She was only 10 when she faced the camera for the first time as Baby Asha Parekh. It was 1952 and the movie was Maa. Seventy years later, cut to 2021, and Asha Parekh is posing effortlessly for Healthntrends’s cinematic icons’ cover. Watching her face on camera, every part of you wants to applaud and tell her that she’s spectacular. Her gleaming skin, platinum hair and unparalleled grace are almost intimidating in their perfection, but her warm smile is comforting.
Right from the moment she walks into the Royal Opera House for the cover shoot, Parekh holds the spotlight. Her hair neatly tied in a classic bun, her eyes lightly kohled, her sari carefully draped, she goes straight to work – no break, no gaps. Her professionalism on the set explains why she was the IT girl who ruled the silver screen for decades.
Shortly after her mainstream debut as a leading lady, Parekh tasted success with Nasir Hussain’s Dil Deke Dekho
(1959), opposite Shammi Kapoor, which made her a huge star at the age of 19. The ’60s and ’70s were the era when Parekh gave several award-winning performances, and was called the Jubilee Girl after her movies ran across cinemas for weeks.
Unlike some of her contemporaries, she didn’t restrict her filmography to damsel-in-distress roles; instead she chose roles that gave her a wider horizon to shine. Whether it was playing tomboyish characters in Love In Tokyo
(1966) or tragic ones as in Do Badan
(1966) and Kati Patang
(1971) and roles in thrillers such as Teesri Manzil
(1966), Parekh was an institution in herself.
Her life, which she always lived on her own terms, was dominated by her career. “I want to be remembered for my films, my roles and my performances. I want people to remember the music of my movies, the dances and everything.”
A patron of the arts, Parekh had studied Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Kathakali much before she even thought of becoming an actor, she revealed in her book Asha Parekh – The Hit Girl
, released in 2017. Expressing gratitude for the love people have showered on her, she says, “It’s nice to be in the industry for such a long time, and it is an honour that people in the industry remember me and say nice things about me.”
Her association with films, however, extends beyond the screen. She was the first woman chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) of India from 1998 to 2001. She worked as the CBFC head without salary during her tenure as a contribution to the industry. She was also the president of the Cine Artistes’ Association from 1994 to 2000. Later, she became the treasurer of the Cine and Television Artists Association (CINTAA) and was elected as one of its office-bearers. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1992 for her contribution to the field of art and cinema. Once she decided to take a break from mainstream cinema, she donned the director’s hat for TV serials such as Palash Ke Phool
(1989), Baaje Payal
(2002), Kora Kagaz
(1998), and a comedy, Dal Mein Kaala
Parekh received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. She has continued to receive other Lifetime Achievement Awards: the Kalakar Award in 2004, the International Indian Film Academy Awards in 2006, the Pune International Film Festival Award in 2007, and the Ninth Annual Bollywood Award in Long Island, New York in 2007. She has also been honoured with the Living Legend Award by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
She’s iconic in more ways than one. It was her tall credentials and living legacy that made her seem unapproachable, making men hesitant to ask for her hand in marriage – something she opened up about in her memoir. But she has no regrets either. She’s lived her life fully and unapologetically. “I have always believed that anything that goes up has to come down, and you should take life as it comes. When you come down, if your luck is good, you come back again, and that is what life is all about,” she beams.
The legendary actor would choose the same life if she had a chance to rewrite her story. And, these days, she’s more interested in other stories. “The stories have become very interesting; the new generation of actors is performing very well,” she says, adding that she feels that the future of Indian films is bright and beautiful. Except for the foul language on screen, which she doesn’t “like”.
The only thing she doesn’t quite enjoy about the new age of actors is that they all “look alike. I wish there were some changes in their looks; they could have some fabulous hairstyles, and something different in dressing up, especially in commercial films,” she adds.
She also bemoans that young people have forgotten the yesteryears’ actors. “In our times, Vyjayanthimala was different, Meena Kumari was different. Now, the youth today will ask who Vyjayanthimala is and who Meena Kumari is – and that’s a bad thing,” she says.
Asha Parekh does not mince her words. Icons do not.