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The Lost Legends

Parveen Babi – The Mysterious Diva

The famous glamours set of Bollywood, late actor Parveen Babi is best remembered today for revolutionizing the image of a Hindi film heroine. Between Zeenat Aman and her, they radically altered the way Bollywood stars observed and behaved. They were agile lasses (compared to the average height of actresses then), wore their sexuality effortlessly and were unafraid of flaunting it. Their faith was the spite of many a Bollywood actress of the era. If Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra have had it easy being westernized and gaining currency with the mainstream Hindi film audience, then they have lots to thank the likes of Parveen Babi.

The other reason why the millennials will remember her is as the inspiration behind the broken woman shown in Mahesh Bhatt’s film Woh Lamhe. The filmmaker has claimed it was based on his memories of her (when they were in a relationship) around the time she was sinking deep into mental illness.

It is unfortunate that Parveen’s memories should be restricted to just these two distinct images. Yes, there is no denying these two facets of her life. However, there was more to her than just this…

On her 69th birth anniversary, here’s a look at some of the other aspects of her life which make a far fuller human being that has been ascribed to her thus far.

Parveen Babi belongs to the Babi Pashtun clan, who settled in Gujarat. Her clan, the Babi or Babai, dates its ancestry to its founder Sherkhanji Babi (1654). The Babis entered into the service of Mughal emperor Humayun, under the leadership of one Usman Khan. It was during the reign of Shah Jahan that they moved to Gujarat. Parveen’s dad was employed with the Nawab of Junagarh as his systems administrator.

Post Independence, the fortunes of the clan members weren’t particularly impressive. If it is any indicator, Parveen left behind 80% of her wealth to be invested in a trust for the welfare of underprivileged women and children from the Babi community of Junagadh.

Born into this milieu, young Parveen grew up in far better circumstance. She received a modern education, having studied at Mount Carmel High School, Ahmedabad and later at St Xavier’s College, from where she graduated in English Literature.

Parveen’s end and the run-up to it have been fairly well documented in the media. The fact was, in the early 1980s, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which who describes as ‘a severe mental disorder, characterized by profound disruptions in thinking, affecting language, perception, and the sense of self. It often involves psychotic events, such as hearing voices or delusions.

Parveen Babi belongs to the Babi Pashtun clan, who settled in Gujarat. Her clan, the Babi or Babai, dates its ancestry to its founder Sherkhanji Babi (1654). The Babis entered into the service of Mughal emperor Humayun, under the leadership of one Usman Khan. It was during the reign of Shah Jahan that they moved to Gujarat. Parveen’s dad was employed with the Nawab of Junagarh as his systems administrator.

Post Independence, the fortunes of the clan members weren’t particularly impressive. If it is any indicator, Parveen left behind 80% of her wealth to be invested in a trust for the welfare of underprivileged women and children from the Babi community of Junagadh.

Born into this milieu, young Parveen grew up in far better circumstance. She received a modern education, having studied at Mount Carmel High School, Ahmedabad and later at St Xavier’s College, from where she graduated in English Literature.

Parveen’s end and the run-up to it have been fairly well documented in the media. The fact was, in the early 1980s, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which who describes as ‘a severe mental disorder, characterized by profound disruptions in thinking, affecting language, perception, and the sense of self. It often involves psychotic events, such as hearing voices or delusions.

That she had health issues is pretty well known, but how they were triggered will always remain a mystery. It is often argued that her failed relationship with Kabir Bedi, among others, contributed to her ill health.

However, in an interview with Outlook magazine, Mahesh Bhatt, who came into her life when she was deep in the mess, had said that she could have inherited her illness from her father. He went on to add that when once she suffered a mental breakdown, her mother came down to Mumbai and believed that djinns had taken over her daughter’s body!

Is schizophrenia curable? Perhaps not, but early diagnosis could have helped in managing it better. Mahesh, who was in a relationship with her between 1977 to 1980, had regretfully mentioned how he failed to see it coming.

A string of failed relationships contributed to her eventual descent into illness. It is alleged that her affair with Kabir went kaput after he found success with the Italian TV series Sandokan and wanted to shift abroad. Parveen, who had a flourishing career here in India, was obviously not enamored by the idea.

At the peak of her career, Parveen Babi left the film industry and most of her life she lived alone.

Parveen Babi was discovered dead on January 22, 2005, after the neighbors informed the police that she had not collected milk and newspapers from her doorstep for three days. Police Presumed that she may have been dead for 3 days before her body was found. Parveen Babi was a diabetic and she was found to have gangrene of the left foot as a complication of her diabetic condition. A post mortem was conducted at Cooper Hospital and reports showed that there were no traces of food in her stomach but some alcohol (possibly from her medication) was found and it is possible that she had not consumed anything for more than three days and as a consequence starved to death. Though she had become a Christian, her body was claimed by her relatives who were Muslims and buried as per Islamic rules next to her mother at Santacruz, Mumbai on 23 January 2005

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