NFSA Stories: My Bollywood Aunt
Bollywood star Asha Parekh's NFSA connection
Mubina Patanwala grew up knowing her aunt Asha was famous, but never expected to find her in the NFSA collection. In our new series NFSA Stories, we meet people who have also found themselves – or a friend or family member – in the NFSA collection.
Mubina’s aunt is Asha Parekh, one of Bollywood’s most successful dancers and actresses. Born in 1942, Asha made her big screen debut at just 10 years old, before acting in more than 90 films. Over her long career she has also worked as both a TV director and producer.
When Mubina was working at the NFSA, she brought a copy of Asha’s autobiography The Hit Girl (2017) into the office. A colleague suggested she check the NFSA website to see if there were any records relating to Asha in the collection.
Knowing Asha had visited Australia in 1977 to perform at the Sydney Festival allowed Mubina to narrow down her search. She soon struck gold: a reel housing an episode of The Mike Walsh Show also included an A Current Affair interview with the actress.
While the clip was lucky to survive, there was unfortunately a problem with the source tape. The clip is of variable quality, with excessive flickering and occasional distortion. Standard industry practice of the time was to reuse tapes, effectively recording over previous programs, which may be one explanation as to the condition of the clip below:
Nevertheless, it was a curious twist of fate that the interview appears at the very end of the reel. If the reel had only included the episode of The Mike Walsh Show as intended, Mubina would never have come across her family connection.
In her appearance Asha performs a dance, before taking part in an interview with presenter Sue Smith. The style of questioning today feels quite confronting.
The journalist begins rather abruptly by asking, 'Is it true you’ve never been kissed in a film?' and goes on to question Asha about topics including nudity in ‘bedroom scenes’ and finding ‘Mr Right.’
In the footage, Asha takes the questions in her stride, keeping a smile on her face the whole time. When asked about the interview more than 40 years later she told the NFSA that those kinds of questions were fairly standard. 'Journalists often ask personal questions,' she said. 'In those days in my country, kissing was taboo – whereas in western countries, kissing in public was normal.'
But for her niece, seeing the interview offered an insight into her aunt’s life as a celebrity. 'In this day and age, that line of questioning would raise concerns,' said Mubina. 'In some ways, it opened my eyes to the kind of things she must have gone through with the paparazzi.'
On the whole, Asha remembered her visit to Sydney fondly. 'I was the first Indian actress to perform at the Sydney Festival. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome I received from the people of Australia.'
One of the highlights of the trip was being able to see rehearsals of Madame Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House, a memory she says she will always cherish.
Although Mubina was always been aware of her aunt’s fame, she admits it’s still strange even now. 'I didn’t think I would see her, so this was very surprising,' she said.
We will publish more NFSA Stories here on the first Monday of every second month.
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