For Bazaar India’s 15th anniversary cover story, rising star Ananya Panday crosses paths with resurgent legend Zeenat Aman

What happens when the two get chatting about films, fashion, and more.

Harper's Bazaar India

Zeenat Aman and Ananya Panday have never met, but you wouldn’t think so witnessing the scene at a studio in the tony suburb of Bandra, Mumbai. The 25-year-old welcomes the 71-year old with a warm hug and instantly breaks ice as she chats about how Ananya’s mom, Bhavana, crossed paths with Zeenat few weeks back in Pune. “I’m seeing my favourite grandchild,” says Zeenat at one point. Ananya felt that grandma warmth in the touch of Zeenat’s hand. “Being so close to her reminded me a lot of my dadi,” says Ananya.

The scene is less a clash of generations and more a beautiful alignment of the new and the old guard. Ananya wasn’t born; in fact her father, Chunky Panday, hadn’t made his own screen debut, when Zeenat was at the peak of her stardom in the 1970s and early 80s. Ananya has seen some of those highs, that electric screen presence and inimitable poise which made Zeenat stand out in films like Don (1978) and Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) and in chartbusters, which still get people onto their feet, like ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ and ‘Laila O Laila’. Stars fade, but the resplendent return of Zeenat was one of the heart-warming stories of 2023. That Zeenat did so without a film or a web series but by acing the ’gram, a particularly potent tool for Generation Z, is all the more admirable.

Image credits: Zeenat is wearing Shirt, Raw Mango (@raw_mango); trousers, stylist's own; earrings, Moi (@moi.vibe); glasses, Prada (@prada). Ananya is wearing a top and skirt, both Rajesh Pratap Singh (@rajeshpratapsinghworks); earrings, Amrapali (@amrapalijewels); Artwork, Rita at The Piano (2020-2022), oil on canvas by Atul Dodiya from Chemould Prescott Road Collection (@chemouldprescottroad)

Ananya, like many of us, has been in awe of Zeenat’s candour, wit and grace on the platform. “She just came on social media and shut everyone up. She set the rules,” says Ananya. “She was like I will tell you everything honestly and you have to take my word for it. To do so, when everyone is so scared of judgement and opinion, is incredible.”

Zeenat, in turn, was taken in with young Ananya’s “extremely convincing” turn as the insecure Ahana Singh in Kho Gaye Hum Kahan (2023). “It was unexpected to see her bring such depth to the character, all the while retaining her easy breezy charm.” Ananya was visibly beaming at the compliment that came her way toward the end of a threehour shoot. “I thought when I’d see her today, I’d ask her questions but more than anything I felt really comfortable around her even though she is a commanding-the-room sort of person, and I was happy to bask in her energy and glory,” says Ananya. Glorious in those grey tresses, Zeenat certainly is, and, yes, a tad intimidating too.

There’s a lot for Ananya and her Gen Z peers to imbibe from the septuagenarian star but perhaps the most significant is there’s merit in being authentic. Ananya herself was able to showcase that side in her performance in Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, and it has won her both critical acclaim and public adulation. That authenticity has seen Zeenat today be sought after by brands for her ability to appeal to an audience that spans generations. It tells you to embrace that adage—it’s never too late... “The only limits are the ones you put on yourselves,” says Ananya as she cites Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan and Zeenat as women who are “rocking and killing it”. 

To be in a world where a Boomer and a Gen Z can ‘rock and kill it’ on Bazaar India’s 15th anniversary cover also
signals the leaps we have made in broadening our own perceptions and attitudes towards beauty and stardom. The past is perfect and still relevant; and the present is happy to bask in its presence and learn.

Image credits: Zeenat is wearing a cropped jacket, dress, both Gaurav Gupta (@gauravguptaofficial) and earrings, Hanut Singh (@hanut101) and glasses Giorgio Armani (@giorgioarmani). Ananya is wearing Ananya is wearing a dress, Gaurav Gupta (@gauravguptaofficial); earrings, Moi (@moi.vibe)

The rise
Last time Ananya Panday and I spoke, she was bemoaning about how despite being the owner of a sparkling new apartment she still was hanging and sleeping at her folks’ place. A month-and-a-half later, seated in her vanity van, Ananya happily mentions that she moved into her Gauri Khan-designed abode, albeit housed in the same building as her family home. It’s a fresh start for the 25-year-old actor who recently earned the best reviews of her career for her fantastic performance in Kho Gaye Hum Kahan. Playing a twenty-something who projects a manicured life on social media to seek the attention of her ex, Ananya nails the vulnerabilities and insecurities of Generation Z.  

