By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: What with Zeenat making the news as she talks about her upcoming marriage with a person almost 30 years her junior, I thought I’d go down memory lane.
Way back in the early seventies while studying in New York State when Hindi cinema movies (as they were known then as the term Bollywood had not yet been coined) were shown only at private screenings in New York City and sometimes at Columbia University, it came to our notice that a new western-style, US-returned, actress Zeenat Aman, who had won the Miss Asia Pacific contest, was making waves on the silver screen.
She was giving traditional actresses such as Asha Parekh, Saira Banu and Mumtaz a run for their money,
Thanks to The Beatles and the Hare Krishna movement, India was a trendy topic on the US campuses in the early 70s and what with Zeenat’s movie called ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, it didn’t take much to convince Columbia University to screen the movie for us.
Imagine our thrill when we saw ‘Zeenie baby’ sporting a hippie look complete with headband and all, smoking a ‘chillum’ (we actually had to explain to our US friends what it was, complete with ‘gitak’ and ‘saafi’) and singing the immortal song ‘Dum Maro Dum” (keep on tokin’).
The movie, they say, broke all stereotypes and gained her the moniker ‘Dum maro dum Zeenie’. After that movie, the cool line we guys in the US (including many Latinos and Anglo Saxons) would mouth all the time, so to speak, was ‘I dream of Zeenie’, after the popular ‘I dream of Genie’ TV series in the US.
As everyone knows, Zeenie baby became the talk of the Indian movie scene in the 70s along with Parveen Babi, with both wearing the trendiest looks, miniskirts, hot pants, the wet look (shiny leather) and more (Ok, less!) and breaking away from the norm showing that even women, modern in their external ways, could be traditional and faithful where love and marriage was concerned.
Then came the movie ‘Yaadon ki Baarat’ which saw her singing another immortal song, ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’, which till date is a favourite at weddings in India.
With the help of a family friend Gul Anand, who was connected to the film industry and who went on to start and run the Sun video distribution company with offices in London and New York, I got the chance of meeting Zeenie baby in 1974 at the Oberoi Sheraton at Nariman Point in Mumbai.
As I shook hands with her in the lobby, I went all weak in the knees as I felt a rush going straight up my spine to my head. One of the highlights of my life! I felt the same rush again when I met her again at the 2011 IIFA awards right here in Toronto!
In the late 70s, while working in Dubai, I heard that legendary Hollywood actor Rex Harrison of ‘My Fair Lady’ fame had agreed to act in an Indian movie only if Zeenie baby was in it. Finally, the highly anticipated movie with the popular name ‘Shalimar’ hit the theatres, but it was a box-office failure despite starring daring Dharmendra as well. However, as the story goes, at the opening in the US, Zeenie got the most looks and head turning, surpassing even Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida in her oomph! Now for the 70s that was something!
And, of course, who can forget the mighty Raj Kapoor’s ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sunderam’, where Zeenie portrays a woman with a disfigured face but is beautiful on the inside and dashing Shashi Kapoor in the lead male role.
I sincerely hope that Zeenie baby finds peace and harmony with her new love.
(Mumbai-born Lachman Balani was a student at Cornell University in the US in the early 1970s. Currently, he is a financial consultant based in the Greater Toronto Area).