Bollywood actress Zenenat Aman believes cinema is about storytelling, does not see a dichotomy between commercial and art films


September 10, 2017

By Geeta Goindi

Rockville, Maryland – On September 9, headlining the sixth edition of the Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) was award-winning Indian actress Zeenat Aman who reigned over commercial films of the seventies and eighties.

September 10, 2017

By Geeta Goindi

Rockville, Maryland – On September 9, headlining the sixth edition of the Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) was award-winning Indian actress Zeenat Aman who reigned over commercial films of the seventies and eighties.

Actress Zeenat Aman (second from left) is seen here at the 2017 Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) with, from left to right: emcees Rajiv Paul and Meera Narasimhan; and co-founder and co-director of the festival, Geeta Singh

She is best known for her roles in ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ (1971), ‘Yaadon Ki Baaraat’ (1973), ‘Warrant’ (1975), ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’, ‘Don’ (1978), ‘Insaaf Ka Tarazu’, ‘Qurbani’, ‘Dostana’ (1980) and ‘Lawaaris’ (1981).

“I have worked in about eighty films as a main female protagonist and in about 8-10 others where I have played important character parts”, she said, at the DCSAFF. “I’m still a working actor. I have just completed season one of a web series and we are on season two now. It doesn’t stop as long as you do what you love to do”.

The three-day festival is an eagerly-awaited, one-of-a-kind event organized by Manoj and Geeta Singh, and it attracts the best and brightest from the world of art cinema, and beyond. The 2017 edition, held September 8-10 on the Rockville campus of Montgomery College, followed a tradition of impeccably organized, informative events drawing among the most erudite attendees.

Opening night at the Theater Arts Arena saw distinguished guests on the Red Carpet: Aman who, at 66, looked beautiful and radiant in a simple, muted color Indian suit; Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett; Delegate Aruna Miller, now running for Congress from Maryland’s 6th Congressional District; gifted directors Anant Mahadevan, Vinay Pujara, Indira Somani, Azaan Khan, Mehreen Jabbar, Harjant Gill, among others. Talented local artistes Meera Narasimhan and Rajiv Paul served as the eloquent emcees.

Aman was accompanied by her son Azaan Khan, director of ‘Bankster’, an action film starring Naseeruddin Shah which was screened on opening night. She has co-produced the film with her talented son and Gautam Arya.

An epitome of grace and humility, she was elated that her home production is the opening feature film of the festival. “I think Geeta and Manoj are wonderful people and I was very happy when they invited me. I have never been here. So, it is very special”, she said.

We are at a film festival which is celebrating independent cinema from the Indian subcontinent; can you share your thoughts about art cinema and this medium of filmmaking, we asked her.

“I really think cinema is cinema”, Aman replied. “People are telling stories. It’s all about the narrative and how it unfolds on screen. And different people have different choices about what they want to see. So for me there are no lines, blurred or otherwise, between commercial or indie films or small films or different kind of films. It’s just that people want to tell stories. Story-telling has been there for thousands of years and there are different ways to tell stories”.

How significant is an event like the DCSAFF which focuses on independent films, we queried. “I think it’s wonderful”, she answered. “Every film deserves a platform. Eventually, it is up to the audience to view a film”.

About the festival, she elaborated, “For me, it is very personal because my son’s first film is showing”. The storyline of ‘Bankster’ is intriguing and high on suspense: three urban youth plan to rob a bank, with Shah playing a sinister role.

We asked Aman, What do you think of the final product? “Storytelling is quite personal”, she said. “Some people like a story and some don’t. As a mother, I’m very critical”, she said, laughing.

We persisted: What did you like about the film? “I love the fact that he (Azaan) gave his hundred percent to the film, that he did it with passion and I think that if you do things with passion, somewhere you connect”, she said.

When we pointed out that Azaan has chosen independent filmmaking as a medium of expression, she responded, “I didn’t choose commercial cinema; commercial cinema chose me”. You stayed in that medium, we pressed on. “Because it works”, she reasoned. “Actually, when the floodgates opened, everything moved so fast. There was no time to stop and think and ask, ‘Is this what I want to do’? It was just happening”, she stressed.

“Still, I did films that were different”, she said, mentioning ‘Insaaf Ka Tarazu’, ‘Bandhan Kuchchey Dhaagon Ka’ (1983) and a cameo in ‘Bhopal Express’ (1999). “These films were in the parameters of commercial cinema, yet different”, she noted. “Since I was so firmly entrenched in commercial cinema, I don’t think many people approached me to do anything different”.

When it comes to comparing her films with the current crop, she cited advances in technology. “Things are so much easier now”, she mused. “You can actually watch your performance and in the next take improve on it. Also, the paychecks are very much larger now”, she said, laughing.

Aman believes, “Films are really all about entertainment especially in today’s time. I don’t know how much they affect society”, she said. “People want to be entertained and enjoy getting away from the daily routine”.

Actress Zeenat Aman (third from left) is flanked by guests and volunteers at the sixth annual Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) held on the Rockville campus of Montgomery College. In the center is Geeta Singh, co-founder and co-director of the festival.

She extolled the diaspora here. “I’m very proud of all of you, the way you live here, the way you have contributed to society here”, she said. “May you continue to be successful in all your endeavors and keep making all of us Indians very proud”!

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