Parveen Babi: Dramatic life of a legend

On the star’s death anniversary, Eastern Eye pays tribute to the legendary leading lady with an A-to-Z guide

The famous Babi look

Asjad Nazir

BOLLYWOOD beauty Parveen Babi has consistently been celebrated as one of the most gorgeous Indian movie icons of all time.

Raw sex appeal, striking good looks, stunning style and a fearless approach turned her into a pathbreaker who helped remove the shackles of the Hindi film heroine.

Like a dramatic film plot, the legendary cinema star’s life was filled with highs, lows, unexpected turns, and a tragic ending. She died at the age of 50 on January 20, 2005, after a tumultuous life.

On her death anniversary, Eastern Eye pays tribute to the legendary leading lady with an A-to-Z guide.

A is for Arth: Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt had an affair with the actress (see L) and would use that relationship as inspiration for his films Arth (1982), Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi (1993) and Woh Lamhe (2006).

B is for Beginning: Parveen Babi started working as a model and was quickly signed up to star in her debut film Charitra (1973), opposite cricketer-turned-actor Salim Durrani. The movie flopped, but she received recognition a year later for her film Majboor (1974).

C is for Christianity: The Muslim actress converted to Christianity during the last years of her life. She had wanted a Christian funeral, but her relatives claimed her body after she died and gave her an Islamic burial.

D is for Deewaar: The super-hit 1974 film, Deewaar, helped turn the actress into a major star. Her role as a kindhearted prostitute showed she was willing to do things differently, including a scene in bed with Amitabh Bachchan.

E is for Exhumed: Five years after she was buried at the Santa Cruz Muslim Cemetery in Mumbai, her remains were exhumed and relocated to a new resting place due to a shortage of land space. Other celebrities whose bodies were buried at the same cemetery and were relocated included Mohammed Rafi, Madhubala and Naushad Ali.

With Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Deewaar’

F is for Fashion: From her figure-hugging outfits to her iconic fringe haircut, Babi was one of the biggest style icons of the 1970s and inspired women across the world. The ‘Parveen Babi cut’ became one of the most requested hairstyles at hairdressers.

G is for Greatness: Despite having a short career, Babi has consistently made lists of the greatest actresses of all time and is regarded as one of the sexiest in Bollywood history.

H is for Hit films: The actress appeared in many cult classics. Her most successful films were headlined by the era’s biggest star, Amitabh Bachchan. They included Deewaar (1975), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Suhaag (1979), Do Aur Do Paanch (1980), Kaalia (1981), Namak Halaal (1982) and Mahaan (1983).

I is for Interest: The voracious reader loved devouring books from a young age. She also enjoyed writing about philosophy, interior design and art.

J is for Junagadh: The actress was born on April 4, 1954, in the Junagadh district of Gujarat, as the only child in a noble family that belonged to the Babi tribe of Pashtuns.

 K is for Karishma: In 2020, Karishma Upadhyay wrote a biography of the actress titled Parveen Babi: A Life.

L is for Love life: The actress had many high-profile relationships, including with actors Danny Denzongpa and Kabir Bedi, as well as the married filmmaker, Mahesh Bhatt.

 M is for Mental health: Serious mental health problems during the peak of her career affected Babi’s relationships and would eventually derail her career (see V). It would emerge that she had paranoid schizophrenia, although she was not diagnosed with the condition at that time. This led to the later years of her life being filled with outrageous conspiracy theories, including against world leaders.

N is for No: The actress abruptly left the Indian film industry due to her mental health problems (see V) and turned down many lucrative offers. Around 19 movies were either left incomplete or were released after she quit. Many had to be re-edited, including her final film, Iraada (1991), which was released after a long delay.

O is for Organ failure: By the time Babi died, she had become a recluse (see R). The Indian police suspected she had been dead for three days, alone in her apartment, before her body was found. She had gangrene of the left foot. It was ruled that she had succumbed to organ failure triggered by diabetes.


P is for Pin-up: The actress appeared on the front cover of all the major Indian magazines. She made history by becoming the first Indian star to be featured on the cover of the Asia edition of Time magazine in 1976.

Q is for Quotes: The fearless actress didn’t shy away from giving spicy quotes to the media during interviews, which invariably generated headlines. As her mental health worsened, the quotes became more outlandish.

R is for Recluse: After vanishing from public view, she returned to Mumbai in 1989 and moved into a penthouse apartment. As her mental health worsened, she accused world leaders, governments, international celebrities and even the Roman Catholic Church, of conspiring to kill her. Her evidence reportedly turned out to be scribblings on a notepad. She would record her phone calls and was paranoid about eating food because she thought it might be poisoned.

Babi with Kabir Bedi

S is for Strength: The actress was at her very best doing comedy. She had fine comic timing in high-profile films, including an unforgettable laughter-filled scene with an egg in Kaalia (1981). The actress said she was inspired by international films while filming comedy scenes.

T is for Tour: She went on the pathbreaking Bollywood world tour with Bachchan and other leading ladies in 1983, but returned early. These were the first steps towards her mental health worsening and her walking away from Bollywood, despite being in demand.

U is for Unfinished: Legend has it that in 1984, she wrote a detailed autobiography and left the manuscript with her guru, UG Krishnamurthy.

V is for Vanishing: In 1983, at the peak of her career, the 29-year-old actress disappeared from public view and left Indian cinema forever. She took up various interests and travelled to America.

There were many unfounded rumours about what had happened to her, including being kidnapped, being under the spell of a spiritual guru and confined in a mental health facility.

Parveen Babi

W is for Will: After she died, various relatives tried to claim her estate, which included an expensive penthouse. The state administrator general of Maharashtra became the custodian of Babi’s assets and found a will made by her that had been lying in a bank.

She left 70 per cent of her estate to poor members of her family, 20 per cent to a friend and 10 per cent to a Christian missionary fund.

X is for Xavier’s: Babi lost her father in 1959, when she was just five years old.

She later attended St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature.

Y is for YouTube: The actress remaining popular is illustrated by the many videos of her on YouTube, including compilations of unforgettable songs she featured in and archive interviews.

 Z is for Zeenat Aman: Parveen Babi was most compared to Zeenat Aman. Both would regularly do films the other couldn’t, including Babi acting in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) after Aman rejected the Manmohan Desai film.

They acted together in the Charlie’s Angels-inspired Ashanti (1982). Aman described her as gorgeous, glamorous and talented.

She said: “After her death, I often ruminated on how she was remembered.

Parveen was much more than who she dated or what she said when she was unwell. I feel she never truly got the chance to say her piece.”