Zeenat Aman, 71, popular Indian actress and former fashion model, continues to inspire people with her reflective and witty posts Image Credit: ANI

“Laughing at the places life takes me. Why hello there, Instagram.”

More than 50 years after she swayed in a daze with a pipe in hand and prayer beads hanging from her neck nudging Indian sensibilities out of their comfort zone into the hazy power of the flower generation, Zeenat Aman is back. This time though she is starring in a role she has defined herself.

Aman was already an established model when she turned a conventional industry and its even more uptight audience upside down through her portrayal of a young weed smoking girl in the cult film Hare Rama Hare Krishna.

Non-conformist though not just in roles but also in her thoughts, decades later she is bucking another trend. Zeenat Aman on Instagram is a wait that is finally over.

Reels, TikTok videos and filters, in a hyper-social media space where momentary is absolute and the apple on the tree a lesser temptation, staying alive and not staying true gets the numbers. Here you will find stars who no longer twinkle on a collision course with time, even their mirror is Photoshopped.

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An inspiration to millions 

With a silver bob flirting near her neck and dressed in outfits that shout out classy comfort, Aman’s second coming is like the Amaltas blooming in May. She evokes nostalgia, imagination and most importantly by sidestepping the gravy train, gives nuance. This when handles that can make a difference, prefer silence. Like a breath of fresh air she hammers in the obvious, that even in the social media black hole realism is not conditional. It is a choice.

When a 20-year-old, born three decades after her iconic role welcomes Aman warmly on the gram, she must be doing something right. It gives the rest of us hope, both for a social awakening and the temporal image of the online space. Impressing Gen Z that hurtles from one trend to another isn’t easy, but she seems to have succeeded in separating the woke from the chaff.

It has barely been days since her debut but already the young, women, past, present have come together effortlessly in pages from her life. She speaks of them kindly where the likes of Karan Johar and his couch thrive on negativity.

What the actor chooses to show us and how much of her she chooses to share is a nod to the privacy debate in its totality. She cuts no corners, there are no paparazzi that just happen to be at her door. This is real and it flows, her young followers have chosen well.

As have those who are older. Ageism and agency, it’s unfortunately still a women thing, fitting- in gets tight as age progresses. Hollywood diva Meryl Streep once remarked, “You have to embrace getting older.” Bollywood where male actors play boyfriends and sons to the same woman, challenges that. As the woman grows older her identity takes on other roles — no amount of trendy reels can change that- ageing is still a Bollywood hero’s prerogative.

Zeenat Aman
Image Credit: insta/thezeenataman

Feast on your life

In her latest avatar Zeenat treads where others have shrugged. Why are older women missing from public spaces she questions. “As we age, men are bequeathed gravitas but women are at best offered sympathy,” she posts one day. There is not much to fault in that reasoning even if Aman agrees hindsight is 20/20.

“We see very few older women in the public eye. It’s not something I thought about when I was young but now that I myself am silver-haired, I feel their absence.”

The journey or the destination? Not one without the other, she says owning every bit of her past and present with grace. “Appreciating my journey so far and feeling much love for the young woman I was. She is the one who has brought me to this moment.” Wrinkles are free, how we transition she tells us is another choice.

Pushing the boundaries

Zeenat Aman’s success was shadowed by controversies in her personal life but like some of her evergreen roles there is defiance, to stay out of the box. Pushing boundaries is not without pushback, imagine then the 70s. The actor rewinds into her past- a time when both the film and the fashion world were male dominated with her often being the only woman on the set — as though it’s a movie in technicolour.

There is also the female gaze she emphasises, our stare though in the last few days collided with a Bollywood on display that blurred the lines between the drama of the movies and reality away from the set. Images of over the top costumes and wealth were a gaping distance from the India that lives beyond the green curtain and watches their films.

But there is at least one exception. She loves Indie dogs, has only recently discovered the meaning of ‘thirst trap’, raises the issue of gender pay gap and when she recites Derek Walcott’s Love After Love, we don’t know if it’s the poem or her voice. All we recognise is, she is our message in a bottle, you can be as real as you choose to be, even if it is against the tide.

Conversations with Zeenat Aman are only just beginning.