A well-known actor known for his wig and
witticisms, saw Zeenat Aman in the late 1960s and spontaneously
described her as a lamba khamba (tall pillar),
writes DINESH RAHEJA.
Little did he know that his words would prove quaintly
occidental-looking actress went on to revolutionize the concept
of the Hindi film female star, and became one of the pillars
(along with art film actresses like Shabana Azmi and Smita
Patel) of the 1970s cinema who helped usher in a new, emboldened
personality was refreshingly different from the marquee queens
Synonymous with zest
and zing, Zeenat possessed a convent schoolgirl accent and a
penchant for revealing dresses (she matched Gina Lollobrigida in
the battle of oomph at Shalimar’s launch).
While other heroines
wore bouffant and huge chunks of jewellery to complement elegant
saris, Aman let down her silken hair (literally and
figuratively) and sported hoop earrings (so casual) and a
tighter-than-a-tourniquet mini (so sexy).
Dev Anand and debutante Zeenat Aman in the 1971 Hare Rama Hare
difference was more than just than skin-deep.
persona was a contrast to many of the more conservative stars of
At a time when
heroines were obedient wives and lovers on the screens of Hindi
Cinema, Aman was drawn to more unconventional roles – she was
cast as the opportunist who deserts her jobless lover for a
millionaire (Roti Kapda Aur Makaan), the ambitious girl who
considers having an abortion in order to pursue a career (Ajnabee),
the happy hooker (Manoranjan), the disenchanted hippie (Hare
Rama Hare Krishna), the girl who falls in love with her mother’s
one-time lover (Prem Shastra) and a woman married to a caustic
cripple, but involved in an extramarital relationship (Dhund).
managed to balance these roles with acting in more conventional
films such as Chori Mera Kaam, Chhailla Babu, Dostana and
Lawaaris, which is considered by many to be a landmark in Indian
Cinema and ensured her stay on the distributors’ radar for a
good 14 years.
She did her
schooling in Panchgani and went to University of Southern
California in Los Angeles for further studies on student aid,
but she could not complete her graduation.
Upon her return to
India, she first took up a job as a journalist for Femina and
then moved on to modeling.
One of the first few
brands that she modeled for was Taj Mahal Tea in 1966.
She was the second
runner-up in the Miss India Contest and went on to win the Miss
Asia Pacific in 1970 - being the first Indian to ever win that
To get the A to Z of
the Zeenat Aman story, you have to begin with her nondescript
role in O P Ralhan’s Hulchul (1971).
Zeenat, whose father
Aman had been a film writer, came to the movies with the tepid
She failed to make a
which was a series of gags masquerading as a film, did nothing
for her either.
She was ready to
pack her bags to leave India and was ready to go to Malta with
her mother and stepfather.
However, a mistake
on actress Zaheeda’s part changed the course of Aman’s life.
Dev Anand offered
Zaheeda, his second heroine in Prem Pujari, the sister’s role in
Hare Rama Krishna (1972).
Overlooking the fact
that the role was the lifeline of the film, Zaheeda wanted the
heroine’s role (eventually played by Mumtaz), and she opted out.
Zeenat was roped in
as a last-minute replacement.
When Hare Rama was
released, Zeenat, aided by R D Burman’s trance-inducing Dum maro
dum song, hypnotised the audience as Janice, the sad-eyed
libertine with a queen-sized chip on her shoulders.
It was perhaps
Zeenat’s purest, least affected and most effective performance.
She earned a
Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award and BFJA Award for Best
Zeenat walked away
with all the accolades shunning Mumtaz - never before had the
Hindi cinema seen a newcomer overshadow the reigning queen.
’Do Lafzon Ki Hai Dil Ki Kahani’ Amitabh Bachchan & Zeenat Aman
in The Great Gambler.
Zeenat went on to
revolutionize the Hindi film actress.
She was the first
Indian actress who refused bouffant, cropped a bob at the height
of her career and hardly appeared in saris and bindis and could
easily carry off a bikini dress without looking vulgar.
She took on roles of
the modern urban Indian woman, who made no excuses and took no
The Navketan banner
and other producers went on a Dev-Zeenat overdrive.
The Dev-Zeenat pair
was seen in half a dozen films: Heera Panna (1973), Ishq Ishq
Ishq (1974), Prem Shastra (1974), Warrant (1975), Darling
Darling (1977), Kalabaaz (1977).
Baring Warrant, none
of them could warrant success at the box-office.
Zeenat, a true
go-getter and a hard-working professional, found success with
other heroes and banners.
Even if Hema Malini
ruled the roost, big names like B R Chopra, Nasir Hussain,
Shakti Samanta, Manoj Kumar, Manmohan Desai rushed to sign
Her hip looks in
Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) as the girl carrying a guitar, singing
Churaliya hai tumne jo dil ko (in Asha Bhosle’s voice) has won
her more popularity and the hearts of millions of fans.
She appeared on
every Hindi film magazine’s cover during the 1970s.
In December 1974,
Cine Blitz magazine was launched with Zeenat Aman on its cover,
a testimony to her popularity at the time.
Her biggest catch in the 1970s, Raj Kapoor’s massively
publicised Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), however, didn’t amount
She gamely sported a burnt look to win Kapoor’s approval and
bagged the much-coveted role.
But the film proved
a case of all body no soul.
ironically dealt with the notion of the soul being more
attractive than the body, but Kapoor chose to showcase Zeenat’s
Zeenat was able to
break barriers by kissing her leading man on the mouth for the
first time on the Indian screen post-Independence
And both Kapoor and Aman had to dodge flak from the critics.
The actress was
highly criticized for her exposure, but somehow at a later
stage, the film had a great deal to do with Aman’s fame and the
movie itself was distinguished as a work of art.
