Asha Parekh-Shammi

Veteran Indian actress Asha Parekh broke down while trying to remember the good memories with the ever-jovial Shammi, who passed away at 87 on March 6. (IANS photo)

MUMBAI—Veteran actress Asha Parekh was barely able to contain her sobs after the news of the demise of her best friend and "guardian angel" Nargis Rabadi, universally known in the film industry as Shammi Aunty, broke on March 6 morning.

Shammi had no relatives except an adopted son Iqbal Rizvi, who stayed close by but not in the same apartment as his foster-mother. She was alone when the end came.

Shammi, who lost her only sister – the famous designer Mani Rabadi – a few years ago, had rapidly become immobile and forgetful.

Asha Parekh, who had been her best friend for more than 50 years, said: "I haven't wept so much since I lost my parents. I called her Shammi Aunty. She was much older than me. But we were best friends for years. She shared everything with me. It was a natural-born trait in her to win people's confidence.

"She was close to many actresses who poured their heart out to her. With me, it was special. We had spent decades together. She was my closest friend, confidante and, after my parents' death, a guardian angel. Now she's gone."

Parekh broke down while trying to remember the good memories with the ever-jovial Shammi who made so many people laugh on and off screen.

Rakhee, who was also very close to Shammi (and had, in fact, played the lead in 'Pighalta Aasman,' the film that Shammi produced in 1985 with Raakhee and Shashi Kapoor in the lead), said: "Shammi Aunty taught me how to laugh out. To not hold back my laughter. You see, as girls, we were always taught not to laugh loudly. Shammi Aunty made me realize there was nothing unwomanly about loud laughter. She made my happiness come out of my throat."

In 1970, Shammi married filmmaker Sultan Ahmed. She described it as the biggest mistake of her life. The two parted acrimoniously.

Parekh recalled: "I did Sultan Ahmed Saab's 'Heera' only because of Shammi Aunty. The laughter stopped when she was about 80. The last 8-9 years of Shammi Aunty's life were miserable. Her health was failing. And she often had no domestic help. She would come and stay with me. We couldn't share as much laughter as we did earlier since her hearing faculties were affected."

Born in 1929 into a family of Parsi priests, Shammi began her career in films in 1949 with a film called "Ustad Pedro" with Sheikh Mukhtar who was then quite a name. It was a hit. And there was no looking back thereafter – Shammi went on to do all kind of roles.

When her role in K. Asif's "Musafirkhana" as a comedienne clicked, she got typecast in ‘funny girl' roles.

"Mujhe comedy mein bada maza aata hai. Main hoon hi waisi (I like comic roles; I am like that only)," Shammi had once told this writer at Asha Parekh's place.

"I want to continue acting. It's the only thing I know how to do. But movie offers have stopped coming for a while. I was doing television. But that too dwindled lately. So I was sitting idle. At my age, to be workless is to be worthless. Lekin main aaj tak kabhi kissi se kaam maangne nahin gayi (I never went to anyone to ask for work).

"Why should I do so now? I am happy getting what comes to me. And grateful to God I still get work. He has been very kind to me. Otherwise, why would I still be getting work? It is unimaginable for me to be not working. Boman Irani once asked me how many films I had done. I had no clue! Recently someone Googled on me and found out I had done nearly 200 films. I was amazed. When did I do all these films? Time just flew by!"

Shammi's last film was Bela Segal's "Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi."

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