Yesteryear bollywood heroines remain friends
Whoever said actresses cannot be friends? The troika of Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh and Helen prove otherwise
They are the trio with brio, yesteryear heroines who have, through the decades, dispelled the notion that there are no lasting friendships in the highly-competitive world of Bollywood. Even the millennials have become aware of their irrevocable bond, thanks to their appearances on TV reality shows ever since they were invited to The Kapil Sharma Show. Incidentally, the show, in which Waheeda Rehman, Helen and Asha Parekh shared their experiences of movies, has been frequently repeated on the airwaves, affirming that there is nothing more heartwarming than a stroll down memory lane.
Ask Asha ("call us by our first names, or we'll sound like aunties," she laughs), who turned 77 on October 2, about the reason behind the renewed interest in their private and professional lives and she responds, "Perhaps because it's unusual to be supportive of one's peers rather than harbouring any ill-feelings.
Today's actresses tend to be arch-rivals, lobbying for plum roles. Still, it's good to know there are exceptions. From what I hear, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Jacqueline Fernandes are no-hassles friends, and that's the way it should be."
Indeed, Kangana Ranaut has lashed out against Alia Bhatt and Taapsee Pannu in the past. At one point, there seemed to be friction between Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif, which has been sorted now, according to tabloid reports. Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, too, had darted unkind words at each other. Mercifully, there has been a ceasefire on such poison pellets of late.
Meanwhile, the ongoing sisterhood between the yesteryear sensations is being cited as the ideal way to be. Asha, Waheeda (aged 81), and Helen, who turns 81 on November 21, are just a "phone call away" from each other in case there is a crisis - major or minor. Quite candidly, Asha has admitted that when she was going through severe depression five years ago, both her friends had helped her return to normalcy. "I will always be indebted to them," she says. "Or else I could have become a mental wreck."
The late actress Nanda was also a part of the unique sisterhood. When she passed away in 2014 following a heart seizure, the trio was inconsolable for months and still are, remarking, "She was quite an introvert. How we wish she had confided more in us! Being the sole bread-earner in her family, she couldn't take the strain beyond a point." Among others of the senior generation, Saira Banu also makes it a point to be in touch and updates Asha about the condition of Dilip Kumar.
So how does the friendship among yesteryear's sensations manifest itself? The trio regularly tries out new restaurants since they are inveterate foodies, meet up at movie previews, and have been on holidays to spots as diverse as Turkey, Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska and the UAE. Once, while on a shopping spree at The Dubai Mall, Helen had gone missing for hours. Just when her companions were about to call the police, she was located at a nearby park bench. "What's the matter?" she had inquired. "Take it easy. I was just cooling my heels with a cup of coffee."
While Helen, after her marriage with the legendary scriptwriter Salim Khan, has avoided conversations with the media, Waheeda and Asha do open up once in a blue moon. Both have also acceded to authorised biographies, which have been bestsellers. Helen, however, feels her films - whether they showcased her as a cabaret dancer or the leading lady - speak for themselves.
"See, we had our separate identities," says Asha, who has been associated with the epithet of 'The Hit Girl', adding, "Helen's dances and emoting had a certain elan, a style which could dignify even the most daring cabaret movements. Take O haseena zulfonwalli from Teesri Manzil (1966), Aa jaane jaan from Intaqam (1969) or Piya tu ab to aa jaa from Caravan (1971), for example. No one could have performed those numbers with as much sensuality and grace. Moreover, her acting abilities were proved in Gumnaam (1965) and Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979). Waheeda, of course, was adored for classics like Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), Guide (1965) and Khamoshi (1970)."
Vis-à-vis herself, Asha avers, "I was fortunate to get roles in romantic, breezy entertainers with fantastic musical scores during the 1960s. Till date, I get fan mails, courtesy the presence of my films on Netflix, Amazon Video and other streaming channels. The music right down from Dil Deke Dekho (1959) to Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai (1961), Love in Tokyo (1966), Do Badan (1966), Upkar (1967), Kati Patang (1971) and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978) are considered imperishable."
She turned to directing TV serials, but quit after her parents' deaths, because she didn't feel motivated to continue working anymore. Helen and Waheeda have appeared occasionally on the screen but are largely semi-retired.
The winsome threesome understand that audience tastes have changed. They aren't critical of the current fare and agree that today's heroines are tremendously gifted. Many more women-centric films are being made with stronger content today. In the past, the heroes mostly dominated the scene.
There's no point complaining. Asha, Waheeda and Helen would rather go with the credo that they had a whale of a time. It was another era, another cinema.
Their collective view is that they can't cling on to the past. It's way more practical to count their blessings. The worldwide audience for Hindi cinema continues to adore them, saluting the fact that they have remained friends, through weather - foul or fair.