Indian cinema went through a phase change between the late 1950s to late 1960s. Filmmakers brought a lot of new cinema techniques in their films. Film budgets increased , allowing the freedom of shooting films in foreign locations and anywhere else outside the film studios .
Asha Parekh was a leading actress of the Hindi cinema of this era. She was born in a Gujarati family on 2nd of October, 1942 in Maharashtra. Her father, Bachubhai Parekh was a Jain from Ahmedabad, Gujarat and her mother Sudha (Salma Parekh) was from a Bohra Muslim family.
Asha Parekh’s childhood dream was to become a doctor. However, when she saw a train accident where many wounded and bloodied bodies flowed everywhere, she fainted and decided that she would not pursue being a doctor as a career. Asha from a very young age was fond of dancing. She used to dance on songs playing records. Mukul Anand’s father was a Chartered Accountant and also neighbours to the Parekh family. Popular Hindi film actor Prem Nath used to come to Mukul Anand’s house where he saw the dancing abilities of Asha Parekh and was impressed by her.
Once, for an event at Asha’s school, the principal asked Asha’s parents if they could manage a chief guest for the event. Sudha, Asha’s mother, asked Prem Nath ji for this favour. He accepted the offer of chief guest on one condition: he will come only if Asha will dance in that event. As Asha only used to dance on record songs, she had no experience of stage dancing. Prem Nath asked Late Mohanlal Pandey to teach her Kathak and train her for her upcoming dance performance . Mohanlal trained her for the event in eight days. The event was held at Saint Xavier’s College where the great Bimal Roy saw her and cast her in his two films ‘Maa’ in 1952 and then in ‘Baap Beti’ in 1954. She worked in these films as a child actress under the name of ‘Baby Asha Parekh’. Later she worked in a few more films as a child actress but then took a break from films to resume her schooling.
At the age of sixteen, she decided to make a comeback in films when Vijay Bhatt cast her as a heroine in his next film “Goonj Uthi Shehnai” opposite Rajendra Kumar. But after two days of shooting, Vijay Bhatt dropped her from the film, claiming she was not a star material and replaced her with actress Ameeta. Few days later, she was invited by Subodh Mukherjee to come to Filmalaya Studios where an event for his upcoming film ‘Behrupiya’ was going on. There, producer Subodh Mukherjee and writer-director Nasir Hussain cast her as the heroine in ‘Dil Deke Dekho’ opposite Shammi Kapoor which was a huge hit. This proved to be the perfect start for her film career as a mainstream actress. Once Dileep Kumar and S Mukherjee suggested Asha Parekh to change her name to Asha Pari because their argument was Asha Parekh seems like a milk advertisement, but she politely refused the proposal.
Early Film Career as a lead Actress
‘Dil Deke Dekho’, released in 1959, was a romantic comedy film and the debut film of Asha Parekh as a heroine. The film was special to her also because it was released on her 17th birthday. This film had many new things in it, and the major cast and crew of the film were young faces. It was the second film of Nasir Hussain as a director. His first film as a director “Tumsa Nahi Dekha” was a big hit and had introduced Shammi Kapoor as a new comedic and dancing hero of the Hindi cinema. The music of the film was composed by Usha Khanna. It was also her first film as a composer. The songs of the film were huge hit with lyrics written by Majrooh Sultanpuri.
Asha Parekh calls Shammi Kapoor her mentor because she learnt many things from him. She used to love working with Shammi Kapoor.Their dance chemistry was very good to see on cinema screen and was appreciated by the audience. He also taught her how to lip sync a song and introduced her to various cinema techniques.
Her next big film was released in 1960, named ‘Ghungha’t directed by Ramanand Sagar. It was an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali story ‘Noukadubi’. The film became a huge hit and the music of the film was liked by the audience. The music of the film was given by Ravi and songs were penned by Shakeel Badayuni.
She did many hit films in this period like Gharana in 1961 directed by S.S. Vasan. It starred Rajendra Kumar , Raaj Kumar and Asha Parekh in lead roles. In 1961, ‘Chhaya’ by Hrishikesh Mukherjee starred Sunil Dutt, Asha Parekh and Nirupa Roy. The music of the film was composed by Salil Chaudhary and was critically appreciated by the critics. One specific song gained more acclaim than the rest of the songs form the film: “Hum insaan nahi” sung by Mohammad Rafi.
Her next major superhit film came in 1963, ‘Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon’. This was Nasir Hussain’s first colour film as a writer and director. It starred Joy Mukherjee , Asha Parekh and Pran. Music of the film was given by OP Nayyar and the lyrics were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri. The chemistry between the two leads was strengthened further by the mesmerising music and the soundtrack developed by Mohammad Rafi. This was highly appreciated by the audience.
Rise to Fame
Asha Parekh and Nasir Husain had a long association starting from her first film as the lead heroine in ‘Dil Deke Dekho’. Later Nasir cast her as his heroine in six more films. The most important film out of these was ‘Teesri Manzil’. This musical thriller film released in 1966, was directed by Vijay Anand and produced by Nasir Hussain. The film starred Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh , Laxmi Chhaya, Premnath, Iftekhar, Helen along with other supporting cast. It was a different kind of thriller and pretty new for Indian cinema at that time. The music of the film was also unique and fresh to the audience.The music of the film was composed by RD Burman and it is still considered as one of his finest works. Every song of the film was catchy and fresh well complimented by the brilliant dancing performances of Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh specially in song “Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera”. The choreography of these songs was handled by Herman Benjamin and the picturization of that song still gives us the vibes of 1960s Bollywood. During the filming of this film, Shammi Kapoor’s wife Geeta died, Asha Parekh and Vijay Anand helped him get over the grief.
