She Was a Journalist Once….She Became a Victim of Journalists Later in Life
BY ALI PETER JOHN
She kept telling me to see a film in which she was making her comeback. I knew the film would be very bad but I went to see it for my old friend ‘Zeenie Baby’s’ sake and walked out of the theatre wondering why Zeenat Aman, the woman who literally ruled the world stooped so low to make her comeback with a film which was only worth being thrown into some distant bin, and as I walked home in a disturbed state, I went down memory lane with Zeenat Aman….
Her father, Amanullah Khan was the dialogue writer of K. Asif’s ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, which was one of the major highlights of the film, dialogue that is remembered to this day and will be remembered as long as the film is. Her mother was a German, Mrs Heinz and she was their only daughter who they named Zeenat Aman.
Zeenat was brought up by her mother after her father died young. She was sent to the best schools in Bombay and was then sent away to the best boarding school. Her mother (Mrs. Heinz) was ambitious for her daughter who she believed was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was then sent to the best grooming schools in the west and came back to Bombay as a beauty queen. She took part in a number of beauty contests and finally ended up winning the Miss Asia title which brought her into the lime light. She was wanted by all the admirers of beauty but Dev Anand was the first to approach her mother to seek her permission to cast her in a major role which he firmly believed only some one like Zeenat could play in the new film he was planning then, ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’, a film based on the new hippy cult which was swaying all over the country and the world. Dev had already signed Mumtaz to play his leading lady. He wanted a young, western – oriented, free of all inhibitions, bold, brave and bright new girl to play his young sister who loses track of her well-to-do family, joins the hippies in Kathmandu in Nepal and gets hooked on drugs. Mrs. Heinz was very interested, especially because it was a film to be made by her favorite actor; Dev. Zeenat was interested in making a career as an actress. She did not know the basics of acting but Dev told her it was his responsibility as a director to groom her as the actress he wanted her to be.
Dev started shooting of the film all over Nepal and shooting continued till the film was completed. Dev concentrated on Zeenat’s character and Zeenat was a very eager leaner. She soon became the hippy (Janice) Dev wanted her to be and was almost mistaken for a Hippy by some of her friends and relatives who visited her during the shooting of the film. And with that one strong, ‘Dum Maro Dum’ Zeenat was on her way to stardom without being aware of it. And when ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ was released it became the talk of the industry and soon the entire country, but more then any thing else in the film it was Zeenat Aman, her character never seen in Hindi films before and that one song ‘Dum Maro Dum’ tuned by R. D. Burman with all the fervor that made Zeenat an over night star like very few other female star. She was the rebel star; she had played the kind of role no other actress of the time would have dared to play. She was criticized by the old fashioned but was welcomed with open arms by the new generation of Indians which was swaying away to run away from the grim realties of life. She played the role with so much of conviction that it was Zeenat and only Zeenat all the way in the film, a fact accepted by her discoverer, Dev himself. Zeenat was the representative of the new face of the heroine in Hindi films.
The industry saw her as a heroine who could portray the woman of changing India. She was the most sought after actress immediately after the release of the film. Her first priority was always for her mentor, Dev’s films and she did any number of films with him because she felt he was the only actor and director who could understand and know how to deal with her. She was branded as the modern woman in the mood to change the face of the traditional Indian woman, the woman who was Indian but who wanted change, change to move with the best in the world any where. Her new image was what made her. She gave an entirely new dimension to the traditional “Bhartiya Nari”. Her dialogue spoken with an anglicized accent, her outfits, and her own ways of life gave Hindi films the kind of heroine it could never imagine some years ago. She was the glamour girl among all the other actresses and also the highest paid. She was always considered a glamour girl, an actress who was willing to rebel, to do daring scenes which other actresses could not dream of doing and it was this factor of her career that made her the leading female star of her generation who led the way for other girls like her to follow in her foot steps. She is a model for some actresses even now, years after she has given up acting.
