Asha Parekh's autobiography, The Hit Girl, is a great dish — served halfheartedly
Asha Parekh means different things to different people. Some think of her as one of the most successful Hindi film stars from the 1960s, some look at her as the ultimate glamour diva and some need a while to clear their minds of the likes of Nargis, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rahman, Saira Banu before they can recall her. Much like Asha Parekh, the person, her autobiography, The Hit Girl (Om Books International, 2017) too, would mean different things to depending on who was reading it.
No matter how hard you strive, there is no escaping pre-judging a book — any book — by its cover. In the case of The Hit Girl, the lady smiling on the cover has the same twinkle in her eyes but she doesn’t seem anything like the Asha Parekh, the matinee idol of yore. The memories of Asha ji in Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai (1961), Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963), Love in Tokyo (1966), Teesri Manzil (1966), Kati Patang (1970), Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), Caravan (1971) and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978) are all relegated to the background in a flash for one look at the cover convinces you that you’d get to celebrate the person behind the image. For anyone with the slightest interest in Hindi cinema it is a no-brainer that there is a lot to celebrate when it comes to Asha Parekh but reading The Hit Girl you feel let down because somewhere neither the subject nor the co-writer is convinced about what being ‘Asha Parekh’ might have really meant.
Written along with veteran scribe and screenwriter-filmmaker Khalid Mohamed, The Hit Girl has Ms Parekh tracing her life and career right from the early days of her childhood where she would break into a dance at the drop of a hat to performing in front of Bimal Roy, who then cast her in a brief role in Maa (1952) to her sharing the screen with the iconic Vyjayanthimala in Aasha (1957) to her joining the Filmalaya School of acting at the insistence of founder-producer Sashadhar Mukherjee to ultimately her landing her breakthrough role in Nasir Husain’s Dil Deke Dekho. Since Dil Deke Dekho Asha Parekh not only featured opposite some of the biggest male stars of the era — Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Joy Mukherji, etc. — but nine out of the 10 first rapid releases that she had were huge ticket sellers. Not only did Asha ji enjoy a great fan following she had filmmakers like Satyajit Ray making a beeline to cast her in their films. On top of it, she was also a style icon and managed to carve a special space for herself amongst the other successful stars of the decade such as Saira Banu, Sadhana and Waheeda Rahman.
Yet looking back today you think of Asha Parekh only in the context of a few films that have survived the test of time primarily due to their music (Teesri Manzil, Kati Patang, Caravan). You would wonder what is that despite being one of the most successful stars, who was labeled the ‘Hit Girl’ or the industry’s ‘lucky mascot’ and someone who continued to work well in the 1980s and even had an impressive second career as a television director (Jyoti, Palash Ke Phool, Kora Kagaz) makes Asha ji an addendum when talking about film stars in India. It is here that The Hit Girl falls short. It fails Asha ji as well as the reader by talking about the obvious and not scratching slightly beneath the surface. Ms Parekh is candid about herself and her life right from her love for Nasir [Husain] sahab, the emptiness of her existence following the death of her parents, her depression that nearly drove her to end her own life and keeping in mind the manner in which she opened up perhaps the first-person voice somewhere robs the book of the significance, and even the greatness it had the potential of.
When the design and the layout of a book that tells the story of an era and a star that had much more than what met the eye ends up being the best thing about it, you know that it’s a great dish but served half-heartedly. The book also has a foreword by Salman Khan, an author’s note by Khalid Mohamed, an essay called ‘Flashback’ by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who regrets never being able to cast Asha Parekh in a movie even though he is convinced that “she was born to be my heroine”, besides a five-page essay ‘Personally Speaking’ by Sai Paranjpye, who has never made a film with Asha Parekh. The Hit Girl could have changed the perception crafted by popular film press where our collective consciousness about the 1960s and the 1970s was shaped to believe that the brilliance of a Raj Khosla or a Vijay Anand would never come out of the shadow of the opulence of a K Asif or a Mehboob Khan, or an Asha Parekh was transformed into an afterthought to a Sharmila Tagore or a Mumtaz. This is not to say that one wouldn’t find great stuff in Asha Parekh’s The Hit Girl; her reliving moments where she interacts with Satyajit Ray, who believed that she would have been apt for his Kanchenjungha (1962), or the part where she talks about the making of her hospital and her lifelong pursuit of dance are just some of the wonderful nuggets that would make reading The Hit Girl worthwhile.