Mahesh Bhatt speaks about his relationship with Parveen Babi.
“I was watching the last scene of ‘Woh Lamhe’ in my editing room when it dawned on me why human beings have always tried to keep their dead alive – we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. ‘Woh Lamhe’ is my last good bye to the memories of Parveen Babi. A woman whom I loved and lost.
Nostalgia is pain. The day Parveen died, I realised that despite the claims I made to myself, her memory had not withered within me with the passage of time.
Praveen’s breakdown is an old story. But I wonder if anyone could imagine what it is like to live with a person who is going mad.
The morning I left Parveen’s house before it all began comes back to haunt me. She was off to her shoot for Prakash Mehra’s film… and she kissed me good-bye. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see her as the Parveen that I knew.
How can I ever forget that heartbreaking image of her, when I walked in to the house that evening, and found Parveen, in make up and a filmy costume, cowering in a corner, with a knife in her hand, shivering with fear?
She looked like an animal, one that I had never seen before. ‘Close the door Mahesh,’ she whispered. ‘They are coming to kill us. Close the door quickly!’
And with those words ended my days of love and splendour, sin and passion with Parveen. I was looking into the eyes of madness and the face of death. Because the person that I knew had died, and with that our relationship, as we had known it, died too.
Parveen’s illness was genetic. The chances of her recovery were slim. It was in those terrible times that I discovered for myself that it is we who push the so-called ‘mentally disturbed’ to commit suicide.
Our attempt in this film is not just to make you grieve, but to leave an indelible memory of the essence of an exceptional woman who lived in another time and place.
‘Woh Lamhe’ has erupted from the deepest part of my being. And that part of me was triggered suddenly by Parveen’s death and the subsequent discovery of a tape, which my daughter Pooja found in my first wife’s house.
The tape contained a letter that Parveen had recorded and sent me, in which she talked about her approaching illness, her loneliness and her need to get out of the entertainment business. The silences between her words spoke to me more eloquently than her words did.
The only regret I have is that I couldn’t see her illness coming. Looking back, I realise now that there were so many signs that I just failed to read.
Suddenly, she bathed, dressed herself in a white kurta pyjama, rolled a small mat on to the carpet and did something I had never seen her do in my three and a half years with her. She began her ‘namaaz’.
The sight was mesmerising. Her silhouette against the glow of the morning sky, her trembling lips reciting the prayers, her tears of grief metamorphosing into fervent tears of devotion… still play on the screen of my memory.
I think it was the killings of 1969 that she was referring to … You do not know what it is to lie curled up under a pile of mattresses, fearing that any moment the mob could stop the vehicle, pull me out and rape me,’ she said in a tone that sent a shiver down my spine.
When I first started to write and make movies, I felt everything could be explained. Now I see how untrue it would be if I claim to have been able to tell you the story of my life with Parveen Babi.
Life does not end. But films do. We leave the characters of a movie at the zenith of their lives or in the hours of their deaths, and there they remain frozen in time.”