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Zeenat Aman

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Dinesh Raheja

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).

Little did he know that his words would prove quaintly prophetic. The tall, occidental-looking actress went on to revolutionise 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 heroine.

Zeenat's sultry personality was refreshingly different from the marquee queens then. 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 bouffants 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).

Zeenat Aman's Landmark Films
 Year  Film  Hero
 1972  Hare Rama Hare  Krishna  Dev Anand
 1973  Dhund  Sanjay Khan
 1973  Yaadon Ki Baraat  Vijay Arora
 1974  Manoranjan  Sanjeev Kumar
 1974  Roti Kapda Aur  Makaan  Manoj Kumar
 1977  Dharam Veer  Dharmendra
 1978  Don  Amitabh Bachchan
 1978  Satyam Shivam  Sundaram  Shashi Kapoor
 1980  Qurbani  Feroz Khan, Vinod  Khanna
 1980  Insaaf Ka Tarazu  Raj Babbar

Fortunately, the difference was more than just than skin-deep. At a time when heroines swore obeisance to their husbands and lovers on screen, Zeenat dared to essay a clutch of off-kilter roles --- she was the opportunist who deserts her jobless lover for a millionaire (Roti Kapda Aur Makaan), the ambitious girl who considers aborting her baby to pursue a career (Ajnabee), the happy hooker (Manoranjan), the disenchanted hippie smoking away her life with a dum (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).

Intelligently, she balanced these roles with conventional films (Chori Mera Kaam, Chhaila Babu, Dostana, Lawaris) which ensured her stay on the distributors' radar for a good 14 years.

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). After having studied in Los Angeles, having been a Miss Asia and a successful model, Zeenat, whose father Aman had been a film writer, came to the movies with the tepid thriller Hulchul. She failed to make a splash. Hungama (1971), which was a series of gags masquerading as a film, did nothing for her either.

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, 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.

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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 Zeenat.

Her biggest catch in the 1970s, Raj Kapoor's massively publicised Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), however, didn't amount to much. 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. The subject ironically dealt with the notion of the soul being more attractive than the body, but Kapoor chose to showcase Zeenat's sex-appeal. And both Kapoor and Aman had to dodge flak from the critics.

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 badly-scripted dud.

Famous songs of Zeenat Aman
 Song  Film  Singers
 Dum maro dum  Hare Rama Hare  Krishna  Asha Bhosle
 Chura liya hai  tumne jo dil ko  Yaadon Ki Baraat  Asha Bhosle
 Panna ki tamanna  hai  Heera Panna  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
 Goya ke  chunanche   Manoranjan  Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore  Kumar, Manna Dey
 Hum dono do  premi  Ajnabee  Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore  Kumar
 Haey haey yeh  majboori  Roti Kapda Aur  Makaan  Lata Mangeshkar
 Hey agar dushman  Hum Kissise
 Kum Nahin
 Asha Bhosle, Mohammed  Rafi
 Satyam Shivam  sundaram  Satyam Shivam  Sundaram  Lata Mangeshkar
 Do labzon ki hai
 dil ki kahani
 The Great  Gambler  Asha Bhosle, Amitabh  Bachchan, Sharad Kumar
 Aap jaisa koi  Qurbani  Nazia Hassan

Westernised heroines like Parveen Babi and Tina Munim now followed in her footsteps. But Zeenat's career steamed ahead uninterrupted with hits like Dharam Veer and Don.

Unlike her breakthrough roles in the early 1970s, Zeenat was increasingly asked to just provide sex appeal in hero-oriented films in the multi-starrer era. A sterling performance as the rape victim who stakes her all for justice in B R Chopra's Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980) won notice as did her superhit songs and stunning looks in the love triangle Qurbani (1980).

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. But after their relationship disintegrated 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. She married actor Mazhar Khan and raised a family.

Today, Zeenat, a widow, lives with her two sons, makes many social appearances. She is seen on screen rarely like in Bhopal Express and the forthcoming Kaizad Gustad film Boom.

Her histrionic 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.

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