She earned the epithet of Bollywood's "jubilee girl" with her string of hits in the Hindi film industry's golden era. But living that stardom in today's paparazzi-driven times is something the enigmatic Asha Parekh doesn't fancy at all.
In an interview with over phone from her seven-storey high penthouse in Mumbai, the 74-year-old spoke about her autobiography Asha Parekh: The Hit Girl, her friends, on being single, her take on film censorship, on lobbying for a government honour, and on the life of film stars today.
"I feel it was a nice time when I was part of the golden era. I wouldn't like to be there today because there's too much of media, paparazzi, stress and too much of too many things. Today, there's so much that the stars go through."
The hectic life that stars face, and the rush to self-promotion that they compete for, is something she doesn't find attractive. "They have to do promotions, they have to do so many things. It's too much on them. I wouldn't have been able to handle stardom in today's times," said the veteran actress, talking about times when "self-publicity was not as rampant".
Having featured in as many as 20 silver and golden jubilee hits in the 1960s and 1970s, the actress had become the blue-eyed-girl for filmmakers and for the audience with her emotive eyes, effortless acting and graceful dancing.
She worked as a child actress, before making her big Bollywood foray with the 1959 Shammi Kapoor starrer Dil Deke Dekho", helmed by Nasir Hussain who later cast her in multiple films including Teesri Manzil, Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon and Caravan.
During her prime, Asha worked with directors like Shakti Samanta, Raj Khosla, Vijay Anand and leading actors like Dharmendra, Joy Mukherjee, Jeetendra, Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna and Shammi, but chose to bow out from the screen in the mid-1990s. Was it a premature decision?
"It's just that I was getting mother's roles, bhabhi's roles, which I was not interested in doing. I gave it up. Where are the roles for ladies of our age? Where do they have movies which are based on them? Men have been lucky. Mr Amitabh Bachchan has been very lucky. He gets many author-backed roles to perform, so it's good," said Asha, who even directed the TV series Kora Kagaz and more.
Does she wish to wield the megaphone again?
"Hahaha… Let's see, I am not very keen to do anything now. I am feeling very lazy, so I want to laze around and be on my own," said the septuagenarian, agreeing that considering she started young in the film industry, she deserves to rest.
She dismissed with a laugh when asked about Union Minister Nitin Gadkari's remark that she lobbied for the Padma Bhushan, and climbed 12 floors to meet him.
"How could it be? When I can't climb seven floors to my house, how can I climb 12 floors with a bad back? It's impossible," Asha said.
Why would he claim so then?
"I don't know… You should ask Nitin Gadkari," she remarked in a jiffy.
Interestingly, Asha Parekh has not been all about glamour.
She took on significant roles behind the scenes of the male-dominated film industry. She was the first woman to be appointed chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) from 1998-2001, a stint as President of CINTAA (Cine and TV Artists Association) and she continues to work for the welfare of film industry workers.
Asha, in fact, had attracted a backlash for censor body's decisions regarding Zakhm and Elizabeth — and was sometimes even referred to as "dictator" and "Hitler". The hullabaloo over film censorship continues to date. What's her opinion now?
"I feel the censor board should be there, and even if people make a hue and cry about it, I feel censorship is very necessary. We need censorship because we may not be talking about films with big star casts… But what about the B and C grade films which come? They are horrible and they have to be censored. That nobody discusses about," said the actress, who strongly feels censorship on what to watch must begin at home.
While she believes guidelines must be revised to suit the current times, she doesn't think the censor body must be "too moderate because then filmmakers take too much liberty".
Asha keeps herself busy with work related to her hospital, her dance academy and the Film Industry Welfare Trust. She doesn't dance any more, but enjoys watching dancers perform.
In her free time, she catches up with her school friends and friends from the industry — like Helen and Waheeda Rehman — who she says have always been there for her, even at the time when she was dealing with depression.
Asha never got married. Doesn't she miss companionship at this stage of her life?
"Companionship is always there, darling. Your friends are always there and you don't miss out on anything else."
Asha Parekh: The Hit Girl is an autobiography written with film critic and filmmaker Khalid Mohamed, and published by Om Books International. It will be launched by superstar Salman Khan in Mumbai on April 10.