Asha Parekh walks down the memory lane

Dancing from the cradle Born on October 2, 1942 in a middle-class family, Asha Parekh wouldn’t have had a normal and safe birth but for her maternal uncle. Her mother Sudha, a social worker of repute, was participating in a rally connected to the Quit India Movement on that day. So engrossed was she that she had overlooked that she was very much in the family way. It was her brother who forced Sudha to return home. That same night, baby Asha was born. Baby Asha was exposed to dance from a very early age; her mother taking keen interest in honing her darling daughter’s dancing skills. Whenever film music used to play in the neighbourhood, baby Asha used to come to her feet and dance. “Seeing my interest in the fine arts, my mother thought it best to get me trained in one of the disciplines of Indian classical dance, and on the insistence of the late actor Premnath, a family friend, I was kept under the tutelage of a trained Kathak dancer, the late Mohanlal Pandey,” recalls the actress.

The tryst with celluloid Once after watching her perform for a school function, the late Bimal Roy, offered her a small role in his film Baap Beti that featured Ranjan, Nalini Jaywant and Baby Tabassum. But after that, Asha continued with her schooling until Vijay Bhatt, in his endeavour to launch a new girl in Goonj Uthi Shehnai approached Asha Parekh. But as luck would have it, Parekh was rejected because she was no star material according to Bhatt. The role later went to Ameeta. After two days, Parekh received a call from Sashadhar Mukerji for an appointment. “Director Nasir Husain took a small screen test after which I was selected for the lead role in Dil Deke Dekho opposite Shammi Kapoor. “I remember it was on my 17th birthday that the film was released in 1959 at the Novelty theatre in Mumbai.” After that there was no looking back for Parekh. Lady Lucky Asha Parekh’s contribution to Hindi films was pioneering a new type of heroine who became the prototype for the next decade – she was the incandescent girlfriend of the hero who first detested and hated him and breathed fire. Later, she became his loyal woman and remained so. The Asha Parekh model was followed later by several heroines like Mumtaz, Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu, Babita and many more. Asha’s firm grip on Kathak gave her an edge and inspired superb dances and songs in a school different from the Bharatanatyam-based South belles who were ruling till then – Vyjayantimala, Waheeda Rehman and Padmini. In the ’60s and early ’70s before she switched to character roles, she had an amazing hit-streak with jubilees galore in Aan Milo Sajan, Aye Din Bahar Ke, Aaya Sawan Jhoom Ke, Bharosa, Caravan, Dil Deke Dekho, Do Badan, Gharana, Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai, Kati Patang, Love In Tokyo, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Mere Sanam, Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Pyar Ka Mausam, Sajan, Shikar, Upkar, Ziddi and Heera. Due to her commercial success, Asha was never considered a serious actress, but whenever she got the opportunity, she came up trumps with award-worthy portrayals in Kati Patang, Chirag and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. Honours and achievements Side-by-side Asha Parekh honed up her dancing skills from Gopi Krishna and also from Pt. Birju Maharaj. Later she produced three ballets namely Chaula Devi, Anarkali and Image Of India (at the Sydney Festival where there were several representations from across the world). “I feel proud to state that I was the first woman who represented India at the Lincoln Theatre in New York ,” says an elated Parekh.

Not to be alienated from her mother-tongue, Parekh acted in two Gujarati films at the height of her career – Akhand Saubhagyavati and Kulvadhu Chandan. Parekh has also featured in two Punjabi films and one film in Kannada. Asha Parekh also functioned as a distributor for 13-14 years under the name of Movie Gem. She was also a theatre owner for a brief 6-8 months and has been president of CINTAA, an industry association for a long period of six years, besides being the trustee and treasurer of the Cine Artistes’ Welfare Trust. Parekh has been credited as the first woman to serve as the chief of the censor board. From the last decade she produced and directed television serials like Jyoti (Gujarati), Baaje Payal – a major hit on Doordarshan, Dal Mein Kala, Kora Kagaz, Kangan and Kuch Pal Saath. Right now connected with the Film Industry Welfare Trust, her attention is also taken up by the now-famous Asha Parekh Hospital. “The hospital that was under a lock-out for the last 14 months will start functioning from the first week of April,” says Asha happily. Asha Parekh has several good friends. Topping the list is yesteryear actress Shammi. “After my mother’s death in 1990, Shammi has been like a mother figure to me. Waheeda Rehman is another great friend. I always look up to her for her warm-heartedness. I have great regards for Nanda – I admire her will-power and mental strength for the manner she faced all the turmoil in life very bravely.” she says. Asha Parekh has had a fulfilling innings and lives a happy and a satisfied life today. “I am free from the arclights yet I am all for the industry,” she concludes.

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