Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rehman, Helen prove that enduring friendships are beyond age or competition
Dil Chahta Hai or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I don’t care. As long as someone is making a film casting this trinity in the lead (Zoya Akhtar, are you listening?), I’m watching. With my girlfriends, of course.
Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, and Helen have been all over the news these past few weeks. Mumbai’s Bollywood Art Project (BAP), known for painting murals of Hindi film actors in retro poster style all over Bandra, has immortalised the trio’s decades-long friendship on a Chapel Street wall.
They accomplished the feat despite the stringent COVID-19 regulations and Cyclone Tauktae. The difficulties that the collective had to face in completing the project (it took them 17 days to paint the mural) is symbolic of the relationship of its subjects.
The result is as radiant as their friendship that shines bright even today despite it all — superstardom, competition, age, loss, and life.
The news of the BAP mural came soon after Rehman, Parekh, and Helen’s photos from their recent trip to Andaman and Nicobar Islands went viral. Film producer Tanuj Garg, while sharing their vacay pictures on his Instagram, championed the idea that a remake of the 2001 blockbuster Dil Chahta Hai — that redefined ‘cool’ and friendship goals for millennials — be made with these three “grand dames.” The idea has caught on, with several netizens across demographics, wishing that it takes off.
In an industry as ageist and sexist as Bollywood, that feeds off stories of rivalry between female actors, it would be almost subversive to see a film celebrate the lifelong friendship of three former superstars, who, despite wrinkles and grey hair, are vacationing every chance they get, without care. Of course, Andaman is not their first trip together. The three of them have been to Istanbul and on a Scandinavian ocean cruise before. Rehman and Parekh have also holidayed together in Alaska, Canada, and Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. For millennials who keep making plans to visit Goa but rarely (or in most cases, never) do, if this is not friendship and travel goals, I do not know what is. At 78 (Parekh), 82 (Helen), and 83 (Rehman), these girls are giving all of us (who are always planning our next trip) a run for our air miles. As we continue to sit and plan, they are at it— snorkeling, cruising, visiting distant, picturesque places, stoking their adrenaline one vacation at a time. In a 2019 interview with Verve, Parekh revealed that it was because of her friends that she had managed to hold on to her sanity and fight bouts of depression. “You can never completely confide in your mother or a sibling, but close friends will never judge you,” she told the magazine. Parekh, who never married, means it. It is not just the holidays, she tries to catch up with her girlfriends whenever she can. She has made several public appearances with Rehman and Helen. They attended the screening of Salman Khan’s 2017 film Tubelight and also appeared on The Kapil Sharma Show. Most recently, they featured on Madhuri Dixit’s reality TV show Dance Deewane, and shared several fun, little-known anecdotes of their legendary friendship.
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The current cine-scape is muddled, overpopulated with young heroines, heroes decades past their prime, and stories as inane as the knock-knock jokes. At a time when filmmakers and cinephiles are in desperate need of refreshing and life-affirming content, watching Parekh, Rehman, and Helen work their magic on the big screen would be pure delight. It would also give millennials and Gen-Z a chance to see for themselves why these divas are celebrated so even today.
The brightest star of the '70s, Parekh was the highest-paid female actor of the time. She was as bankable as her male actors, and as loved. Her filmography — brimming with big names and numbers — is a testimony to her towering career. Though Kati Patang — in which she stars opposite Rajesh Khanna — is 50 years old, Parekh’s performance in it is timeless. Today, half a century later, the story feels dated, so does Khanna’s acting, but she does not. She is as graceful, charming, and still manages to tug at your heart as poignantly.
The same holds true for Rehman. Despite my reservations about the film, Guide (1965) transports me every time I watch it, effortlessly transcending the bounds of time and space. With his loud mannerisms and coarse expressions, Dev Anand’s Raju is playing to the gallery. Meanwhile, Rehman’s Rosie presents such a contrast that it is almost palpable. She is so effervescent as Rosie that you forget she is anything but. It is impossible not to gawk at her in open-mouthed wonder — at her poise, agility, dance, and the genius of her craft.
As for Helen, her songs seem to exist beyond time, on their own; they are as popular as ever. I was at a house party last year when at least four of her songs were played — all original versions; none of the rejigged, uninspired remixes — mostly by people younger than 24. There was 'Mehbooba Mehbooba,' 'Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja,' 'Mungada,' 'O Haseena Zulfon Waali,' and 'Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu.' We all — irrespective of age — did not just know who Helen was, we also knew the lyrics, the hook steps, and had a great time trying to dance like she once did. If this is not an enduring legacy, I do not know what is.
It is a shame we are keeping these women away from a craft that they have nurtured and honed with such care and commitment over decades. It is a shame we are depriving cinegoers of their brilliance. Dil Chahta Hai or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I don’t care. As long as someone is making a film casting this trinity in the lead (Zoya Akhtar, are you listening?), I’m watching. With my girlfriends, of course.
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