For some, actor Zeenat Aman may have been the Bollywood ‘It Girl,’ who sent hearts racing with the persona she wore across her film career. For others, she was always the diva in red; the face of singing icon Nazia Hassan’s chartbuster, Aap Jaisa Koi.
Zeenat was no Hema Malini or Rekha or Shabana Azmi for that matter. It wasn’t as if she was the first to wear shape wear in films and okay roles that were too bold.
Mind you, Sharmila Tagore had been around for a while and Zeenat’s own contemporaries, the likes of Parveen Babi, were themselves willing to adapt to a more Hollywood-esque trend of Indian film-making.
However, so they say, she managed to hold her own in a way few did. Zeenat playing a cabaret dancer, a hippie, a sex worker or even an estranged wife was iconic in its own right.
She was, and still is, the postergirl of Bollywood; the woman who owned her sensuality and became the face of the chic, urban archetype of Indian film actors.
These days, the star is in Lahore to participate in Shaan-e-Pakistan, a cultural exchange initiative.
In an exclusive conversation, she opened up on her time in films and the sex symbol label that has been associated with her name.
The first Indian woman to win the Miss Asia Pacific pageant in 1970, Zeenat made it big in Indian cinema with Hare Rama Hare Krishna. The film was followed by a number of other hits before she decided to hang up her boots for good.
“I had been working ever since I was a teenager but after the birth of my son, I wrapped up all projects and decided to give time to my family,” she says.
While her contemporaries continue to make screen appearances every now and then, Zeenat is not sure about coming back.
“I will act only when something age-appropriate comes my way.”
It’s hard for those who knew the Zeenat of the 70s and 80s to come to terms with the new Zeenat, who has a bittersweet memory of her golden period.
When asked whether the stereotype overrode her characters, she says, “Not exactly. But after a while, people couldn’t see past that.” Zeenat feels there were times when she gave really good acting performances but still the focus remained on sensuality.
“The thing is, actors get categorised and then your audience doesn’t want to let you get out of that.” Her body of unusual roles ranges from the rape victim not willing to be shamed into not seeking justice in Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980), to a disfigured woman disowned by her husband in Satyam Shivam Sundram (1978).
“I did some wonderful roles that had nothing to do with being overtly sensual but nobody focused on that. People always saw Zeenat Aman as a westernised figure,” she says.
This does not mean Zeenat is not satisfied with her illustrious time in films. “I’m not complaining,” she maintains. “I received a lot of affection for the work I did and because I am a reasonably smart person, I was able to enjoy the success that came with it.”
In retrospect, she says, “But when you are there, you don’t realise anything. It’s all work.” Now in her 60s, she has limited her number of outings and prefers to walk the ramp only once in a while. The beauty queen feels Pakistanis are generally good looking.
“Your people are quite good looking and your drama serials are watched all over the world,” she says. When asked whether she will act in a Pakistani projects, she quickly responds, “I would love to work here if an opportunity comes.”
These days Zeenat is busy helping out son Azaan with his upcoming heist film. With Pakistani actor Faizan Khawaja on board, Azaan has both directed and produced the movie and turns to his mother every now and then for some precious words of advice.
“It will be released in the next few months and hopefully we will be back in Pakistan for a premiere,” she smiles. At the event in Lahore, she is donning designer Mina Siddique’s latest collection which is inspired by Zeenat only.
The Dubai-based designer has crafted clutches, capes, scarves and lamp shades with hand painted images of the actor.
“I consider her a true woman of substance. I am generally inspired by beautiful faces and when that is the case, who else if not Zeenat Aman?” said Mina.
“I am honoured that she wanted to work with me because she could have chosen anyone from the subcontinent.”
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