She was the first Indian woman who was considered to be a sex-symbol owing to her bold appearances in the films that she acted in. She changed the perception of movie-goers towards women characters, who, before her arrival, were mostly cast in meek and submissive roles.
Zeenat Aman was born to a Hindu mother and a Muslim father Amanullah Khan, the scrip-writer of classic movies like 'Mughal-e-Azam' and 'Pakeezah', in 1951. Her parents separated when she was a child and later, when Zeenat was 13, her father passed away. While her mother re-married and moved to Germany, Zeenat Aman made her base in India to pursue a career, that has been exemplary for all struggling actresses.
She made her her way into the industry after winning the Miss Asia Pacific title in 1970, being the first Indian woman to do so. Her debut film was 'Hulchul', directed by O.P. Ralhan, which was failure, as was her second film, 'Hungama', also by the same director. It was her third film, 'Hare Rama Hare Krishna', which catapulted her to instant fame and stardom. Her portrayal as a the westernized and emotionally disturbed junkie 'Janice/Jasbir' won her accolades from all quarters and she took away the limelight from the leading lady Mumtaz, who was the reigning queen of the industry at that time.Zeenat went on to win the Filmfare for her role in the film and the song Dum Maaro Dum became a cult song which is considered evergreen. Quite recently, Deepika Padukone performed on the remixed version of the song but it could not shake the popularity of the original song at all. For the first time, the Indian audience had accepted a not-so-pure female character with open arms, and Bollywood opened its doors for an unconventional actress like Zeenat Aman.
'Yaadon Ki Baraat' folowed, and her hip guitar act in the song Churaa Liya was a major hit with the audiences. Zeenat constantly broke barriers in the film industry and chose roles that were different from the ones that were being churned out for 'regular' actresses of her generation.
In the span of 3 years, Aman gave herself to roles which were considered 'unconventional' before. She played the role of an opportunist who dumbs her lover for a millionaire in 'Roti Kapda Aur Makaan', an ambitious woman who contemplates abortion for the sake of her career, a carefree hooker in 'Manoranjan', a woman involved in an extra-marital affair in 'Dhund' and a girl who falls in love with her mother's one-time lover in 'Prem Shastra'. Slowly but steadily, Aman was help change the long-held notions about women, in films, who always swore obeisance to their lovers/husbands.
After acting in a number of films, Zeenat landed a role in the Raj Kapoor film 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram'. The film drew flak for showing something that was totally opposed to its theme i.e. a film about eternal beauty showcasing only Aman's sex-appeal. The film was more in news for Aman's barely there saris and her lip-lock with co-star Shashi Kapoor. No actress of her time would even think about plunging into such a daring act. But Zeenat Aman, being the trendsetter that she was, never shied away from anything and stood by her film.
Her one chance to get into Bollywood took a dip since the movie 'Shalimar' co-starring Dharmendra and international stars like Rex Harrison and Sylvia Miles crashed at the box-office owing to its pathetic script. 'Don' was the film which set Zeenat Aman's career rolling again after a few miserable movies. She showed her abilities as she matched Amitabh Bachchan's action skills in the film. Her revenge-seeking action heroine role was very much on the lines of a Bond girl and we think Miss Aman would have made a super hot Bond girl of her time.
In the midst of her glittering film career, she developed an affair with the very married Sanjay Khan on the sets of the film 'Abdullah'. Aman was reportedly so smitten by him that when she was asked to guest edit a popular magazine, she made Sanjay Khan the centre spread and their whirlwind affair resulted in a secret nikaah between them. However, they broke up after she was assaulted by Sanjay Khan and his wife Zarine Khan at a party. The physical assault left her eye permanently damaged.
She went on record, many years later, to state that her marriage to Sanjay Khan was one of the biggest mistakes of her life. She said, "I was very vulnerable at that time. A few weeks of madness, that was all it was. Getting married to a married man was never going to work. I was too young, naïve and silly to know what was right for me." She went on to marry Mazhar Khan who was talented but not very successful as an actor.
Her relationship with Khan was an explosive one with the two reportedly at loggerheads each time they met. The two got married all of a sudden which shocked everyone from the industry. Their marriage was as violent as their relationship and Aman even went public accusing her husband of physical abuse. The marriage was on the verge of a breakdown, when Mazhar was diagnosed with renal cancer. Aman then started taking care of him and had, reportedly, spent all her savings when he finally lost his battle to the disease in the year 1988.
Post her husband's death, she continued facing a lot of difficulties as she got embroiled in a bitter fight with her in-laws for the custody of her two sons, Azaan and Zahaan. Aman finally won the custody of her children and concentrated on bringing them up as well as restore her lost dignity with time.
Aman returned to the silver screen and acted in films like 'Bhopal Express' 'Boom', etc. which hardly left an impact in the minds of the audience. Today Zeenat Aman leads a quiet life and is occasionally seen at award shows and events. Most recently, Aman walked the ramp as a showstopper at the IIJW, joining the current crop of actresses and contemporary, who were also at the same platform.
As a final note, we would like to say that Zeenat Aman was one of the best and the most revolutionary things to have happened to Bollywood. She almost single-handedly changed the face of Indian cinema with her bold attitude and willingness to trod any path that challenged her creativity and the pre-conceived notions of people. Zeenat Aman has always been, and will always remain the original diva of Bollywood.