Asha Parekh
MID-DAY (April 9, 2017)

I first fell in love with the screen image of Asha Parekh when I saw Pyar ka Mausam at my favourite theatre, the Imperial on Mumbai’s Lamington Road. Here was a beautiful woman singing those beautiful songs, Main Na Miloongi, Aap Se Miliye and Na Jaa Mere Humdum. I never liked her doing mournful melodies till I saw her emote to Na Koi Umang Hai in Kati Patang. She was at her best when she was playful, mischievous and impish. I fell in love with her. Her gamine quality didn’t come in the way of her being taken seriously, not for long.

Although she was identified as the happy-go-lucky heroine, she was also appreciated for her performances in Chirag, Kati Patang and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet caught up with Do Badan. I remember weeping copiously when I saw her in a widow’s white sari, standing under that leafless tree singing Na Koi Umang Hai in Kati Patang. I was heartbroken. I didn’t like seeing her sad. When I later got to know Ashaji personally, I realised she was an intrinsically happy person. And she projected what the French call joie de vivre in her performances.

I became an Asha Parekh fan a little late in her career. After Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), I went back to her films. I was bowled over by her Dil Deke Dekho, absolutely by her exuberance. Ashaji was unlike any leading lady of her times. Uninhibited and gregarious, and yet feminine. I loved her orange lipsticks and matching jewellery. And those bright georgette saris which she patented. She could make the potentially unconventional look quite normal. And what a dancer! My favourite is the title song of Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke where the skies open up almost in accordance with her dance moves. And there was Chhayee Barkha Bahaar in Chirag (1969). She was the rainbow and sunshine in her rain song.

Come to think of it, she did full justice to some of the most beloved compositions of R D Burman like Aaja Aaja in Teesri Manzil and Shankar Jaikishen’s Jiya Ho Jiya in Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai. I could go on and on.

One of my favourite films of Ashaji was Caravan. I hated Aruna Irani in the film for teasing and tormenting Ashaji. At an impressionable age, my thought was, ‘Why is she being so cruel to Ashaji? She is such a nice lady.’ And that she is.

When I eventually got to know her personally. I realised she was every bit as positive a human being as she was projected on screen. I met her after the release of my film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. She had seen the film and invited me home. It was a dream-come-true. I had to pinch myself to believe I was actually visiting the woman whose songs I had that secretly been dancing to all my life. Her father was a wonderful man. Ashaji has inherited her absolutely endearing nature from her parents. Her father owned a business premise three buildings away from where we lived. He helped us without ever asking a question. May be it was partly because we, too, were Gujaratis. But a good human being is not about belonging to any one community.

Whenever we called at his home for help, Ashaji would pick up the phone like the daughter of any household. She was so normal in spite of being the actress with the maximum number of hits to her credit in her time. She would go to Yogendra Desai for her dancing lessons. I found her to be completely down-to-earth when I met her. Around then, she lived in her famous bungalow in Juhu by the seaside. To this day, it remains the most magnificent home I’ve ever seen. So classy and elegant, I felt I had entered a world of enchantment. And there she was, the lady I had grown up watching, serving us Gujarati delicacies with her own hands. It was the most amazing evening of my life. Later, with a friend I visited her new home, the one she lives in now. And she was just as warm, hospitable and charming.

Over the years, Ashaji hasn’t changed at all. I regret the fact that I couldn’t cast her in a movie. She was born to be my heroine. But sadly, I came a little too late. There is an inherent sur and rhythm to her personality that I find very attractive.

Among her contemporaries, only Sharmila Tagore had the same amount of glamour and charm. Everyone, especially the generation, which grew up on the movie of the 1960s, misses her. I couldn’t ever think of her playing mother to some 55-year-old hero.

Even when Ashaji is not singing and dancing, she seems completely happy with herself. Her eyes still sparkle with the same gift of life evidenced in Ziddi, Aan Milo Sajna and Nadaan. Among today’s heroines, I see that sparkle only in Alia Bhatt’s eyes.

Ashaji is as real as it can get. Though, a legendary star, she has never behaved like one.

Extracted from Asha Parekh The Hit Girl, An Autobiography with Khalid Mohamed, with permission from Om Books International

Sanjay Leela Bhansali