgot that I was a product of independent India and a democratic India.
I was always a health fanatic. I would diet and exercise a lot. Much to my surprise, when I joined the industry, I noticed that people here were not very fitness conscious and were happily spreading. In fact, I was also the first among the heroines who exercised and was into Jane Fonda work out and other things. Every morning, I would wake up early, go jogging and then report to shooting. Later, some of my colleagues would ask me for certain health tips and we would exchange notes. I have even given younger actresses of today a few tips but I don’t know whether they follow them.
I was a born Muslim and later, I converted to Christianity. But I have never done things I didn’t believe. Even when I was a Muslim, I didn’t understand why it made me a more spiritual entity, if I did not eat pork. I always felt that the essence of spirituality lies in being a good human and following good, positive principles. The Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant at the Taj, those days, was quite famous for pork delicacies and every time I got a break from shooting, I would rush off to the Golden Dragon. Whenever my friends questioned me about my eating pork, I would say that it was more important for me to be a human being than a racist.
A s a teenager, one is uncertain about a lot of things in life. After all, we are not born with a manual. It’s only from your bitter and sweet experiences that you learn what life and relationships are all about. I was never that gawky insecure teenager, I was rather confident. Those days, we actresses, which included Zeenat, Shabana, Neetu, Rekha, Raakhee and I, were quite friendly with each other. Whenever we shot together, we would meet in each other’s makeup rooms. We would sit and gossip and laugh about our wigs and the dresses we wore. There was no malice towards each other in any way. We had a lot of fun working together.
As far as competition was concerned, I think the rivalry between Zeenat and me, was made up. I was always very confident of myself and never really bothered what anyone else was doing. I never compared myself with anybody. In fact, it was Zeenat and I, who literally brought a whole new generation to the movies. As far as my personal contribution was concerned, I started doing western style, physical comedy, which, in those days, nobody did. Mera Desh was one such film.
I never believed in hiding my relationships. I had my share of them and with some of the most good looking men. I always knew Kabir was a good looking man but perhaps never realised just how much of one. Once, we were in Amsterdam and as tourists, we were taken to a red light street. As we were walking down the street, there was this lady who bent to tie her shoe laces. When she looked up and saw Kabir, her eyes popped out! Kabir really had an impact on women! According to me, he was the Renaissance man! Danny was also quite good looking. Mahesh too, had a very pleasant face when I was going around with him. There was something very bright and special about him. Mahesh was a mad genius!
A s for my co-stars, Chintu (Rishi) and I would have a lot of fun while working together. We were like college kids. Chintu, Goli (Ranjeet) and I, were making a film called Gunhegaar, where the three of us had to ride motor bikes. We would all practice motorbike riding at Khandala or Mahableshwar where we were shooting and the three of us played havoc. When I think of those days, I can’t help but laugh at the crazy things we did!
When people talk of Jackie Shroff, it reminds me of Vinod Khanna who was a very kind and compassionate co-star. Later, he joined Rajneesh. I never believed in Rajneesh. No matter how loud Rajneesh screamed and professed that he was God, all I could see him as, was just another human being!
Rajesh Khanna, whom we all fondly called Kaka, at one point of time, was a very attractive man and a very good co-star to work with. He wasn’t arrogant at all, certainly not the way he was made out to be. I think it was all Amitabh Bachchan’s propaganda against him. He drove Vinod Khanna out of the film industry and also made Rajesh Khanna’s career hell.
It was Shashi Kapoor who was in internationally, the most good looking man I ever came across. And for decades, he remained so. He was extremely charming and we got along very well. I used to bitch a lot with Shashi and have some pleasant memories of him. Once, we were shooting for a film and there was a scene where we both had to hide in a basket. I looked at Shashi and laughed loudly telling him, ‘Dear Shashi, how can there be two bitches in the same basket’? Shashi is really a nice person. I also used to have a lot of fun while working with Dabboo becausehe was always joking. He has a tremendous sense of humour.
But the best time I had, was with a co-star called Lulu. She was a chimpanzee, who was specially imported from America for the shooting of a film. We had a lot of fun on the sets because Lulu would eat only pizza, smoke cigarettes and drink black coffee. She was my smoking partner and the two of us would sit hand in hand, smoking away to glory! We had a wonderful friendship. I don’t have a photograph of us together. I believe she died some time ago.
I also worked with Manoj Kumar, during Kranti. I maintained a respectful distance when I worked with him. There weren’t any problems with him. I was very fond of Shatrughan Sinha. Shatru was a very easy going person and not malicious at all.
Among my films, Rang Birangi, Yeh Nazdeekiyan, Amar Akbar Anthony, Mera Desh and Ashanti, are among my favourites. Rang Birangi was a very cute film, after all it was a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film. All his films are a real treat to the eye. When Hrishida approached me for Rang Birangi, he was thoroughly convinced about me and told me that I should do the film. I am fortunate to have worked with a director of such great calibre, who is, moreover, such a lovely man.
Times have changed. In those days, smoking and drinking was quite taboo. I found that very hypocritical because everyone, including senior stars, would secretly indulge in it and still criticize others who did the same. I could not understand these double standards because I never believed in hiding things. I have always been open about everything, be it my likes and dislikes or my relationships.
Today, all these young actors are very good looking. Salman, Akshay Kumar and even Vinod’s son is very good looking. Moreover, their bodies are in great shape and they can really put stars of yesteryear to shame. The heroes of our time weren’t really into body building. As far as the actresses are concerned,I think Madhuri and Sridevi are terrific. Sridevi was very expressive in Sadma, which also reminds me of Kamal Haasan, who is a very talented.
Amitabh is looking quite terrible these days, especially in Lal Badshah, with that red jacket of his and dancing with two young girls. I don’t think you should go that far. As compared to him, Dev looked young for a very longtime. It’s only now that he has started playing elder brother roles. Dev Anand was a very charming, gallant gentleman, non-interfering and terribly involved in his work. Whatever he does, good or bad, he is thoroughly convinced about it. That’s his charm! Sunil Dutt too was a very nice person and a thorough gentleman. Though he was much senior to me, he was still charming. Yet another favourite of mine was Dharmendra, who’s timing at comedy was just perfect. For others, comedy was such an effort, while Dharmendra would do it with so much ease and steal the show. He is one of the finest actors I have worked with.
Today, the majority of the industry has cut ties with me because of one man… Anyway, I don’t feel let down. On the contrary, I feel it’s their loss. The film industry is wonderful in the beginning, when you are in your youth. But then, it doesn’t let you grow in any other direction. The reason I didn’t attempt to make a comeback in the industry, is firstly because this man is still there and secondly, over the years, I have discovered a whole new world outside. Writing, philosophy, painting, organized thinking, great and classic literature… There is just one life and so much to achieve (As told to Ranjeeta in 1998).