How Bollywood Failed Parveen Babi

One of the highest-paid actors of her time is largely remembered through her lovers and by her illness. While others profited from her tale, she died alone at 51.

Parveen Babi
Parveen Babi (IMDB)

Sadaf Ahsan

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April 4, 2023

On January 29, 1984, The Illustrated Weekly of India published a now infamous eight-page cover story: “The Confessions of Parveen Babi.” It was a tell-all that the actor had written herself, over a decade after doctors had diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia, and just months after she had experienced a breakdown that spun her mental illness into a mere headline. 

“Slowly, one by one, I lost trust in everybody and everything around me,” Babi wrote. “Have you ever wondered what it is like to function in life, distrusting everything and everybody? We trust most of the things and people around us without questioning. We trust the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe...It is impossible to function in life without trusting. And that is precisely what happened to me.”

Although Babi is still known for becoming the first Bollywood star to make the cover of TIME, it was the Illustrated Weekly story that offered true insight into who she was, what she’d been through, and how the industry viewed her. Or rather, chewed her up and spit her out. For much of her career, the Indian film industry lauded the actor for her “glamour girl” aesthetic and high-profile relationships, but once her mental illness became public, Bollywood wrote her off as nothing more than a liability. Eventually, Babi would become a cautionary tale, dying alone in her Mumbai apartment. But how did it come to that? 

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