She also earned a
Filmfare nomination as Best Actress for this film.
Zeenat’s big chance
to get a backdoor entry into Hollywood also backfired when
Krishna Shah’s Shalimar (1978), costarring international names
like Rex Harrison and Sylvia Milles, proved to be a
Aman possessed a
convent schoolgirl accent and a penchant for revealing dresses.
Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman in the movie Satyam Shivam
1978 could have been
a disaster year for her, because of the diminishing box office
returns of Shalimar and discouraging critical reviews of Satyam
Shivam Sundaram but Aman had other successful commercial films
during that year such as Heeralal Pannalal and Chor Ke Ghar Chor,
yet it was Don that came to the rescue with its success.
Her reasons for
accepting the role in Don were altruistic and she didn’t even
take any remuneration for it because she wanted to help the
producer Nariman Irani who died midway through filming.
Her role of a
Westernized revenge-seeking action heroine contributed to the
film’s huge success and her fans reconnected with her.
like Parveen Babi and Tina Munim now followed in her footsteps.
But Zeenat’s career
steamed ahead uninterrupted with hits like Dharam Veer, Chhailla
Babu and The Great Gambler.
By the beginning of
the 1980s, multi-starrer films became a trend and Zeenat Aman
was increasingly asked to just provide sex appeal in
hero-oriented films, despite success in so many films.
In contrast to this
trend was her performance as a rape victim seeking justice in B.
R. Chopra’s Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980), for which she received a
Filmfare Best Actress nomination.
Zeenat began a new
trend, helping launch careers for male actors - something Indian
actresses never did.
She signed Insaf Ka
Tarazu with then unknown Raj Babbar and Deepak Prashar, signed
films opposite even Mithun, Kanwaljeet Singh (Ashanti) and Tariq
Ali (Hum Kissi se Kum Nahin and Yadon Ki Baarat).
Insaaf Ka Tarazu was
followed by success in the love triangle Qurbani (1980 film),
Alibaba Aur 40 Chor, Dostana (1980) and Lawaaris (1981).
Her last role as the
female lead was in the movie Gawahi, a courtroom drama in 1989.
Zeenat enjoyed a
phase of notoriety and a whiff of success when she associated
with Sanjay Khan during Abdullah (1980), a colourful costume
drama set in the arid desert.
The two had wed in
Jaisalmer in 1978, a marriage that lasted less than a year.
Many had warned
Zeenat against it since Sanjay was already a married man with
three kids, but she defended him fiercely, stating time and
again, “I love this man. Don’t you understand? I will back his
every move and will make him a king one day.”
Zeenat Aman and Sanjay Khan.
choice of her partner transformed her life forever.
A story in Cine
Blitz dating back to 1980 details how Sanjay beat Zeenat black
and blue at a five-star hotel in Mumbai, in the presence of
several onlookers who did not lift a finger to help her.
It was the steward
who came to Zeenat’s rescue, who by now had blood and tears
streaming down her face.
Even as she required
eight days of medical attention to recover from this beating,
she did not report Sanjay to the police, as she was still in
love with him.
Life was never the
same for Zeenat after this thrashing as she consequently lost a
substantial amount of vision in one eye.
Her doctor revealed
to the noted publication, “This is not the first time this man
has beaten her. Once before she was given a black eye and kicked
in the ribs so hard that I insisted on an X-Ray for fear of a
disintegrated their relationship and they parted company, Zeenat
tried valiantly to reconsolidate her career.
When she agreed to
do Daku Hasina (1987), even her diehard fans had to admit the
Aman story had run out of steam.
Towards the end of
her career she took on mature roles in Bhavani Junction, Haathon
ki Lakeerain, Bandhan Kacche Dhagon Ka etc. the movies did
average business at the box office as by late 80’s cinema
shifted its focus to front bench whistlers.
At that time Zeenat
settled in matrimony with fellow actor Mazhar Khan and gave
birth to two sons, turning down multiple film offers.
The marriage ended bitterly in divorce, but soon after Mazhar
In a candid chat
with Simi Garewal on her talk show, Zeenat revealed how she
still bore the scars of her previous relationships.
Zeenat was at the peak of her career when she married the
relatively unsuccessful Mazhar Khan.
On being asked what
drew her to him, Zeenat took a long pause before finally
uttering the truth.
She said, “My
biological clock was ticking and I wanted to be a mother. I
wanted to raise a family and now I think Mazhar just happened to
be there at the right time.
She also said even
though Mazhar did not possess the qualities and attributes she
wished to have in her life partner, she tried to fit him in.
mother was totally against the match, Zeenat who had already
suffered heart break decided to go on with her decision and
But Zeenat’s mother
could not take this too well and had a heart attack.
“During the very
first year of marriage I realised I had made a huge mistake, but
I decided to live by it and make it work.
“I tried to make it
work for another 12 years. There was no light at the end of the
tunnel for me.
“There was not a
single moment of happiness or joy during those 12 years. But I
still tried making it work.”
Talking about the
infamous Sanjay Khan episode she said,” I have closed my mind to
it, I pretend that it never happened. I don’t think about it. I
don’t talk about it.
“That’s the best way
to cope up with it.”
In the same
interview she also said, “I have always let my heart rule my
head, but if I could rewind and start afresh I would listen to
my mother. I would agree and follow whatever she told me.”
She received a
Lifetime Achievement Award during the Zee Cine Awards function
in 2008 as recognition of her contribution to Hindi Cinema.
She also received An
Outstanding Contribution to Indian Cinema award at IIFA awards
2010 held at Colombo, Sri Lanka. She dedicated this award to her
abilities may be a moot point at times. However, one cannot help
but admire Zeenat for being her own person.
And she was at her
attractive best when she communicated this aspect of her
personality on screen.