Zeenat tried her best to find recognition as a good actress but unfortunately never succeeded. She made one last ditch attempt when she tried her best to impress Raj Kapoor. She played the true Indian woman who was more soul than body, according to Raj Kapoor in his film ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ but like Raj Kapoor himself confessed, “People will come to see Zeenat’s tits but will go back seeing the soul of my film. It is through her beautiful body that I am discovering the soul of the beauty of a woman.” Both Zeenat and ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ flopped at the box office which was a major setback for Raj and left Zeenat a heart- broken actress.
She however continued to rule as the number one glamour girl but she soon showed signs of going astray. It was her affairs of the heart that basically came in her way and spoilt her equilibrium. She was first linked with Dev Anand and was even prepared to marry him (and the feelings were mutual) but things did not work out and finally when she agreed to play the leading lady in Raj Kapoor’s ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ their beautiful relationship came to a crashing end. They never worked together again.
She was then said to be having a roaring affair with the handsome Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan which also failed. Imran was followed by a struggling actor called Kanwaljeet. And then she had ‘a marriage of sorts’ with Sanjay Khan, an already married man, a ‘marriage’ which ended in a very painful way which coincided with the gradual fading out of her grand career. She ultimately married a failed actor, Mazhar Khan, best known for his role as Abdul in Ramesh Sippy’s ‘Shaan’. They had two sons, Azhar and Ayaan.
Zeenat was now reduced to an actress without any work. She was not even wanted in character roles which were considered to be challenging because even after twenty five years, serious filmmakers were not willing to accept her as a mature actress who could play roles which needed all the talent. She spent her time in bringing up her sons. She tried to produce films but could not fulfill her wish. She is now free of the responsibilities of bringing up her sons who she is trying to turn into actors. She is still full of all the zest for life. She tried politics and campaigned for the Congress during the last elections but could not make any impact. She is now being seen in some reality shows on television and is busy looking for other ways of using her experience, her enthusiasm and energy which are still intact. She is a complete story good enough to form the plot for a book and who knows she may write that book one day.
MORE ON ZEENAT AMAN
Ø She was a leading model both in India and the west and was a brand ambassador long before the term “brand ambassador” came into vogue
Ø Her career was supervised by her mother till she became a very big star. Zeenat then became the symbol of the independent and free-thinking woman who could defy all the traditions, customs and values that were Indian. She called herself ‘a citizen of the world’ and ‘a woman of the future’.
Ø Zeenat was the first actress to bring in fashion designing and make it big business. Her clothes were designed by some of the best known designers in the world who in turn made dress designing a lucrative business which is being followed by young men and women who are stars in their own rights these days.
Ø Zeenat became a style icon. What she wore in her films instantly became the fashion of the times among young girls who followed what they called ‘the Zeenie Baby style’
Ø Zeenat was so fascinated about working with Raj Kapoor that she went to crazy limits to catch his attention. One afternoon she walked into his cabin dressed in a transparent white half saree which she knew was the weakness of the showman and her efforts proved to be successful. Raj decided to cast her as the leading lady of his film, “Satyam Shivam Sundarm” after he had considered almost all the big heroines.
Ø All the efforts made by directors to make her speak correct Hindi failed and she spoke the way she always did and still does.
Ø Zeenat worked with all the big heroes, Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan with whom she did the maximum number of films. She also worked with smaller heroes like Vijay Arora and Kanwaljeet.
Ø The well known Hollywood actress, Gina Lolobrigida who worked with her in ‘Shalimar’ called her ‘the most beautiful woman I have seen in the whole of the east’.
Ø Zeenat was a book worm. She always carried books with her and kept track of all the best sellers and still is a voracious reader.
Ø Zeenat remembers her role as the victim of rape who fights back in ‘Insaf Ka Tarazu’ as her most memorable role.
Ø She proved to be an ideal wife when she took care of her husband, Mazhar who died of cancer of the pancreas at a very young age.
Ø Zeenat sometimes believes she should have been a part of the industry today when girls have all the, freedom to do what she had to fight to do in her times but she has “absolutely no regrets”. Some of the leading actresses of today seek her advice on how to keep as fit as she was and still is.
Ø Zeenat had the privilege of having a diamond and a perfume named after her in her heydays.
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