Parveen Babi was ahead of her time in many ways. Ironically, this applies to her fragile mental health issues as well. It's a little sad when one realizes that this luminously beautiful movie star died tragically young and desperately lonely on 22nd January 2005, without her countless fans and colleagues understanding what really led to her premature death, aged 56. Perhaps, the only person who had any inkling about what Babi was going through was her one-time partner, Mahesh Bhatt. But even he was no longer around to pull her out of the abyss when the end came. Parveen Babi died alone, locked inside her apartment in Juhu.
By then, she had been declared 'mad' by Bollywood and the press. "Woh toh paagal ho gayee hai," people would shake their heads and declare authoritatively. Poor Parveen Babi. She was not 'paagal' - she was ill. Seriously ill. It is believed she was suffering from a long term, severe mental illness that few cared to figure out. Some say it was depression, others insist she was schizophrenic. Either way, she battled her mental demons on her own, eventually abandoned by even those who claimed to love her.
It's a totally different story today. The fresh, new scripts about mental health in Bollywood are being written by two attractive and successful female stars. I am ready to bite my tongue off for saying this, but in the case of Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma, I believe there is a bigger marketing plan behind the sudden disclosures.
The timing is rather suspect. Is it a mere coincidence that Anushka went public with her anxiety attacks one week and Deepika promptly followed with her own 'I suffer from depression' the next?
Deepika has left a telling clue behind by ending her piece with a footnote which says she is working on something major to generate more awareness about mental health in India. Anushka stopped at talking about her own mood swings and emotional dips. Perhaps we'll get to hear announcements of both these gorgeous ladies being nominated brand ambassadors for a jumbo pharma company soon?
Regardless, the response to these celeb confessions has been phenomenal. Fans went from expressing disbelief to applauding their 'guts'. One huge taboo had finally been broken - that too by two Bollywood A-Listers. "Bravo!" chorused India.
In a nation where mental health remains low priority and is frequently dismissed by family and friends as being nothing more than 'dramabaazi', it did take guts for these two accomplished ladies to share their emotional traumas with the world at large.
Bollywood prefers to keep such sensitive stuff strictly under wraps. Bolllywood hides its scars well. Bollywood protects its secrets. Mental health is an area Bollywood stays miles away from. Whether it was Parveen Babi's fragile state in the 90's, or Geeta Dutt's death on 20th July 1972 at the age of 42... Bollywood chose to keep mum. Take a look at other stories: Was Meena Kumari really an alcoholic? Why did she seek solace in spirits? What killed Rajesh Khanna - cancer, booze ... or loneliness? So many Bollywood biggies descended into private hells after tasting enormous fame and glory.
And yet, nobody was ready to confront a few ugly truths behind that descent.
It hasn't changed all that much even today. One hears whispers and stories about yesteryear legends popping pills, knocking back booze, behaving uncharacteristically, talking incoherently, cutting off from the world... getting more and more isolated, and finally dying an inglorious death in penury and obscurity. Who cares? Who bothers to find out what the person was suffering from? There is no space in Bollywood for people who are no longer in the running... people who are mentally troubled, weakened, unable to deal with extreme stress levels, incapable of playing the parts assigned to them.
This is where Deepika and Anushka can play key roles, not just in Bollywood but in a far larger context. We don't have enough awareness of various forms of mental illness. Most people divide this hoary, misunderstood world into two broad categories - 'paagal' and 'gone case'. Parveen, unfortunately, fell into the 'gone case' category. In the sense that she was unable to engage with the world like everybody else and had become severely delusional.
Abandoned by all, she was locked in her own world, dealing with fierce demons and fears minus any emotional support systems to fall back on. It was easier to shun her. The once ethereally beautiful star with a svelte body had turned puffy and unrecognizable towards the end. She couldn't save herself. And nobody bothered to save her.
The strains and pressures of being in showbiz are best understood by those deeply immersed in it. Stars like Deepika and Anushka.
Often, fans are told a young actress has 'fainted' or 'collapsed' on the sets. The reasons are attributed to 'exhaustion'. Physical exhaustion. The truth of the matter maybe different. Chances are it is more a mental breakdown than a physical one. Is that so hard to accept? Maybe, with the well-timed revelations and interventions coming from Deepika and Anushka, there will be a heightened sensitivity towards several mental afflictions that have previously been swept under the carpet.
There is no condition on earth - mental or physical - that cannot be helped, if society cares enough. It's high time we did.
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