KWK S8: Zeenat, Neetu's casual banter says a lot about their sexist heroes | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Koffee With Karan Season 8: Zeenat Aman and Neetu Kapoor's casual banter says a lot about their sexist heroes

Jan 11, 2024 01:17 PM IST

Before the Koffee Gets Cold: Zeenat Aman and Neetu Kapoor may reiterate they had agency in the '70s, but they also let out hints of the sexism prevalent then.

It would have been fun to watch Neetu Kapoor and Zeenat Aman crib about their heroes from the ‘70s on Koffee with Karan Season 8. Both of them were at the peak of their careers when they quit the film industry after marriage and motherhood. It’s only when one sees their resurgence now – Neetu's after the death of her husband Rishi Kapoor in 2020 and Zeenat's after her Instagram debut – that you wonder why these ladies were not around all along. (Also Read: Koffee with Karan Season 8: Aren't we all glad to have a septuagenarian on a chat show obsessed with the youth?)

Neetu Kapoor and Zeenat Aman on Koffee with Karan Season 8
Neetu Kapoor and Zeenat Aman on Koffee with Karan Season 8

The '70s show

It was just last week when we thanked the Koffee gods for getting a septuagenarian in Sharmila Tagore to the couch. But since she came on the show with her son Saif Ali Khan, the conversation barely went beyond the Pataudi family. But with Zeenat and Neetu, both leading stars of the 1970s, the banter was like it's between contemporaries beyond their heydays. Think Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor in Season 6 or Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla in Season 4.

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Zeenat and Neetu's chat was like a time capsule of the ‘70s: There were mentions of three shifts a day, parties at Raj Kapoor’s bungalow, Rekha's warmth and affection, Hema Malini's poker-faced candour, hammy dialogues, memorable song-and-dance, working with Yash Chopra, and the Angry Young wave of Amitabh Bachchan. Their anecdotes and recollections were scented with retrospective fondness, but also leaked the rampant sexism in the decade.

Bad boys in bellbottoms

Neetu and Rishi have been insisting for years that it was her choice to quit movies after marriage and be the homemaker. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't a result of Kapoor bahus barred from working in the film industry. Like Neetu, Babita Kapoor also quit films after marrying Randhir Kapoor. But the daughters-in-law of the previous generation, Shashi Kapoor's wife Jennifer and Shammi Kapoor's wife Geeta Bali, continued to work well into their marriages.

Was Raj Kapoor then the rule-maker? As only his daughters-in-law didn't work after marriage. Neetu alluded to this on Koffee with Karan when she explained how Rishi always maintained a dignified distance from her and their kids till the final year of his life because that culture was passed down from his family. She also confessed that Rishi was a “strict boyfriend” and didn't want her to mingle with the industry folks beyond film sets.

Since Neetu started working as a child and then in her teens, one wonders whether the commitment to a possessive boyfriend and a conventional husband deprived her of a richer youth and us of the nuanced actor she's proven to be now with her latest film, Jugjugg Jeeyo (2022). No wonder Neetu confessed she had a crush on her uncle Shashi Kapoor – possibly because he's the anomaly in the Kapoor family – a well-read, well-travelled gentle man who produced women-led films like Junoon (1979), Kalyug (1981), and 36 Chowringhee Lane (1971).

Neetu and Shashi Kapoor in Deewar(Pinterest)
Neetu and Shashi Kapoor in Deewar(Pinterest)

Now that she's a dadi and the mother of a superstar, Neetu can't afford to drop truth bombs like Zeenat does on Instagram. She doesn't have the means to do it with as much grace as her contemporary does either. She has to keep adhering to her perception of the ideal bahu, wife, and mother. On the other hand, Zeenat used the Koffee couch to break out of her decades-old perception – of being the rebel, the woman ahead of the curve, and the actor willing to do it all on screen.

Zeenat may insist now that her life in the '70s was restricted to home-studio-and-back. But the floodgates that she confessed opened seldom were what defined her. When Zeenat said on the couch that she lived a full life, she really did – from an abusive relationship with a married Sanjay Khan, stuck in a tug-of-war between her two mentors Raj Kapoor and Zeenat Aman, an unhappy marriage with small-time actor Mazhar Khan, and a rape case against businessman Aman Khanna when she was a mother.

She's turned a blind eye to Sanjay Khan's assault ever since, as even a casual money-related remark on his brother and her Qurbani director and co-star Feroz Khan invited a prompt but dignified response from the son, Fardeen Khan. Zeenat may now attribute her career downfall to her role as a mother, but she's confessed in detail on Rendezvous with Simi Garewal about how her husband never let her go back to work. She may be the Gen-Z idol on Instagram that she is now, but one does feel that she's rewiring history, or at least her own story, through her sceptical yet rose-tinted glasses for a new generation to remember.

Host Karan Johar was persistent in pushing Zeenat to drop a truth bomb or two on his chat show. When he asked Neetu whether Zeenat's life was as docile as she explained it to be, she cautiously claimed ignorance. The truth is Zeenat could've very well gone the Parveen Babi way had she not held on to the perseverance she was known for. When asked which co-star propositioned her by writing to her, “Zeenie baby, the ball is in your court,” Zeenat initially refused to name him. But then she gave her candour a chance, pointed at Neetu and said, “Part of her family. That's a very big hint.”

By all estimations, she alluded to Raj Kapoor, a co-star of many films and who directed her in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). She recently revealed on Instagram that she was shocked to learn from Dev Anand's memoir that he loved her, but didn't confess so because he saw her reciprocating a drunk Raj Kapoor's romance at a party. Zeenat claimed that she considered her equation with both her mentors platonic, irrespective of their feelings and intentions. She revealed on Koffee with Karan that Raj Kapoor shot her as his ex-lover Nargis in order to convince distributors to buy Satyam Shivam Sundaram. That's such a Raj Kapoor way of announcing his love.

Raj Kapoor and Zeenat Aman on the sets of Satyam Shivam Sundaram
Raj Kapoor and Zeenat Aman on the sets of Satyam Shivam Sundaram

Even Rishi Kapoor has detailed in his 2016 memoir Khullam Khulla Raj Kapoor's affair with Nargis when he was married to his mother Krishna. In a recent interview, filmmaker Suneel Darshan recalled how Karisma Kapoor told him on the sets of Raja Hindustani that she often saw her grandfather pull women by their hair. It's in these leaks that one gets a sense of the rampant sexism that prevailed in the 1970s that possibly pushed seasoned actors and bonafide stars like Neetu and Zeenat to domestic roles. Of course, they'd look back at that with fondness because that's the only option they have.

It's unfair and unfortunate that while one lived his life Khullam Khulla, the other had to go along Khel Khel Mein. While one gave the Qurbaani, the other brandished The Sword of Tipu Sultan. It would have been liberating and poetic justice if we had Neetu and Zeenat take down the bad boys in bellbottoms just like Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor stripped Ranbir Kapoor on Season 3. And guess who stomped his feet the most in objection then? Rishi Kapoor.

Before the Koffee gets Cold' is a weekly column that goes beyond the froth to study the storm inside the Koffee cup.

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