There was a close relationship between Asha Parekh and Nasir Hussain. In her autobiography “The Hit Girl” she admits that – “Yes Nasir Saab was the only man I ever loved”. But she never had any intention of fracturing Nasir Hussain’s home life. She said in her autobiography that, “I feel I have lived my life decently and without hurting anyone.” Her last film with him was in a cameo role in ‘Manzil Manzil’ in 1984. Hussain also involved her in the distribution of 21 films starting with ‘Baharon ke Sapne’ released in 1967.
In 1966, her another film ‘Love in Tokyo’ was a huge hit. It was a romantic comedy film directed and produced by Pramod Chakravorty. The film’s cast included Joy Mukherjee, Asha Parekh, Pran and Mehmood. The film was primarily shot in Japan. Cinema audiences loved the foreign locations and songs of the film. In the film, Asha Parekh’s ponytail was held by a hair clip that had two beads on a hair band. Later, in India, people labelled this type of clip as “Love in Tokyo”.
After giving successful hit romantic films and playing similar kinds of roles in these films, Asha Parekh was stereotyped in the cinema industry as a glamour girl with excellent dancing skills. Nobody even considered her acting skills. This changed when director Raj Khosla gave her serious tragedy roles in films like ‘Do Badan’, ‘Chirag’, and ‘Main Tulsi Tere Aangan ki’.
Her first film with Raj Khosla ‘Do Badan’ (1966) starred Manoj Kumar, Simi Garewal and Pran. The basic plot of the film was a love triangle. Asha Parekh played a very dramatic role in the film, where she dies after taking one look at her lover Vikas played by Manoj Kumar and both of them reunite after their death.
Her next film with Raj Khosla was ‘Chirag’ released in 1969. The film also starred Sunil Dutta. It was her first film for which she got a Filmfare nomination in the Best Actress category. The film was appreciated by critics and the music of the film by Madan Mohan was well received by the public. The lyrics were penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri.
Her last film with Raj Khosla was ‘Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki’. The film was based on a Marathi novel titled ‘Ashi Tujhi Preet’ by Chandrakant Kakodkar. The film cast included Nutan, Vijay Anand and Vinod Khanna. The film became a success at the box office. It also won many Filmfare awards including the Best Film Award for Raj Khosla, Best Actress Award for Nutan and Best Dialogue Award for Rahi Masoom Raza. Asha Parekh nominated for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Apart from Raj Khosla, director Shakti Samanta gave her some dramatic roles as well. Her first film with him was ‘Pagla Kahin ka’ released in 1970. It was a romantic film starring Shammi Kapoor, Helen and Prem Chopra.
In 1971, she did another film named ‘Kati Patang’, a musical drama film produced and directed by Shakti Samant himself. The film was based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1948 released novel ‘I Married a Dead Man’. The film had Asha Parekh opposite superstar of that time Rajesh Khanna. It was a huge hit and it became the sixth highest grossing Bollywood film of 1971. This film was in the list of 17 consecutive hits of Rajesh Khanna between 1969 and 1971 and was the second of four films in which he was cast opposite Asha Parekh. Asha Parekh won her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress for this film. The music of the film by RD Burman was a huge hit. The singles ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani’ and ‘Pyar Deewana Hota Hai’ both sung by Kishore Kumar are still popular.
After “Kati Patang” even the harshest film critic NK Singh of Times Of India wrote an appreciation paragraph for her.
Apart from acting, she was always appreciated for her dances in the films. Sometimes, due to these dance numbers, she faced some problems. While shooting for one song in ‘Love in Tokyo’, a firecracker burst near her foot and she got injured . Another incident happened while shooting the song ‘Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera’ in ‘Teesri Manzi’. She was suffering from an allergy and she had to shoot that song with the utmost discomfort .
Many of her dance performances in songs for different films have been well received by audiences and critics like ‘Nache Man Mora Magan’ from ‘Meri Surat Teri Ankhen’, ‘Kanta Laga’ from ‘Samadhi’ and ‘Dekho Bijli Dole’ from ‘Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon’ in this song she performed Lakshmi Taal which has 8 matras in it.
Asha Parekh is one of the few actresses who has received a phenomenally huge stardom and fan following. She was even tagged as the “Jubilee Girl” because she gave huge hits on the silver screen. Her popularity was so high that once, when she was young, a man came in front of her house and said he wanted to marry her. He refused to budge from his spot until Asha accepted his marriage proposal. . Later, the police arrested him and threw him in jail. He wrote a letter to Asha Parekh from jail, requesting her to grant him bail. He strongly believed that Asha Parekh loved him back and so he thought she would eagerly come to his aid. Although this was kind of a serious case of stalking, it clearly shows her popularity at that time.
After she retired from the films, she continued to perform on stage. In 1992, she received Padma Shri Award from Government Of India. In 2002, she was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. Asha Parekh was the first female Chairperson of Central Board Of Film Certification from 1998 to 2001. In 2017, she released her autobiography ‘The Hit Girl’ co-written by Khalid Mohamed. Nowadays, Parekh concentrates on her dance academy Kara Bhavan and her other philanthropic works. She has opened a hospital for those in need called “BCJ Hospital and Asha Parekh Research Centre”.
She will remain an iconic face of the 60s and 70s Bollywood.
(Subhjeet Biswas is pursuing graduation in Physics (Hons) from Ramjas College, University of Delhi, India. He is working for He is working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern.)