Tears mist my computer screen as I write this. (No wait, that’s the condensation from the coffee cup.) Parveen Babi, the first love of my life, is dead. Some of my earliest movie memories, mainly from Sunday evening Doordarshan telecasts and the occasional movie-hall visits, centre on her. (This was in the early 1980s, for anyone who was born late and doesn’t know that Doordarshan was once the only TV channel.)
It says heaps about PB’s personality that she managed to be cool, classy and always beautiful despite the often-terrible, flouncy outfits she wore in that sartorially execrable age. But she was also in my opinion one half of Hindi cinema’s best romantic couple ever, the only actress of her generation (and most other generations) who could stand up to Bachchan on screen -- by which I mean match his intelligence and sophistication, at a time when these were rare qualities in actors and actresses alike. Sure, Zeenat Aman’s screen persona may have been similar in some ways, but I thought – how to put this – that there was greater depth in Parveen B’s lambent eyes and far superior chemistry between her and AB. (It might have helped that she worked with him in some of his better/more seminal films, notably Deewaar and Amar Akbar Anthony.)
Consider Bachchan’s other leads. The supposed magic of the Rekha-AB pairing I’ll never get, except for the obvious vicarious thrill that audiences felt, with their knowledge of all the offscreen bonking. Okay, I’ll concede Silsila was interesting but otherwise she was never really in the same league as AB (and besides, the much-documented idol-worshipping actually showed in Rekha’s eyes when she acted opposite Him). Hema Malini … ha ha, let’s just say I didn’t think of her as being classy enough even for Dharamendra paaji (not joking; Dharam’s best pairing was with Meena Kumari in his young, sensitive days). Among the others, Smita Patil probably came closest in her two films with AB, especially Shakti, but the line between “commercial” and “parallel” cinema was so sharp at the time, it felt like she had walked in from another movie.
I’m not pretending Parveen B’s magic had to do with intelligence taking precedence over cool beauty or pure sexiness. After all, even Raakhee occasionally gave the impression of being intelligent (notwithstanding her demented Bengali “Ammeeeet!”). But Babi was, in addition to everything else, Va-Va-Voomish, and I knew that even at the age of four. Try beating that.
(Bloggers have their own deadlines. Had to finish this before Shamya – also a Parveen Babi-lover – got around to writing another obit, just because he’s sitting in the Headlines Today office with nothing to do.)