By Hindustan Times
Mumbai, May 23 -- A recent survey has rated her the sexiest Bollywood actress ever. Few will debate the verdict. The siren of the swinging '70s, Zeenat Aman oozed sex appeal, puffing on a joint to the strains of 'Dum maro dum...', rising Aphrodite-like from the ocean as Amitabh Bachchan in Pukar crooned, 'Samundar mein nahake aur bhi namkeen ho gayi ho...' or sparking off fantasies that were far from spiritual in Shashi Kapoor and every red-blooded male in the audience in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (SSS).
There is an interesting story behind the SSS poster girl. Bollywood's know-alls will tell you that Raj Kapoor had planned to make the film with Lata Mangeshkar. Her magical voice would have made it an inspired bit of casting. But RK eventually turned to Zeenat to live out his long-cherished dream on celluloid.
And as painter-photographer JP Singhal had pointed to me, back in 1999, "Raj saab focused so much on Zeenat's curves that eventually Satyam Shivam Sundaram turned out to be all body and no soul, and all that remained in the audiences' mind was the image of Zeenat Aman wearing skimpy outfits".
When real met reel
Zeenat's costumes in the film had been inspired by one of Singhal's paintings of an 'adivasi' (tribal) girl, waiting impatiently for her lover. RK had chanced upon this sensual work of art and invited Singhal to his farm in Loni for a photo-shoot with Zeenat.
This was Singhal's first brush with the movie world and he was dazzled. Not by Zeenat, one of the top stars of the time and a real stunner, but the man he had grown up idolising. "For me, Zeenat was only the medium through which I could make an impression on my idol, all that mattered to me was getting a word of praise from Raj saab," Singhal had asserted.
His photographs earned him those longed-for-compliments but he admitted that the movie itself disappointed him.
He pointed out that while his 'adivasi' girl was wearing too few clothes because she couldn't afford any more, in the case of Zeenat, the original tribal wear went through some drastic cuts for reasons that had nothing to do with money.
Dhoti becomes mini sari
The 'dhoti' became deliberately shorter and turned into the now-famous mini-sari. The 'choli' became more revealing as the neckline plunged provocatively. And with changes in intention and expression, thoughts of sensuality crept in.
The blatant display of sex appeal left the conservative Indian audiences cold. The phrase "all body and no soul" came up frequently. But I would guess that it is one of the main reasons that Zeenat has topped this poll in 2010. The lady in question is currently holidaying in the US and is only mildly excited about her latest triumph. I'm not surprised. At 58, Zeenat is miles away from the SSS sizzler.
I met her for the first time at Mumbai's Sea Rock Hotel. My editor and me were at a table overlooking the sea. And as we waited for her to arrive, we spoke about what career milestones we should cover in the course of the interview. Then Zeenat breezed in and took charge almost immediately.
A good part of the next hour was spent discussing her boys. No, not the Khans- Sanjay, Imran or even Mazhar. But her sons, Azaan and Zahaan. Zeenat had by then made the transition from matinee idol to mother and homemaker seamlessly. She enthusiastically recommended motherhood to everyone while berating the waiter for the lousy tea she had been served.
A couple of years ago, I got on the telephone. She had signed up for a reality show, Yeh Hai Jalwa, and admitted that she was a telly surfer who occasionally stopped at Star World, Zee Cafe, AXN, sometimes watched a few English movies but never her films. The conversation inevitably moved on to her sons. Azaan was studying filmmaking in London, Zahaan doing his BA. When I asked her if they watched mummy's films, she laughed, "When my mother was alive, she made them watch a few. But they prefer home videos."
Is Priyanka the new Zeenat?
She was excited about returning to the screen in a new avatar. But her Qurbani days were over, she admitted, when I spoke about Feroz Khan's plans to remake their blockbuster. "Priyanka could play my role, she did Don too," she pointed out. We then turned to books.
Dev Anand's to be precise, in which there were passages that mentioned her and their romance. Had she read it? "No," she said, suddenly evasive. "I have to run now, have to meet a friend." Before she rang off, she mentioned that she'd been in talks for her own biography for the last three years. Two more years have gone by since but I'm still waiting for it. Zeenat would always make 'namkeen' copy.