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Taking up varying roles rather than consistently playing the average girl stereotype, Zeenat Aman’s characters in that time period were unconventional. She portrayed stronger roles that had a big part in breaking the taboo and rules of Hindi cinema. Aman, along with Parveen Babi, was credited with making a lasting impact on the image of Bollywood’s leading actresses by introducing the modern look to Hindi cinema.
Image by Unknown, Express Archive
Born Zeenat Khan in 1951, her mother was of Brahmin Maharashtrian descent and father of an Afghan one. Her on-screen second name came from her father’s alias ‘Aman’ that he used as he wrote scripts for movies like Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah. Rather young when her parents divorced Aman was mostly raised by a single mother.
Zeenat Aman started her venture into show business with modelling. She modelled for various brands minor and major, a notable one being Taj Mahal Tea. Beauty pageants brought her into the limelight, a second-place position in the Femina Miss India gave her the First Princess title following which she won the Miss Asia Pacific International pageant making her the first person to secure both titles.
“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.”
Though her first few acting gigs were commercially unsuccessful it gave way to her role in Hare Rama Hare Krishna that is officially considered her debut and created ripples through the film industry. People now sat up straight and observed this bold beauty that captured the screen and hearts of moviegoers. In future films like Hera Panna and Yaadon Ki Baraat and a bunch of films she did with Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, she turned the notion of a virtuous Hindi film heroine on its head. Spritely and vivacious, he exuded an innocence that was hugely in contrast with her on-screen sex appeal.
Speaking about her personal life she says that if she could go back in time she would listen to the words of her mother and do as she says. Aman’s mother was strongly against her marriage to Mazhar Khan and was furious with her daughter for a while until Zeenat gave birth to her first son. A few months into the marriage Zeenat realized she made a huge mistake but she endured the consequences of that mistake for many years to come.
Though she enjoyed leaps and bounds of success in her professional life, her personal life was far from even being called peaceful. When asked about how she coped with her past of misfortunes that, she said “ If you are referring to a chapter in the past, it was very brief. Right now in my mind, for many years in my mind, it’s been obliterated because that’s what the human mind does. When there is something distinctly unpleasant, you just close your mind to it and pretend that it never happened and you promise yourself that it will never happen again. And that’s how you cope,”
In a career spanning decades, Zeenat Aman has acted in over 80 films and is widely recognized for her artistry and contributions to the film industry. In the year 2020, she now goes on to make her theatre debut playing Kasturba Gandhi.