Why hello there, Instagram!” is how nonchalantly Zeenat Aman made her debut on the ‘gram, after her younger son, Zahaan, worked on his mom for seven long months, reminding her that she was after all ‘The Zeenat Aman’, with fans worldwide. Zeenat garnered an impressive number of followers within minutes of her virgin post in February this year, and today her blue tick handle boasts of approximately 2.7 lakh ardent global devotees who shower the 71-year-old, silver-haired showbiz icon with abundant love. Says an analyst, “She is not trying to sell anything, not even Zeenat Aman!” Regardless, thanks to her Insta following, Zeenie Baby is being flooded with commercial offers and editorial coups.
As a college drop-out (California), after being a school topper and head girl at a convent school in Mumbai, Zeenat went on to win the Miss Asia Pacific International title in 1970, and bagged her first major role in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna in 1971.
We met at a jewellery photo shoot around this time. I noticed Zeenat’s strong American accent. She was accompanied by her mother and was perfectly relaxed in front of the camera—statuesque at 5’9’’, curvaceous and poised, I marvelled at her supreme self-confidence. We went on to do several editorial and advertising shoots together, travelling to locations across the country, and putting in long hours posing for elaborately designed campaigns. Zeenat kept to herself and was far from chatty.
Over the years, we remained in touch, even after she had bowed out of Bollywood to marry and have children. Nearly three decades later, we found ourselves on a long flight to Melbourne. We were invited to participate in a Festival of India, organised by Teamwork. The layover in Singapore was long, and our short stay in Melbourne, a bit too brief. I was keen to attend Zeenat’s session with Sanjoy Roy, but she sweetly requested me to stay away, confessing my presence would make her self-conscious, even nervous! What? Zeenat—nervous? We met just before her session, and posed for pictures just like in the old days. She was dressed in an extravagant sea green outfit covered with intricate zardozi. Yes, she had her trademark shades on indoors, and exuded a regal allure, as she glided into the auditorium to enthusiastic applause.
Later, the same night, as our small group relaxed over wine and music, we asked the young talented musicians and singers if they knew the chords for ‘Dum Maro Dum’. Of course, they did! Once we got the track going, Zeenat sportingly swayed to the 1970s anthem that is still played at sangeets and celebrations wherever Indians reside. She laughed and told me how she accepts invitations from nostalgic desis in distant countries, who host her in style and continue to hang on to their memory of an iconic star who once ruled the roost in Bollywood. Between her and Parveen Babi, India saw a complete rejig of the traditional, stylised film heroine stereotype in gauzy/gaudy saris, bouffant hair, padded cholis and garish makeup.
“I found my inner mettle…,” she now writes, adding, “The only thing that is in my control is my attitude….” It is precisely this upfront attitude that is serving her well in her fabulous silver-grey years. Her life has been anything but a placid lake, having endured two abusive marriages and a few serious betrayals, which might have drained a lesser woman. Not our “Babushka” who stands tall in the pride month as a proud ally and icon of the LBGTQ+ community. For one of the few senior citizens who find Instagram “liberating”, it is time to say, “Why, hello there, Zeenat Aman.” In your words, your life has indeed been ‘magnificent’. May it remain that way….