She is one of the few, who could make a graceful exit as and when she chose, from the world where dreams are manufactured and thence euphorically devoured by millions. Asha Parekh ruled the roost at the Hindi film industry from 1959 to 1973. The dance troupe of which she was the lead dancer was the first one from India to perform at the famous Lincoln Center in New York. Parekh, the girl with the soulful eyes that reflected the joie de verve still has the same sparkle in her eyes that captured the hearts of millions.
After retiring, she transitioned into a life no less active or busy than that of a film-star, running her own charitable hospital, and diligently carrying out her duties as a secretary of Film Industry Welfare Trust. Dancer, film star, director, humanitarian and the first female chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification of India, Parekh has lived a tireless illustrious life, a life that defines and endorses the legend of Asha Parekh.
Co-authored by eminent and prolific writer & filmmaker Khalid Mohamed, her autobiography aptly titled ‘The Hit Girl’ was recently launched in Mumbai by Salman Khan, and Aamir Khan did the honors to introduce her book, in the capital.
It was a moment of great pride when recent Padma Shri awardee H.R. Shah, current Chairman/CEO of TV Asia, launched Parekh’s book ‘The Hit Girl’ on July 13th, amidst hundreds of nostalgic fans and members of the Share & Care organization at TV Asia studios, in Edison, NJ.
To begin with, a montage of her film clips, dialogues and songs played on the screen as homage to the living legend, presented by actress and television host Tabassum for TV ASIA, pulling the audience into the magic of golden era of Hindi cinema gone by.
Nidhi Kathuria reported for the event and also connected with Khalid Mohamed in Mumbai, India for his quotes.
“I was surprised that no one else had approached her for biography. When I did, she was hesitant initially but agreed after much persuasion. The fact that I have known her over the decades, in my capacity as a journalist, meant that there was an element of trust that I would do a semblance of justice in recreating her personal and professional lives in a book,” expressed Khalid, when asked about how he convinced Parekh to write her autobiography.
Vikas Nangia, senior producer and anchor person at TV Asia moderated the interactive event with Asha Parekh. When questioned about the title of her book, said Parekh, “I felt it was a bit immodest but Khalid Mohamed and Ajay Mago; publisher, Om Books International, insisted on retaining the title, going perhaps by the commercial success of my films starting with ‘Dil Deke Dekho’ in 1959,” answered Parekh.
Then came the decade of breezy, colorful entertainers, followed by 70’s, an era of intense emotional dramas, where Parekh blossomed from an endearing, gregarious girl next door to a woman who portrayed an array of splendidly enduring characters. Some of her most memorable films are ‘Dil Deke Dekho’, ‘Teesri Manzil’, ‘Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai’, ‘Ziddi’, ‘Caravan’, ‘Love in Tokyo’, ‘Aaya Sawan Jhoom Kay’, ‘Kati Patang’ and ‘Mai Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki’. She admitted that she was at the right place at the right time with modesty.
She generously gave credit for her hit films to her directors, producers, co-stars, music directors and technicians while reminiscing about some of her favorite films, with ample prompts from the zealous audience. She recognized the technical superiority of Vijay Anand, her director of ‘Teesri Manzil’. ‘Chirag’ is one film that was close to her heart but didn’t do well, said Parekh while answering an audience question.
This was also a time for some confessions and regrets. “If there is one regret that I have as an actor or a retired actor, is that I could never be a part of magnificent heritage of Bengali cinema, whose distinct quality has been in realism, the narration of valuable stories, skillfully crafted and most often conveying an ideological fervor,” admitted Parekh. She mentioned the chapter called ‘The Lost Horizons’ in her book, where she has expressed her eternal regret for missing out on once in a lifetime chances to be directed by master director Satyajit Ray and also by the emperor of romance Yash Chopra. Another lost opportunity confessed Parekh, was a role with the great Dilip Kumar Sahab. “On a more positive note, I will always cherish the fact that I was introduced to cinema as a child artist. I must have been 8 or 9 years old, by the awesome Bimal Roy with the film ‘Maa’. With such an auspicious start during my childhood, I could not go wrong, could I?” concluded Parekh with a smile of gratitude.
“I think the most dramatic as well as tragic moments in life are concerned with her losing her parents. She was very close to them; her mother was her pillar of support. When she found herself alone, she went through trauma and suffered from psychological turbulence which she came to terms with, thanks to the support of her friends like Waheeda Rehman and Shammi Aunty,” answered Khalid when asked about any dramatic event in her career or personal life that affected her. On a lighter note, answering to Vikas at the TV Asia Studios, when asked about things she likes to do with her girl friends that also include yesteryear’s dancing queen Helen, she mentioned that they often lunch together, watch movies, discuss religion and politics amongst other things.
“Nasir Saab was the only man I ever loved”, confessed Parekh, who remained unmarried. “Since he was already married, she did not want to be a home-breaker. Also, I think she didn’t wish to disappoint her parents by marrying an already married man. She spoke about her private life with dignity and my job was not to sensationalize but to write with a degree of subtlety,” quoted Khalid when asked about her personal life. He further reiterated that she is in a happy space and has no regrets from what he could perceive.
A passionate dancer who was noticed dancing on LP records at someone’s house by late actor Premnath, and who subsequently trained in many dance forms such as Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi, did not hesitate to express her displeasure at dance and music in contemporary Hindi cinema. “Dances today are not our culture, they are not Indian. Music is more beats and hardly any lyrics. It is too loud and lyrics aren’t the kinds jisey aap gunguna sakey (that which one can hum),”opined Parekh. She did not enjoy much popularity as a Censor Board chairperson and stoically explained that censorship actually starts with one’s parents, who need to watch what their child is watching, while answering a question on the hard line the present film censorship policies have adhered too.
Answering a question on evolution of Hindi cinema, Parekh acknowledged that filmmaking scenario has altered dramatically. She said that Indian cinema is technically advanced and is tackling new themes, including the status of the contemporary Indian woman. She stated ‘Kahani’, ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Dangal’ as films one would watch more than one time, with good storylines and also declared that Oscars are not important! “It is a matter of immense pride that our film actors are making an impact in American cinema,” said Parekh, while mentioning actors like Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan who have portrayed significant roles in Hollywood. “There was a time when ‘Sabu the Elephant Boy’ and Persis Khambatta were well known names in American cinema. I am sure in the future, many more Indian artists will succeed in making this international crossover,” conjectured Parekh.
“Try to be good, try to be busy,” said Parekh as her parting thoughts.
She thanked Sharad and Ketki Shah of Share & Care Foundation as her long time well wishers, supporter and partners in her philanthropic work. She noted H.R. Shah as a friend of Indian film industry, where he willingly and consistently extends his support to help stars not doing well after their retirement.
The evening ended with the hit girl Asha Parekh signing books for her fans, photo ops, few precious moments of pleasantries exchanged and forgotten memories relived.