Parveen Babi was the most glamorous face of Bollywood in the 70's who caught the attention of Time Magazine, so much so that she became the first Indian woman to get featured on Time's magazine cover. Naturally, many leading men of that era were attracted to her, and one among them was Arth director, Mahesh Bhatt.
During an interview with the Filmfare magazine, Mahesh Bhatt revealed everything about his relationship with Parveen Babi and the darkest days that their relationship saw. Sharing how it all started, "My relationship with Parveen began around 1977. She had returned to India from Italy (after she broke up with Kabir Bedi subsequent to his becoming a sensation in Italy with the TV show Sandokan). She was a top star and was filming for Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and Kala Pathar (1979) those days, while I was a flop filmmaker. I left my wife Lorraine Bright and my daughter Pooja, who was a kid then, to live in with Parveen."
He added where all the trouble began when out of nowhere Parveen Babi started acting weird. Mahesh Bhatt recounts, "Then one day as all bad stories begin, she had a crack-up. It was an evening in 1979. I walked into her Juhu apartment to find her ageing mother (Jamal Babi) in the corridor. She said in a whisper, “Look, what’s happened to Parveen!” I walked into that bedroom lined up with innumerable perfumes (the fragrance still lingers in my mind) on the dressing table, to see a sight that sent a chill down my spine. Parveen was dressed in film costume and sat curled up in the corner between the wall and the bed. Her gait was beast like. She had a kitchen knife in her hand. “What are you doing?” I asked. She said, “Shhsssh! Don’t talk! This room is bugged (installed with a spying device). They’re trying to kill me; they’re going to drop a chandelier on me.” She held my hand and led me outside. I saw her mother look helplessly at me. Her gaze revealed that this episode had happened before; it was not the first time."
Sharing how he started dealing with it, Mahesh ji adds, "I got in touch with well-known psychiatrists, who diagnosed her condition as paranoid schizophrenia (where a person suffers from delusions of fear and persecution), a genetic biochemical disorder. Drug therapy was suggested to keep it on leash. But they warned that if drug therapy didn’t work she’d have to be given electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) (shock therapy in common parlance)"
Elaborating more on the condition of Parveen Babi, the veteran producer retorts, "But the fears hounded her. She was like a storm in a room. 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. She also feared that Mr Amitabh Bachchan was out to kill her. Once she accompanied me to Mehboob Studio, saying she wanted to apologise to him."
Adding more about how his friend and mentor, UG Krishnamurthy helped to take control of the situation, Mahesh ji reveals, "I believed the quiet life there would give her solace even as the drug therapy was on. If she had to heal it would be there under the veil of anonymity. UG saw little chance of complete recovery. He suggested an alternative life, free from the pressures of stardom. In October 1979, I left Bangalore and Parveen in charge of UG because he believed I was part of the problem and that I’d have to move away."
And the last nail in the coffin was when Mahesh Bhatt visited Parveen Babi and she gave him two choices. Mahesh ji shares, "And I went back to her even though I had returned to my wife. Parveen knew I was in touch with UG, who was against her returning to films. He was the voice of sanity, which she didn’t want to hear. So she played the last card. I remember it was the same bedroom. We were about to retire. You may call me an exhibitionist but yes, she wanted to make love. We were close to each other when she said, “Mahesh it’s either me or UG.” I froze and stared at her. She stared back. I didn’t answer.
By now, Mahesh Bhatt knew that it's all over between him and Parveen, "I understood that the relationship was doomed and that I was deluding myself in hoping for a happy ending. The only person who had cushioned her from ECT, who had nursed her and had suggested a way out; she didn’t want to hear his truth! UG had fathered me and mothered her. There was no way the party would continue. We broke up in 1980."
Recounting his last meeting with Parveen, Mahesh Bhatt quips, "One day I was leafing through some books there when I heard a voice, ‘Excuse me!” It sounded intimate. I turned around and saw Parveen up close. But there was no intimacy in her eyes. There was child-like anger instead. She went ahead and asked for the latest issue of the Architectural Digest. They said it was not yet out. She moved past me again and left. For over 11 years, she had ceased to live within me."
And finally, Mahesh ji talks about Parveen's death and he says, "It was January 22, 2005, I was at the airport, having returned from Hyderabad, when my phone was flooded with SMSes, “Parveen Babi is dead. She was found dead in her apartment (due to diabetic complications).” It seemed unreal. I learnt that her body was lying unclaimed at the Cooper Hospital. I thought if none of her relatives came forward I’d bury her. She was the springboard of my success. Arth (based on his relationship with Parveen) became the lifeblood of my resurrection. You take away this defining watershed tragedy and my narrative ceases to exist. I owe it all to her. By offering to bury her I felt a sense of closure. As they were laying her to rest on January 23, 2005, I wondered what I’d have been without this woman. She had brought some ‘arth’ to my existence!"
Undeniably, Mahesh Bhatt and Parveen Babi's love story was one of the most tragic stories of Bollywood, right?