Parveen Babi, a screen rival of Zeenat Aman, passed away prematurely a couple of days ago at home in Bombay. The actress from Ahmedabad, a Gujarati Muslim, starred in Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar, Namak Halal and Shaan opposite Amitabh Bachchan, made the cover of Time magazine, filmed a serial in Italy with her lover Kabir Bedi and lived in New York for many years.
Hailing from the nawab family of Junagadh, Parveen Babi did her schooling from Ahmedabad… 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. [Telegraph]
Her hour of glory came when Time featured her on the cover [in 1977], much to the consternation of her screen rivals. A product of the flower children, yoga, Beatles and the students’ movement of the 1960s, Babi remained an outsider in Bollywood. Her cinema career came to an abrupt end amidst reports of alcoholism and drug abuse. [ToI]
She lived in a fishbowl, reportedly suffered from schizophrenia and then turned recluse:
Some claimed it was… the release of Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (a semi-autobiographical look at his extramarital relationship with Parveen) and her disturbed state of mind that prompted her to abandon everything. [Rediff]
[Babi] led the life of an absolute recluse because she was afraid people were trying to kill her… Babi was afraid of doorbells and phone calls. [Telegraph]
In Arth, Shabana Azmi played the wife and Smita Patil, the mistress:
The film received more than a fair share of the media glare, thanks to Bhatt’s rooftop declarations of autobiographical ambitions. Parveen Babi naturally took great offence to being portrayed as a shrieking whining harridan. [Stardust]
She sounds like quite the wild child:
She was the first heroine to openly take drugs and talk about it. Like many in her generation, Babi openly advocated free love. She gave candid quotes about her affairs with married men like Danny Denzongpa, Mahesh Bhatt and Kabir Bedi, whom she even ran away to Italy with…
When she returned after an extended stay in New York… Babi lodged a complaint with the Bhoiwada police station against 34 parties, including actor Amitabh Bachchan and former US President Bill Clinton, who, she accused of conspiring to kill her. [HT]
Rumors of a breakdown at JFK Airport:
New York, 7 April 1984. A disturbed and distraught Parveen Babi landed in the New York International Airport. She was asked to show her identification papers by the Airport authorities. Something in her snapped. She is said to have acted difficult and was handcuffed. When she put up a frantic struggle, she was also ankle-cuffed and carried by four policemen to a public hospital. An Indian doctor recognized Parveen and came to her aid…
When [Krishnamurti] landed in New York, he found Parveen in a general ward with thirty other mentally disturbed patients. The Indian Consul General, who had been informed of the unfortunate incident, had personally come to visit Parveen at the hospital. [Mahesh Bhatt]
Her life ended alone:
Her body was taken to Cooper Hospital, where it lay unclaimed till evening. “We will wait for seven days, then it will be disposed of in the regular way,” said Gupta. Soon after, filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt and Ashok Pandit offered to perform the last rites if there was no claimant. Bhatt, with whom she had been in a relationship, said he was out of touch with her for long, but their relationship was a very significant part of his life… [Telegraph]
Her relatives were eventually located:
“People said that Praveen Khala has stopped opening door for any one, but she will always remain our loving aunt, who warmly insist that we come and visit her. The last time when I was in Mumbai, she called me over and showered my children Murtaza and Ahtesham with love and gifts. She was the best”, said a teary Nasreen Babi, whose mother Rahim Sultan Bibi and mother-in-law were Parveen’s cousins. [ToI]
If anyone has an image of that Time cover, please send it my way, I can’t seem to find it on their site.
I’m sitting here snowbound in New York peering through a keyhole into this wide, rich river. If I were there right now, my uncle with the jug-handle ears would be filling our heads with the gossip of years. He’d be pulling out old movies and pointing out Babi’s performances. I’d be sitting on a razai, hot chai in my belly and stories burning in my ears.
Update 2: The cause of death appears to be complications from diabetes.