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Book excerpt: Why Parveen Babi was a favourite of producers

Karishma Upadhyay's book foregrounds Parveen Babi's extraordinary work ethic and dedication to her profession while charting her immense popularity in the 1970s and 1980s.

Our Correspondent

Parveen Babi: A Life by veteran film journalist Karishma Upadhyay is an attempt to trace the journey of the star who captured the hearts of countless cineastes in the 1970s and 1980s.

With hits like Deewaar (1975), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Kaala Patthar (1979), Shaan (1980), The Burning Train (1980), Kranti (1981) and Kaalia (1981), Parveen Babi left her imprint in the films that she was a part of.

Usually playing sensuous and glamorous characters on screen, Parveen Babi was equally unabashed off it and, therefore, was often an object of fascination and scrutiny for the film press, which focused more on the gossip surrounding her personal life than on her professional achievements.

Upadhyay traces the journey of a shy but ambitious girl from an aristocratic family whose life was transformed under the arc lights. The book offers insights from the star's friends, hostel mates, former lovers and co-stars, as it seeks to unravel the enigma that was Parveen Babi. An excerpt follows:

By mid-1975, Parveen had become one of the most sought-after actresses in the industry and was juggling more than half-a-dozen films. The new films she had signed included Mama Bhanja, opposite real-life uncle and nephew Shammi and Randhir Kapoor; Amar Akbar Anthony, again with Amitabh Bachchan as her leading man; Chamatkaar with Rajesh Khanna; and Bullet, where her co-star was Dev Anand. There was also a film with Dilip Kumar that never took off.

Among the actresses, Hema Malini was considered the most popular with both film-makers and the audience. The names that followed hers on the casting wish-list were those of Zeenat Aman, Rekha, Neetu Singh and Parveen Babi.

What she lacked as an actor Parveen more than made up for with a great work ethic. No matter how many shifts she was doing in a day, she was almost always on time. In an industry where actors were invariably late in reporting on set and ended up adding to delay-related project costs, Parveen’s habit of punctuality immediately made her a favourite among producers. On the sets of director Bhappi Sonie’s Bhanwar, a journalist from Stardust [magazine] found Parveen ready to shoot at 8am. Apart from the actress, Aruna Irani and Ashok Kumar were also present on set to shoot an elaborate party sequence. There was no sign of the leading man Randhir Kapoor, though.

‘He’ll come in the afternoon and we can’t wait. Parveen and Aruna will be going away in the afternoon. They’ve got to go to other shootings,’ Sonie was quoted as saying in the June 1975 issue of Stardust.

The director was so impressed with Parveen’s sense of discipline that he signed her on for an action thriller titled Chalta Purza opposite Rajesh Khanna that released in 1977.

What also set Parveen apart from her contemporaries was her photographic memory, which had served her well through school and college. As an actor, she was expected to endlessly memorize dialogues which, more often than not, were handed to her at the penultimate hour on the set itself. She might not have been the most emotive actress in the business, but she rarely forgot her lines while shooting. Film was expensive and fewer fumbles on camera meant money saved. Shooting songs with intricate dance movements was, however, her kryptonite, and she’d spend hours practising the moves at home. Once she was on set, she was warm and friendly with everyone, from the lighting assistants to the directors. In between shots, she’d sit right there on the set, ready for her call.

At that point, her life was everything she dreamt of as a girl. She had a career that was on an upswing. She was famous and she had found love. Dreams, though, very rarely stay simple.

Excerpted with permission from Parveen Babi: A Life by Karishma Upadhyay, published by Hachette India. Click to purchase your copy.