The Forgotten Bollywood Actress – Parveen Babi

She might have struggled to fetch water for herself, she might have gasped for breath, she might have yearned for someone to hold her close, she might have wished to cry her heart out, she might have – and I cannot think of any other sadder death than this. Hear me society - I am talking about Parveen Babi.

She might have struggled to fetch water for herself, she might have gasped for breath, she might have yearned for someone to hold her close, she might have wished to cry her heart out, she might have – and I cannot think of any other sadder death than this. Hear me society – I am talking about Parveen Babi.

The Bollywood diva who reined the industry during the 70’s and 80’s was found dead in her Juhu Apartment alone in a heartrending state. She was only 55. No, I am not here to write a tribute on her, nor my intention is on penning a biography but I have a different message that would unfold gradually.

As per the police records Parveen lay hours on bed writhing in pain but was unable to get to the door of her huge apartment to seek help as she couldn’t move. Though she climbed the ladder of success, little did she realize her worst possible place in her whole body would be her brain. The Bollywood actress who was first to get featured on the cover page of Time Magazine left the industry when she was at the peak of her career.  She realized something was wrong with her mind and chose a sabbatical from the film fraternity.

She left for US to be with her guru Shri UG Krishmanurthy and returned after a year. She then gave some huge hits but simultaneously got paranoia attacks on the set itself.  She again left for the US and that was the last time the industry saw her. I stress on the fact that she was at the peak of her career when she left the film industry to never return.

It is said she did return to India 6 years later but was hardly recognizable given to the amount of weight she had put on in comparison to her old avatar. She shut herself completely and turned a recluse. She ached for love, looked for some affection and attention, screamed for help but the press instead of helping her made a joke of her mental illness. They fed that same news to the masses like hungry wolves.

Time and again there were reports of Parveen hallucinating and lodging complaints with the cops fearing murder and here I am to say those words, Parveen was a victim of Paranoid Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a mental ailment involving a failure in the relation between conviction, fervor, behavior, leading to wonky discernment, indecorous actions and feelings, complete elimination from reality and living in a world of reverie and chimera, and also dealing with a sense of mental fragmentation. Schizophrenia can be listed in 5 types and they are as follows:-

  • Catatonic
  • Disorganized
  • Undifferentiated
  • Residual
  • Paranoid

Paranoid is the most common form of schizophrenia. Here the patient hears voices and also lives under constant fear that someone will harm him/her. So was the case with Parveen that she always feared for her life. She inculpated Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities plotting to kill her.

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As per old records of Times of India Mahesh Bhatt who was deeply in love with Parveen then had started staying with her. On an unfortunate evening in 1979, he faced the biggest truth of his life. He found Parveen dressed up in a film costume, sitting curled up in a corner of the house. She had a kitchen knife in her hand. On seeing him, she gestured him to be quiet and said, “Don’t talk! The room is bugged. They’re trying to kill me.”

When she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by the doctors, filmmakers who sensed their films on the verge of being stalled, wanted Parveen to undergo ‘electric shock treatment’ which seemed like the only temporary option to calm her down at that time. But Mahesh Bhatt stood rock solid by her and tried his level best to protect her.

Parveen’s panic attacks refused to cease. A continuous threat of someone trying to kill her hounded her. At times she would feel that the AC had a bug, at other times she felt their car had a bomb and she could hear it ticking. She felt that Amitabh Bachchan, with whom she had done a number of films, wanted to kill her. Parveen believed that she had harmed him in some way, so now he wanted to kill her. Her constant attacks made it necessary to hide her from the public.

It’s a truth that people suffering from schizophrenia tend to isolate them from the world. As I said they live in a state of delusion and fantasy so was Parveen who gradually faded from the eyes of masses. Back in Parveen’s era mental illness was treated like a taboo and sadly the situation still remains the same. It is very natural for us to label a mentally ill person as crazy or paagal (mad). But we must appreciate the courage of actress Deepika Padukone who spelt in public that she had survived Depression.

Though it would be wrong to compare someone but it cannot stop me from saying while Deepika received help and compassionate words, Parveen had none. Her fans ran away from her. The men who dated her left her in that sorry state where she dealt alone with her mental demons. She was misjudged. None of her colleagues reached out to her with a compassionate hand.

Hear me out you callous society with a parochial mentality paranoid schizophrenia can be treated and you need not outcast anyone by labeling him/her as mad as you did to Parveen. You gifted her cruelest blows a human can endure. You all hooted when she danced, you all called her a sex symbol, you all made juicy gossips about her personal affairs. Where did you vanish when she needed help? That she died alone in a sorry state. Its appreciable that post her death all of you had shed crocodile tears so now don’t.

If you witness anyone suffering from this malady reach out with a helping hand, if possible ask him/her to seek medical help. Let them not die alone, a sad miserable death.

Before I end it I would like to highlight that this ailment cannot be completely cured but can be controlled with medications and one can undergo counseling simultaneously. Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) was used in treating Parveen but now with the inventions of several new medicines ECT can be avoided.

So guess I have been able to give the right message to the society. Just in case you have forgotten Parveen’s movies I would like to name a few of her blockbusters – Namak Halaal (she was unwell during those days), Deewar, Majboor, Kaala Patthar, The burning train and many more.

In conclusion I say be a little humane. Mental illness is not a taboo or stigma. Spell it out loud and be clear that you are unwell and you need treatment. I am authoring a book on mental illness which I intend to publish shortly, in the process have interviewed several mentally ill people. And the rudest shock came when I found majority are women and said that they haven’t disclosed their illness to their in laws.

When I counseled men I found their spouses very supportive then why this discrimination when it came to women? So we women are still being judged. And that we should be faking out happy faces and cater to all chores while in reality we aren’t. I have narrated Parveen who has been forgotten but I will not allow it. I will keep reminding people that we could have saved her. All she needed was compassion along with her treatment. Be kind. Be a little humane. Treat mental illness as real illness. Save the many Parveen’s suffering in silence out in this harsh world.

The schizophrenic mind is not so much split as shattered. I like to say schizophrenia is like a waking nightmare – Elyn Saks

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About the Author

Rimli Bhattacharya

Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, an MBA in supply chain management and is engaged with a corporate sector. Her essay in the anthology “Book read more...

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