I'm sorry for my lack of posts - there will be excuses galore soon, but until then here is something else I wrote.
In the 1970’s, Indian cinema truly took a turn for the better. Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman, two unforgettable Bollywood actresses took to the screen and changed the way Indian women were perceived, both at home and abroad. They became the glamorous rule breakers.
Parveen was born in 1949 in Gujarat to a Gujarati – Muslim family. She was talent spotted as a student at Ahmedabad University and in 1973 she made her debut. ‘Charitra’ (1973), a story about an unmarried pregnant woman was not only a hit, but the beginning of a 13 year career with a string of blockbuster films. She was uninhibited in her acting, free spirited and bohemian. Resulting from this she was usually cast as ‘the other woman’ or bad girl.
It was not only in her acting that Parveen broke societal norms. She was not afraid to be seen drinking and smoking on camera, two activities which were considered extremely taboo, especially for women. She discussed and admitted her use of drugs and advocated free love. She certainly practiced what she preached, having affairs with many of her married cast members and co-stars, including the director Mahesh Bhatt and the legendary Amitabh Bachchan. In March 1973 she became the first Indian actress to grace the cover of Time magazine.
She was sensational, stylish and beautiful, but she wasn’t the only one. Zeenat Aman, born in 1951 in Germany, also came from an academic background. Having completed a scholarship abroad at the University of California Los Angeles, she returned to India to pursue a career in journalism. After being cajoled into taking part in beauty pageants, she won the title of Miss Asia-Pacific. Two small roles in two unsuccessful films didn’t deter her. In 1971 she starred in the box office and critically acclaimed hit, Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Breaking tradition, she played a disenchanted Westernised hippie, which later won her a Best Supporting Actress Award.
She didn’t play the morally clean woman Indian audiences expected and instead depicted complex three-dimensional women. Throughout her career she shattered boundaries, playing characters who consider abortions in order to pursue their careers, deserted their jobless lovers for millionaires, sought justice after being assaulted and fell in love with their mother’s one time lover. In ‘Don’ (1978) she was the revenge seeking action heroine, while in ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ (1977), she became the first Indian actress to kiss a leading man on the mouth.
While Zeenat wasn’t as free with her love as Parveen, she dressed in Western fashions and wore skimpy outfits at a time when women weren’t really allowed to do either. These two women changed the landscape of Indian cinema and while Zeenat still stars in both movies and theatre productions, Parveen passed away in 2005 after having retired from films and relocated to New York in 1983.
Author: Roshni Radia
Images Courtesy of Bollyood501 and Apunkachoice