The resurgence of vintage actresses within present day media and imagery is a testament to the fact that our perception of beauty and femininity has transformed over the years. While older women were bound by stereotypical and one-dimensional roles within the industry, often mocked for their interest in beauty beyond an age, the current state of the entertainment industry challenges these notions by casting ‘older’ heroines in larger than life roles. 90s actresses like Tabu and Kajol continue to play nuanced characters, while 49-year-old Malaika Arora Khan was also recently chosen as the face of an international beauty brand.
Gracing the cover of various magazines, brands and advertisements, Hindi movie actresses Rekha and Zeenat Aman are spearheading the renaissance of the older woman within mainstream Indian media. The effortless fashion icons of a bygone era, who were heavily scrutinised in their time, are now becoming the refreshing role models for a whole new generation. But while while welcome what seems to be a remarkably progressive shift, we do find ourselves asking why and how it's happening. Is it the dearth of any relatable icons within the younger generations of present-day stars or the timeless appeal of these women who chose to break barriers and claim a new form of womanhood that continues to inspire many more.
A Cultural Legacy
The two actresses continually projected different versions of a progressive woman on the big screen. Rekha starred in the controversial film, Kama-Sutra, which was later banned on the account of ‘obscenity’ but the character is still remembered due to Rekha's groundbreaking portrayal. She showcased the inner turmoil and divide that exists within every woman through films such as Silsila and effortlessly played the role of the famous courtesan Umrao Jaan.
Similarly Zeenat Aman who was pigeonholed by the over sexualisation of her onscreen characters and real self, in reality, showcased an unabashed embrace of one's desires and sexuality in a time where Hindi movie actresses were only viewed as next-door ingénues. While the intentions of the film are still questioned, Aman’s role of Rupa in Satyam Shivam Sundaram is remembered for a stellar performance where she played a young girl with a scar on her face, questioning the narrow beauty standards of society. Aman also played the role of a rape survivor in Insaaf Ka Tarazu, one who bravely stands up to society and claims justice on her own terms.
Undisputed Fashion Icons
The flamboyant stars are still recognised as one of the most influential fashion icons from the industry, as they adorned daring silhouettes and became trendsetters in the age of the timeless chiffon saree. While Rekha popularised the ‘Anarkali’ through her portrayal in Umrao Jaan, she also embraced 80’s power dressing like no other actress by adorning maximal prints and power-suits. The actress continues to dazzle the red carpet with her signature Banarasi sarees that also became the talk of the town during the historical Dior showcase in India.
Aman’s bohemian appeal in Hare Krishna Hare Ram spoke to the masses and many of her looks are considered to be a benchmark when styling looks from the era. She sported bikinis, co-ord sets and sequined dresses that defined the Hindi-film heroines' sensual looks for decades to come. Recognising the star's rebellious sense of style, many fashion houses are still choosing to cast Aman as the face of their brand.
A Connection With Younger Generations
With the advent of social media, the two women have been reclaimed as role models for a whole new generation of Indians. Interviews of Rekha are making rounds online, where she shares her unreserved and powerful takes on womanhood, love, and success. Her progressive views that were considered jarring at the time are now becoming the voice and a source of resonance for an entirely new generation. The magnetic appeal of Zeenat Aman is once again coming alive through her debut on Instagram, where the actress shares intimate moments from her life and also makes space for important conversations around sexuality and representation.
They showcase an unabashed sense of self that remains rare in mainstream personalities. Breaking the assumed curse of the ageing woman, they have channelled a sort of femininity that is not bound by age. Moreover, their acceptance within the media that we consume speaks to the preferences of a new Indian audience that craves authenticity as well as a genuine connection with their idols.
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