The tragic life and death of Parveen Babi, Bollywood's former 'It Girl'

Tracing the journey of one of Bollywood's most successful actress Parveen Babi

Parveen Babi was the first Bollywood actress to have graced the TIME magazine. The actress who made her own mark in the industry with movies like Deewar, Namak Halal, and Amar Akbar Anthony, was way ahead of her time. She was bold, beautiful and intelligent.

Sadly, it all came down too soon for her and the actress died a tragic and lonely death. While some claim that it was the serious medical condition that led to her downfall, some believe it was her failed relationships with Mahesh Bhatt, Kabir Bedi and Danny Denzongpa.

Here’s taking a look at her glamorous Bollywood career, her love story with Mahesh Bhatt and her untimely tragic death:

Breaking stereotypes

Parveen Babi made an attempt of breaking gender-based stereotypes in Bollywood in the 70s and 80s. The glamorous actress alongside Zeenat Aman changed the norms on how a Bollywood actress was expected to dress in movies. Touted to be one of the most successful actresses in Bollywood, Parveen Babi starred opposite some of the most iconic leading actors in Bollywood including Amitabh Bachchan. While a number of Bollywood actresses continue to face backlash for wearing revealing clothes, Parveen Babi rocked the bikini almost 35 years ago. Babi running on the beach donning an animal print bikini has been well etched in the memories of several people.

She essayed a variety of roles with utmost sophistication, intelligence, and oomph in super hit movies including Kaaliya, Kranti, Namak Halal, Shaan and Amar Akbar Anthony. She starred opposite megastar Amitabh Bachchan in eight movies, all of which were either hits or blockbusters.

Parveen Babi

Amitabh Bachchan and Parveen Babi in film SHAAN. Express archive photo

The Downfall

Her career came to a sudden end amid reports of drug abuse and alcoholism. The actress who was on top of her game in Bollywood was diagnosed with one of the most dreaded diseases- paranoid schizophrenia. In an interview to Filmfare, Mahesh Bhatt who was already married to Lorraine Bright, revealed that he started dating Babi in 1977 after she ended her relationship with Kabir Bedi. Mahesh Bhatt added that he was a flop filmmaker while Parveen Babi was at the peak of her career when they started dating.

Parveen Babi

Film Director Mahesh Bhatt, Dev Anand and Parveen Babi, Vinod Khanna and Tina Munim on the set of film AB MERI BARI. Express archive photo

As the terrifying disease swept in, the actress started fearing for her life and being suspicious of her co-stars. She even went on record to claim that Amitabh Bachchan and former US President Bill Clinton wanted to kill her. She had also reportedly lodged a case against the former. However, the court dismissed the case while stating that Babi was suffering from mental illness. She had even claimed to possess evidence against actor Sanjay Dutt in the 1993 bomb blast case and was all set to move the Supreme Court after a special court, rejected her plea to tender evidence on the issue.

Surrounded by fear

Parveen Babi

Actress Parveen Babi in film MERAA DOST MERAA DUSHMAN. Express archive photo

While recollecting the times he spent with Babi, Mahesh Bhatt recalled how she would “storm into a room” and how her hallucinations made her imagine things.

“Sometimes she’d say the air conditioner had a bug. We had to dismantle it and show it to her. At other times there was ‘a bug’ in the fan or in the perfume… Once we were driving back after meeting my friend, philosopher and guide UG Krishnamurthy, when she said, “There’s a bomb in the car. I can hear it tick!” She threw open the door of the moving car, saying the bomb would burst and ran out on the road with me trying to hold her. People thought ‘Parveen Babi’ was having a fight with her boyfriend. Somehow, I huddled her into a taxi and brought her home,” Mahesh Bhatt told Filmfare.

She even left the country to seek solace under the guidance of guru-philosopher UG Krishnamurthy. Mahesh Bhatt claimed that they got back together after she returned from the United States. However, he ended the relationship after she asked him to choose between UG and her.

“I walked through the dark passage. I heard her call, “Mahesh, Mahesh!” I didn’t turn back. neither did I wait for the lift, fearing she’d come and take me back. I took the stairs instead. I heard her run behind me… stark, bare… I heard her even take a few steps down the stairs… I wanted to run back and tell her, ‘Look, you can’t come out in this state!’ But instead I walked on and out… into the rain,” he said.

A lonely death

Parveen Babi

Express archive photo

Parveen abandoned all her projects and went to the US and returned after a long hiatus. Her secretary Ved Sharma’s son Lalit revealed that Parveen Babi had turned extremely distrustful during her last days. If the police did not register her complaints, she would think they were all involved in the “conspiracy” being hatched against her.

“For groceries and essentials, she’d slip the money through the door and collect the milk and eggs once the man had left,” Lalit who was in his teens back then was quoted as saying. She had even stopped eating cooked food thinking someone must have poisoned it. Recalling an incident, Lalit said that Parveen thought someone had sent a bus to kill her just because the bus passed by.

Parveen Babi

Film star Parveen Babi in film SITAMGAR. Express archive photo

“All she drank was the yellow of the egg; she’d whip it and make a juice. That’s why so many boils had sprouted on her face,” he stated.

She had also developed a habit of keeping a tape recorder while speaking to the other person. She had developed gangrene in her right foot due to diabetes that made it difficult for her to move around without a wheelchair. Parveen Babi was found dead in January 2005 in her apartment. The police said that she had not collected milk and newspapers from the doorstep for three days. While the exact cause of death remained unknown, the post-mortem report showed no traces of food in her stomach. The police ruled out the possibility of foul play and stated that she possibly starved herself to death.

Parveen Babi

Express archive photo

Mahesh Bhatt claimed that her body lied unclaimed at Cooper Hospital and he offered to bury her. She was buried next to her mother at Santa Cruz, Mumbai on January 23, 2005, at the age of 56.

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