Zeenat Aman is a former model and beauty queen who redefined the image of the heroine in Hindi cinema from a demure, virginal, ideal type to a bold, unabashed sex symbol. Born in Germany, and educated at a Catholic boarding school in Panchgani — a hill resort about 170 miles from Bombay — where she excelled academically, Aman won a scholarship when she was 17 to study in Los Angeles for a year. After her return, rather than finishing her college education, Aman started modelling. She entered beauty pageants and won the Miss Asia title before she landed a bit part in the film, Hulchul (Commotion; 1971). Although her father was a screenwriter, he did not play a part in her film career as her parents divorced when she was only one and her father died when she was 12 years old. Her first major rote was in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna where she played the marijuana-smoking, commune-living, “hippie” sister of Anand, introducing the look of the Westernized, “liberated” young woman in Hindi cinema.
Aman did not shy away from capitalizing on her sex appeal or from playing unconventional and potentially unsympathetic characters — a happy-go-lucky prostitute (Manoranjan), an adulteress who is trying to get rid of her husband (Dhund), an ambitious career woman wanting an abortion (Ajnabee), an opportunistic girlfriend who abandons her unemployed boyfriend for a millionaire (Roti, Kapda aur Makaan), a karate/kung-fu practicing gangster’s moll (Don), and a courageous rape victim (Insaaf ka Tarazu). Despite roles which would have relegated her to the category of actresses playing vamps in earlier Hindi cinema, Aman became a major star and played the romantic lead opposite the top male stars of the 1970s and 1980s. Even in more typical love stories, she was able to challenge the moral codes that attempt to control female sexuality. Aman gained further notoriety with Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) where she played the role of a partially disfigured village girl who falls in love with an engineer overseeing the construction of a dam in her area. The film attracted a great deal of press attention and public controversy due to Aman’s scant clothing and kissing scenes.
By the mid-1980s her career was faltering, and Aman retired from acting by the late 1980s to focus on her family. However, Aman has re-emerged in the media spotlight since 1999 by acting in select films, hosting a show on Indian television, and making her stage debut in a Hindi play in 2002 – Tejaswini Ganti