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Parveen Babi: A troubled mind

The diva battled many demons and levelled serious accusations against many celebrities, including one-time co-star Amitabh Bachchan. On her 12th death anniversary today (20 January), we look back at Babi's troubled life.

Mayur Lookhar

The film industry can be a lonely place, especially when you reach the top. This clichéd line, which has been used time and again to describe the life of some stars, fit the late Parveen Babi perfectly.

Babi had become a recluse in the latter part of her life. During this period, she stunned the industry and attracted media attention with her sensational but unproven claims.

Babi, who was one of Hindi cinema’s most bankable female stars in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, shocked fans when she disappeared at the height of her career in 1983, leaving many a producer in the lurch. In the years preceding her disappearance, tabloids ran reports of her troubled relationships with various men from the industry (Mahesh Bhatt, Kabir Bedi and Danny Denzongpa among them). She was even romantically linked with Amitabh Bachchan, with whom she had formed a successful reel pair.

Along with mentor UG Krishnamurthi and a friend Valentine de Kervan, Babi went to California. A year later, she indulged in suspicious behaviour at New York’s John F Kennedy airport when she failed to submit her identification papers and gave the authorities a hard time. She was handcuffed and kept in a general ward with other mentally disturbed patients. It took an Indian consulate official to bail her out. When the official arrived, Babi behaved as if nothing had happened. She was full of praise for the Americans whom she found to be a very progressive and ingenious race.

Babi would eventually return to Mumbai in 1989, but by then she was scarcely recognisable as the star who had been the heartthrob of a nation. Rumours that she was suffering from schizophrenia were doing the rounds. These rumours gained credence when Babi began making astonishing claims.

The target of her angst was none other than superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Speaking to a film magazine, Babi labelled him an international gangster. She claimed that he had had her abducted and imprisoned her on an island where plastic surgery was performed and a chip was fitted into her. She even showed some scars as proof of having undergone the operation. It was almost as if the lines between reality and some of the films that had featured Babi in the 1970s and 1980s had blurred.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Babi went on to claim that Bachchan, Bill Clinton, Robert Redford, Prince Charles, Al Gore, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Roman Catholic Church, the CIA, CBI, KGB, and Mossad, and the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and France were conspiring to kill her. The matter was quickly dismissed by the courts. When the press sought evidence from her, all she did was scribble on a notepad.

Her behaviour became more intriguing in the late 1990s when she asked visiting journalists to taste her food and drink for fear that someone was trying to poison her. She blamed the Mafia for cutting off the power supply to her apartment. Still later, when the press failed to give credence to her fantastic stories, she said it had been bought out by Bachchan. One of her neighbours reported that the actress reacted violently one evening when she saw an Bachchan film being aired on the local cable television network.

After the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Babi claimed to have clinching evidence of actor Sanjay Dutt’s involvement in the act. Years later, Dutt was absolved on all charges of involvement in the terrorist act and convicted only for unlawful possession of firearms.

Thereafter, not much was heard from Babi until the day in 2005, when she was found dead in her flat. She was suffering from diabetes and had developed gangrene in one foot. She was only 55. She died as she had lived, a rebel and an enigma.