How we are rediscovering yesteryear beauties Zeenat Aman and Rekha

Both movie stars have appeared in bit roles in the last two decades

Is it a coincidence that both Zeenat Aman and Rekha—two gorgeous movie stars of the 1970s and 1980s—find themselves on the cover of two fashion magazines within weeks of each other? It is indeed serendipitous as both actors have propelled each others’ “comeback”—on to magazine covers, if not quite into major roles as yet.

Aman, 72, who made a fabulously authentic Instagram debut in February, has suddenly been discovered by millennials and young media once again. Never mind that she trots about to multiple events in the city, like Manish Malhotra’s fashion shows, and hardly anyone notices.

Much like Rekha, 68, who barely works, but loves nothing more than dressing up in golden kanjeevarams and temple jewellery and showing up at film functions. I last met her at the Dior fashion show at Mumbai’s Gateway of India. She came wearing a dazzling sari, as always, but the foreign press went crazy seeing her in full finery. So, despite Anushka Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ananya Panday and Sonam Kapoor also attending, Rekha was made to stand on the runway until the photographers had had their fix of her.

This is hardly the first time that female veterans have graced magazine covers. American TV star Martha Stewart, 81, recently wore a swimsuit on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Last year, a gorgeously greying Jane Fonda, 84, found herself on the cover of Glamour. Dame Judi Dench was on the cover of British Vogue in 2020, when she was 85. The oldest girl to bag a magazine cover was the 106-year-old tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od for Vogue Philippines.

Don’t be fooled into toasting the magazines (Aman is dressed in Sabyasachi for Vogue India, while Rekha is channeling royalty in archival Manish Malhotra for Vogue Arabia) for celebrating ageism. We are celebrating our amnesia in rediscovering our yesteryear beauties instead.

If we were truly anti-ageist, these two women would hardly be retired or hibernating for decades. Moreover, despite their immense pulchritude and fame, both movie stars remember their stardom with a tinge of bitterness. Why? Simply because they were dissidents, they lived and dressed on their own terms, and chose not to fit into societal diktats of what good girls needed to be like.

Aman was twice married, a daughter of divorced parents, went to UCLA, famously survived domestic abuse, lived unhappily with her second husband Mazhar Khan, but stuck around as she thought it was better than another divorce. India’s first Miss Asia winner, she was preternaturally sexy. She was also the cover star for Cineblitz’s launch issue, but hated being sexualised as it superseded her acting and acting awards. On Instagram, she wrote she loved being older and grey as it freed her from the male gaze.

Ditto Rekha, who was derided for being dark and plump, but worked on herself to gain acceptance. She was rumoured to be married to Vinod Mehra, and to have had an affair with the married Amitabh Bachchan. Her only husband, Delhi businessman Mukesh Agarwal, committed suicide in less than a year of their marriage, and the press had a field day with it. Like Aman, Rekha won a couple of Filmfare awards, too, as well as a national award, but is still talked about for her personal life.

Both movie stars have appeared in bit roles in the last two decades. Neither of these sensations took up direction or production. Despite their aptitude and acumen, the opportunities were just not available to them. But maybe they are here now to remind us that women who are beautiful and badass will always matter. Let them own the room.