Submitting oneself to reflection is a challenge, and to let difficult episodes translate into words for public consumption can be even more daunting. For celebrities, it can either generate unexpected outbursts or spur controversies. It does neither for yesteryear film star Asha Parekh, whose autobiography opens the door for readers to travel back in time with her, relate to her emotionally and understand the forces that worked in her life in such a way that we feel we are experiencing the tensions ourselves.

A personal story can be a painful but cathartic exercise, and can stimulate simultaneous feelings of joy, nostalgia, and sadness.

It is an exercise that demands hours of thoughtful reflection and introspection to stay objective about one’s lived experiences, both as an honest self-assessment as well as a shared lesson. The Hit Girl does it with ease, traversing the foregone era of romance and roses with aplomb, but to its credit, it does not lose focus even while recounting Parekh’s present journey through compulsive disorders and other difficulties.

And, she passes through the immigration channel of life saying, “I have not hidden anything. There is nothing more to declare.”

Two candid confessions help her set the record straight. That she was in love with director Nasir Hussain, and that she had approached minister Nitin Gadkari to seek an award. Declaring that she could see herself neither as a home-breaker nor as the second woman — “for the sake of my own happiness I could not become self-centred” — Parekh makes it clear that she valued friendship over love. She draws a clear distinction between love and friendship; the former, to her, is a state of mind that grants a few stolen moments of exhilaration, while the latter offers a sense of oneness and belonging. Parekh chose the latter.

She confesses meeting the influential politician, persuaded by a close friend, to get the Padma Shri awarded to her in 1992 upgraded. Quoting the minister, the media story that followed thereafter was that Parekh (at the age of 72) had climbed 12 flights of stairs to seek undue favours. Although the elevator was perfectly working, she could do little to refute the story. By Parekh’s own admission, “It was the worst mistake” of her life, and there wasn’t a better way to accept the honourable minister’s slap across the face but by turning the other cheek in silence.

A proficient dancer, talented actor, an avid film-maker, hands-on administrator, and a committed social worker, Parekh has donned multiple hats in a career spanning six decades. As queen of the marquee, she had captured the public imagination right from the era of black-and-white movies such as Dil Deke Dekho (1959) to entertainers like Kaalia (1981). Like others of her fraternity, she too had her share of hits and misses, and twists and travails in the competitive film world. Parekh is matter-of-fact when she recalls the missed opportunity to work with legendary director Satyajit Ray, “Lost opportunities and lost possibilities are part of what it means to be alive.”

At a time when film biographies have flooded bookstores, The Hit Girl stands out as a carefully crafted account that is as much about the central character as the prominent others who were part of her illustrious journey. Himself a sensitive film- maker and an accomplished writer, Khalid Mohamed lends his craft to the crisp narrative, which has nuggets of thoughtful reflection. Unlike others, Parekh chose to talk about her life when she turned 75, as “there are accumulated experiences worth sharing.”

A versatile life has its share of anxieties, too. No matter how surrounded one may be by friends and well-wishers, loneliness somehow manages to find its way in. Insecurity afflicts everybody, and is an essential takeaway from show business. The roller-coaster ride that Parekh went through had its bouts of seclusion and alienation. That she overcame self-pity through an exercise in renewal makes for an inspiring tale, one that lends credence to the observation that behind arc lights and glamorous outfits are human beings who wish to liberate themselves from narcissistic overtures that they get used to.

Having followed Parekh on screen since early college, it hadn’t been clear to me if she and her hero had died together (as the last shot was in a freeze frame) in Do Badan (1966). Parekh confirms that indeed they both had died, and that, incidentally, has been the reason for the film’s phenomenal success.

The Hit Girl has pithy passages that are accurate and reflective. There are no theatrics or flourishes, just a narrative that describes, catalogues, and details the relevant. With innumerable pictures to back the text, The Hit Girl keeps it engaging, always.

Sudhirendar Sharmais an independent writer, researcher and academic