“If you try to stop me, I’ll jump out of the car and strip right here!” the manic woman warned the man accompanying her. Having worked with her long enough as her manager, he knew this wasn’t an empty threat... Although it was close to midnight, there was enough traffic on the flyover to ensure that if she did strip, as she was threatening to, the act would make the headlines. For the actress in question was Parveen Babi and her companion, her trusted manager, Ved Sharma.
These are the sensational opening lines of Parveen Babi: A Life (2020), the latest celebrity biography to hit the market. Journalist Karishma Upadhyay chronicles the life of an actor who was the darling of Hindi film audiences during the 1970s and 1980s but never had her contributions documented in the manner they deserved. This book was a much-needed exercise but unfortunately, it does not live up to its promise of “rescuing Parveen’s legacy from the bondage of myth and gossip.” Instead, it provides credence to rumours and uses conversations with ex-lovers to tell the story of a woman who “refused to acknowledge that the demons in her head were real” and whose “life was like a mirror that had shattered into a million pieces.”
Babi, who died in 2005 at the age of 51, appeared in some of the most iconic movies of her time—Yash Chopra’s Deewaar (1975), Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Ramesh Sippy’s Shaan (1980), Manoj Kumar’s Kranti (1981), Tinnu Anand’s Kaalia (1981), Kamal Amrohi’s Razia Sultan (1983)—but Upadhyay frames her narrative primarily through the lens of mental illness. For example, Babi’s “unhealthy possessiveness, acute jealousy and irrational anger” in relation to Protima Bedi, the wife of her ex-lover Kabir Bedi, are interpreted by the author as “a sign of a serious mental health issue.” When this connection is made, it reads like a ‘diagnosis’ that is uncalled for.