Born 60 years ago in Junagadh, Gujarat, Parveen Babi was a special child - the only issue of her parents, born to them 14 years after their marriage. Her father, Vali Mohammed Babi, used to be an administrator with the Nawab of Junagadh. This pretty college girl caught the eye of filmmaker B R Ishara while studying at St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad. He gave her first break in Charitra (1973) opposite cricketer-turned-actor Salim Durrani. Though the film flopped, Parveen had registered her presence. She landed Majboor opposite Amitabh Bachchan on the strength of it.
Parveen changed the cinematic syntax of the holier-than-thou Indian heroine. Smoking, clubbing, donning Western costumes, she lent glamour to all her roles. She broke several social conventions and taboos. She was the first Indian heroine to be featured on the cover of Time magazine for her beauty, charm and success.
She was often considered to be Zeenat Aman's rival owing to their sex-symbol tag. In fact, she acted alongside Aman in Ashanti (1982) and Mahaan (1983). Even in hero-centric films like Deewaar (1975), Shaan (1980) and Namak Halaal (1982), she made her presence felt with her serene aloofness. She even stole the thunder from her co-star Hema Malini in Manoj Kumar's Kranti (1981). Parveen also starred in offbeat films like Vinod Pande's Yeh Nazdeekiyan (1982) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Rang Birangi (1983).
Her success ran into heavy weather in the mid-'80s following her mental illness. She left the film industry to move to New York where she became associated with the spiritual guru U. G. Krishnamurti. Parveen returned to Mumbai in 1992 when she was unrecognisable as she had put on lots of kilos. She tried to switch over to interior designing without any success and finally died a recluse in her Juhu penthouse apartment, her death discovered only after her housing society secretary complained to the police that she had not collected milk and newspapers from her doorstep for two days. Parveen rests in peace buried next to her mother at Santa Cruz, Mumbai. But whenever the strains of Raat baaqi and Jawaan jaaneman (her Namak Halaal hits) are played in discotheques, the ethereal image of a gyrating Parveen rises before your eyes.
She was a flower-child and quite like the roles she played in films - she led a carefree, Bohemian lifestyle. Parveen Babi had volatile live-in relationships with Kabir Bedi and Mahesh Bhatt. She even abandoned her flourishing film career to be with Bedi in Italy where he had discovered new acting avenues. Bedi describes his one-time paramour thus, "She was very volatile and also quite possessive. She was a woman of extremes - very happy at one moment, very sad at another." Their relationship soured and she returned to India to pick up the threads of her abandoned career. Parveen struck back with bigger hits this time.
Then she had a two-year affair with Bhatt that ended after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mahesh Bhatt hailed her as, "A woman whom I loved and lost." She was also involved later with the much-married Danny Denzongpa. In her delusional state of mind she later even accused her co-star Amitabh Bachchan of having taken advantage of her.
Amitabh Bachchan co-starred with Parveen Babi in eight films - Majboor, Deewaar, Amar Akbar Anthony, Shaan, Kaalia, Mahaan, Khud-daar and Do Aur Do Paanch. In an interview Bachchan once admitted, "Most of my films with Parveen were superbly successful. The audience liked us as a pair. She was a new kind of leading lady to the screen. We'd work on all these films and go our own way. But because we belonged to the same social circle - Romesh Sharma, Danny Denzongpa, Reena Roy, Smita Patil, Javed Akhtar - we'd visit each other and listen to music. She was a very fun-loving, light-hearted person, always full of joie de vivre!"
He recalled gratefully how all of them would visit him after his accident and that he would never forget the people who stuck close to him in his time of crisis. Bachchan had taken Parveen out for her first live show in '83.
Parveen started showing the first signs of paranoia and schizophrenia (in which a victim is prone to all sorts of grandiose delusions and hallucinations) during her relationship with Mahesh Bhatt, . She had a nervous breakdown and Bhatt later made Arth (1983) wherein the character of the other woman, played by Smita Patil, was based on Parveen.
Bhatt chose to bid a final good-bye to Parveen by making yet another film Woh Lamhe... (2006) based on his life with her. Bhatt says that the streets of Mumbai are littered with memories of half-lived yesterdays. "Nostalgia is pain. The day Parveen died, I realised that despite the claims I made to myself, her memory had not withered within me with the passage of time."