“I was put into sex symbol slot”
Zeenat Aman broke the typical coy image of Hindi film heroine and sported a westernized look. Known as the first sex symbol of Bollywood, her sheer screen presence used to churn money at the Box Office for her producers. The actor in conversation with our correspondent.
After staying away from films for years, you made a comeback with DUNNO Y…NA JAANE KYUN in 2010. How was the experience facing the camera again?
I had gone away for about 20 years and I came back to films when people retire. I had to get a great makeup man, a great lighting director, a great cinematographer…and had to go on a diet to look beautiful and gorgeous. (Laughs) That was tough. As of now, I have a couple of scripts and am going through them.
Tell us about your childhood days.
I am essentially a Mumbai girl…I was born at a nursing home that was stone’s throw away from the Taj Mahal Hotel. My father was a script writer from Bhopal. He wrote for films like MUGHAL-E-AZAAM and PAKEEZAH. He died when I was a child (13 years). He was very loving. He used to write beautiful letters to my mother and me. I didn’t have great proximity with him because I was away at my boarding school. But I remember him expressing a lot of affection for me.
How was your mother like?
My mother was pretty incredible. I would like to think she was one of her kind. She was very emancipated and did a lot of things ahead of her times.
You got a scholarship to go to America for higher education…
Yes. I went to Southern California where I learnt to become a hippie, so that I could participate in HARE RAMA HARE KRISHNA. (Laughs) Kidding! I was a boring student in America.
What made you participate in Miss India pageant on your return to India?
I was doing a lot of modeling and commercials, including Taj Tea ad, at that time. We were walking the ramp, when my friends said you are in the wrong part, you should be in Miss India contest. Subsequently, I joined and went to represent India in the Asia Pacific contest (in 1970).
There’s a story that the first time you entered a film studio full of grime and saw dust, you said the glam quotient is missing. True?
Absolutely. I went in and said ‘Where’s the glamour?’ And they (producer, director) said ‘Well honey, you are supposed to be it.’ (Laughs)
What made you sign HARE RAMA HARE KRISHNA when many actresses turned it down since it was a slightly negative role with the character smoking?
I knew it was a pivotal role and was happy to do it.
After HARE RAMA HARE KRISHNA, everyone referred to you as the next big thing. How did that feel?
Wonderful I guess. But honestly speaking, I have never been the person who believed in one’s own publicity-good or bad. In fact, when I started, I had no idea what stardom meant. I just wanted to do this film and leave India. But then, the film became successful and Devsaab (Anand) said ‘Don’t go. You might have a career here’. I waited and did HEERA PANNA, YAADON KI BARAAT-which was a big hit, and DHUND with Mr. BR Chopra…and so on and so forth; my films did well and one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was a big star.
Did you consciously break the rules of a Hindi film heroine?
Not at all.
You were tagged as the sex symbol of Bollywood…
Once I was put into a sex symbol slot, all filmmakers were shooting songs or offering me characters around that image. I am really sorry to say that I don’t think I really got an opportunity to completely break away from that, not even in INSAAF KA TARAZU. I never got the chance to show myself as a cerebral actress.
What do you think of today’s actresses?
We have fabulous actresses today. They are doing an amazing job. They are all gorgeous as well as talented. You know, in our films you have to be multi-faceted…you have to be able to dance, act, do stunts…and our girls are doing all of that.
Being a style icon, what’s your mantra to look gorgeous?
Be comfortable in what you wear. If you are comfortable with what you are wearing, you will always feel confident and when you are confident, you project the real person that exists within you.