‘I danced, therefore I was.’
I have seen such an aesthetic and splendid book, viz. Asha Parekh: The Hit Girl….An Autobiography with Khalid Mohmed printed on thick beautiful mat art paper of various colors for the first time in my life. Moreover, it is written in Queen’s English. The style is pellucid and the rise and fall of the prose resembles the gestures and mudras of the dancer Asha Parekh on stage or in front of the camera. The foreword is written by Salman Khan and the Author’s Notes is written by the noted film critic, writer, director and short story writer, Khalid Mohmed. Method Acting was known in the sixties for Marlon Brando and Dilip Kumar were there. Besides, Stanislavski had produced many actors. Sanjay Leela Bhansali In Flashback says that Asha Parekh was beautiful, playful, mischievous, uninhabited, impish and gregarious and yet feminine. Her exuberance stunned him. Sai Paranjpye, writer of films and short stories, in Personally Speaking writes that Asha’s sex appeal never crossed the limits of decency. The actress was the ‘Sweetheart of the Swinging 1960s’.
Asha Parekh has dedicated The Hit Girl to her parents and the film industry that gave her the reason to be. The book contains 361 rare photos. The photo of dancing Asha on page 163 looks like a painting of Degas. The photo of Asha on page 222 should not have been in the book because the touches given by the photographer are visible. The eyelashes are made. And for me the photograph on page 234 is a lyric.
Asha Parekh acted in 87 films, won 28 Awards and 3 nominations.
Asha Parekh’s roots lie in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat known as ‘the Kashmir of Saurashtra’ because of its picturesque vistas and weather. Her parents Salma Ibrahim Lakdawala and Bachubhai Motilal Parekh married at the civil registrar’s office in Bombay (Mumbai) on August 1, 1941. Hindu-Muslim marriage was unthinkable those days. Mother converted to Hinduism and father renamed her Sudha. As time passed Asha was admitted to J B Petit High School for Girls. In school she would make crazy faces, dance and spin yarns. Her school friends were Zoroastrians. Gujaratis are hard-working, and travel a lot. They are inveterate foodies eager to eat world cuisine. Majority of them are vegetarian. She shares her date of birth with Mahatma Gandhi.
Films made by Raj Kapoor left a lasting effect on Asha Parekh, and she admired Dilip Kumar unconditionally. Though a legendary star she has never behaved like one. One day she ignored the deep gash in her foot, stormed on to the stage and along with Gopi Krishna danced like a young woman possessed. She was called ‘Lucky Mascot’ and ‘Sweetheart of Swinging 1960s’. She developed a crush on Raj Kapoor because of his magnetic blue eyes. She could not complete school and the experience of college life was denied to her but she is well-read. She has read the works of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Alvin Toffler. Moreover, for her love happened only in the films.
Dil Deke Dekho turned her into a star.
Asha Parekh talks about other film actors and directors with respect and love and affection. Sunil Dutt was incredibly shy and would get jittery when he had to enact a romantic scene with Asha. Bharat Bhushan was a voracious reader who never lent his book to anyone. Ramanand Sagar was an emotional man and would start crying even while a shot was in progress. Pradeep Kumar was charismatic. Guru Dutt, a stickler for details, was a genius. He was fond of his evening drinks. Asha’s regrets are that she did not get any chance to work with Satyajit Ray, Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Yash Chopra (the King of Romance). A film in which she acted opposite Raj Kapoor was never released. Ziddi was not the easiest of shoots because she had to climb up the trunk of an elephant. Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand were not as obsessive about looking spic and span. Pradeep Kumar was charismatic. When it came to playing royalty, he was unbeatable. Ashok Kumar was a very shy person who would be mortified of his female fans which included maharanis and college girls.
M V Raman, S S Vasan, Nasir Husain, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Pramod Chakravorty and Vijay Anand groomed Asha Parekh and helped her evolve. Working with them was a pleasure for her. Her outlook towards film acting was honed by Raj Khosla. She had fallen in and out of love but never with her heroes, who were already married or were on the eve of getting married. Shakti Samant’s Kati Patang fetched her the Best Actress trophy at the Filmfare Awards. His contribution to her growth as an actress has been incalculable. Nasir Husain’s strength was to smile in the face of adversity, be it filmmaking or film distribution. Asha Parekh had perfect chemistry with Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand and Sunil Dutt. She felt comfortable with Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor and Jeetendra. Asha worked with Dharmendra in eight films. Dharmendra was unaware of his good looks and loved his drinks. Dancing and singing were not his forte. Asha was in the habit of giggling. It became her permanent weakness. She giggles even these days.
Shatrughan Sinha was super-confident because he had graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. Both of them were not on talking terms for some time when Sajan was shot. Ultimately they buried their past. Shatrugan Sinha came as the chief guest at one of her charitable hospital’s fund-raising events. Manoj Kumar ignored her on the premiere of Mughal-e-Azam and went on talking to Dilip Kumar. He was so much devoted to his wife Shashi that he would not touch the hands of his heroines even before the camera. Pran’s image was redefined as Malang Chacha in Upkar. Jeetendra, astute about money matters, trade figures and accounts, was her companionable hero ever. He schooled and educated Asha Parekh in box-office logistics. Rajesh Khanna created hysteria in the whole country. As his craze escalated he became more introverted and pensive. He was retreating into a shell. The film industry misunderstood him. He was called ‘arrogant’ and ‘difficult’. One day Shashi Kapoor came wearing a burqa and gave a tight hug to Asha. Shashi, Biswajeet and Asha played pranks in a hotel room. Shashi was a very good companion. One day Asha gave him a tight hug. Shashi lost his lust for life when his wife Jennifer Kendal died.
Asha could not keep politics at bay during her stint as the film censorship Chairperson. There was trouble when Deepa Mehta’s Fire was released. The film was alien to Indian culture. Mahesh Bhatt and others used abusive slogans outside Asha’s office when Zakhm was released. Shekhar Kapoor’s Elizabeth created a controversy. Some newspaper columns and TV channels called Asha Parekh ‘dictator’ and ‘Hitler’.
Asha Parekh Charitable Hospital is running well. Asha is candid when she talks about her private life. The walls of her house have not imprisoned her. She is thankful to loving neighbours and trusted domestic helps. A fan of Chinese origin once loved her and wanted to marry her. Nasir Husain was the only true love of her life. He was married and had two children. Asha could never see herself as a home-breaker. She is still in touch with the family of Nasir Husain. When he passed away she went numb. For her love is a few stolen moments or a lifetime of exhilaration. She is sure about friendship. It is a sense of oneness and belonging. She cannot think of herself without the presence of Shammi Aunty, Waheeda Rehman, Helen and Saira Banu. Apart from this, self-awareness keeps her alive and thinking.
Asha Parekh is still prone to giggling fits. There were rumours that Asha Parekh was a drug addict. One day the rumour spread that Asha Parekh was dead. Another rumour was that Shammi Kapoor had married Asha in secret. The last entry of her ‘diary’ is simply marvelous and sublime. And she laughs. Such is the force of the photographs. I end this with Nietzsche’s words: ‘I know why man is the only animal that laughs. He alone suffers so excruciatingly that he was compelled to invent laughter.’
(The writer isauthor of The Ugly Kashmiri (Cameos in exile) and co-editor of From Home to House)