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Bollywood will remain indebted to two Ashas for as long as films are produced in India. One, Asha Bhosle, captured the imagination of listeners with her voice and the other, Asha Parekh, brought those imaginations to life.

The veteran actress may not have been as active on screen for as long as some of her contemporaries, but her impact is undeniable. The Hit Girl is the story of Parekh, an inspiration for many with her acting and lately, philanthropy.

For nearly 15 years, Parekh ruled the hearts of millions with her smile, her style and her dance moves that made her an iconic star of the silver screen. A string of successful films in the 1960s led her to become known as ‘The Hit Girl’ and she carried the tag well into the ’70s with films such as Kati Patang, Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Caravan.

The darling of Indian cinema from the 1960s and ’70s has decided that now is the time to tell all

It is therefore quite appropriate that the title of her autobiography should also be The Hit Girl. Written in collaboration with her favourite journalist, Khalid Mohamed, with a foreword by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, Parekh’s book talks about everything from the author’s failed romance to a successful career to life beyond films. She is forthright about her struggles, describing the challenges of growing up with parents who belonged to different religions. The beginning of her career wasn’t smooth either as she relates how she was dropped from her possible debut, Goonj Uthi Shehnai, in favour of another actress. However, perseverance paid off and she wrote herself a success story by choosing the right projects and letting go of many films that may have seemed ‘better’, but could have actually had a negative effect on her career.

The book is peppered with a number of anecdotes that Parekh’s fans would find interesting, such as the time she and some members of the cast got lost during the shooting of Hum Hindustani, the time her leading man refused to embrace her as her mother was present on set, or when she got to dance with her matinee idol, Vyjayanthimala. She writes about the occasions when she took a stand, such as refusing a role in the film Waqt as she was not interested in playing a side heroine, explains why she avoided being cast in Aradhana, and how she managed to dance to Western tunes in the film Teesri Manzil. She narrates all these incidents in a conversational style, as though the reader were sitting in a chair beside her. Credit for this engagingly constructed narrative goes to Mohamed who keeps the veteran actress relevant to the modern audience.

One quite interesting story is how, during the shooting of Dil Deke Dekho in which Parekh made her debut as a heroine, actress Geeta Bali — 12 years her senior — wanted to adopt her. As it was not possible to actually do so, Bali asked Parekh to call her and her husband ‘Chachi’ and ‘Chacha.’ However, since Bali’s husband Shammi Kapoor was Parekh’s leading man in the film, she chose to address Bali as ‘Chachi’ and Kapoor as ‘Shammi Ji.’

Parekh has her fair share of regrets in life, such as not being able to share the screen with such leading heroes of her time as Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Uttam Kumar or play opposite Amitabh Bachchan as a heroine. There is plenty of mention of the matinee idols she did work with, though, such as Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra and Joy Mukherjee (whom she terms responsible for several back injuries sustained on set). She once left a shooting because of Dharmendra’s excessive drinking; the next time they worked together he had to ask her permission if he wanted a drink. She recounts how she couldn’t deal working with the younger lot — actor Govinda once showed up on set at 6.30 pm when the time given was 9.30 am — and was appalled by ‘Kaanta Laga’, the remixed version of her hit song ‘Bangle ke Peeche’ from Samadhi.

She talks candidly about the difficulty in transitioning to mature roles, playing the sister-in-law or the mother, a change that began with Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki and led to a phase in her life that caused her to seek psychiatric help. Her stint as chief of the Central Board of Film Certification and the controversies it brought is discussed, as well as her forays into television production and philanthropic activities.

She also explains why she never married: producer, director and screenwriter Nasir Hussain, who cast her in Dil Deke Dekho, was the love of her life. He was married with children and out of respect for his family, the two never made their relationship public. Pakistan also gets a mention, as Parekh writes that she wasn’t granted a visa for the country to attend her uncle’s wedding in Karachi, back in the days of Gen Ayub Khan.

The reviewer writes about film, television and popular culture

The Hit Girl
By Asha Parekh and
Khalid Mohamed
Om Books, India
ISBN: 978-9386316981

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 20th, 2017

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