Being a member of the wired generation, she is all too familiar with its ways and the issues they grapple with. “We are too aware,” she declares. A financially independent Gen Z-er with a mind and pad of her own, Ananya knows that awareness cannot be equated to knowing it all. Even today she doesn’t hesitate in seeking the advice of her parents. “On their own they have taken a back seat and let me make my own decisions,” she says. “I tell them what I am thinking and see how they are reacting to it and pick it up.” There’s also a therapist she turns to for counsel. “There’s nothing shameful or embarrassing [about it],” she says. “It is mental exercise. The more you speak about it, the more it can help someone who is afraid to talk about it or seek help.”

Image credits: Bomber jacket, jacket, skirt and shoes, all Louis Vuitton (@louisvuitton); Raagmala hand knotted woollen and silk rug by Tarun Tahiliani and The Gallant hand-knotted woollen and silk rug by Shantnu & Nikhil, both Obeetee (@obeetee)

With Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, Ananya, most agree, has turned a new page in her career. The industry took notice of the young woman who until few years ago was trying to find her feet as films like Pati Patni aur Woh (2019) and Liger (2022) didn’t offer much when it came to showcasing her thespian skills. When author-driven parts like Gehraiyaan (2022) and Kho Gaye Hum Kahan finally came her way, Ananya stood out. “She is ridiculously self-aware and very cognisant of what’s happening around her, and quite empathetic as well,” says Arjun Varain Singh, writer-director of Kho Gaye Hum Kahan. “We’d go through every single dialogue and talk about it and what it means. She brought her own perspective to the character.”

It’s not lost on Ananya that the best reviews have come for direct-to-streaming titles. It’s also where she will have her first central part as she features in the Amazon Prime series Call Me Bae. Yes, she has what she calls the “commercial keeda” which sees her do song-and-dance routines but she won’t let go off the opportunity to “dive into the deepest parts” even if they end up on streaming. Nothing’s too mainstream or offbeat, she lets instinct guide her. “Every film has its own audience.

It will find its right place,” she says.

Such confidence wasn’t on display if you encountered young Ananya at the Dhirubhai Ambani International School where her besties included Suhana Khan and Shanaya Kapoor. Ananya participated in dramas, but was never in the front. In The Tempest, she recalls, she had a minor part while Suhana was the lead. As a shy teenager, Ananya says she felt “scared of rejection and was insecure”. 

Ananya and her sister Rysa weren’t the “star kids” who accompanied their dad to film shoots. Ask her about the day she auditioned for Student of the Year 2, she recalls “shaking” with nerves at the Dharma office. There are a few parallels in Ananya’s journey and that of Alia Bhatt. Both very early on knew they were destined to be on the big screen. In Ananya’s case, the family felt so in the ease with which the three-year-old danced in home videos her father shot. Both got their first break with Dharma—in films incidentally named Student of the Year; and both count Karan Johar as a mentor. If Alia idolised Kareena Kapoor Khan, Ananya admires both. “I love the way they carry themselves, balance performance and commercial films and the way they are in interviews and laugh at themselves,” she says. “They have given me confidence to be myself.”  The candour reveals itself when Ananya talks of how her cinematic worldview has only broadened since the Covid-19 pandemic. “You watch movies to fill your heart out. It is ok not to like what everyone is liking,” she says. “It has to work for you.”

That attitude also seeps into her fashion. “I have learned to say no. The power to do so makes me ready to push the boundaries as far as I want to,” she says. Style stems from comfort, and not overthinking it. It’s also evolving with age as she finds herself gravitating towards the less-is-more approach with “more classical pieces and simplistic dressing”. Some of the most cherished pieces in her wardrobe are hand-me-downs—bags and shoes—from her mother. Rather than projecting an image, Ananya is malleable when it comes to her looks and appearances.

Says Ananya, “The super fun part of [my] job is to sit in the hair and make-up chair, and completely transform yourself in an hour. The challenge I pose to myself is how different I can look and make it work. Try everything on before you say no. Sometimes you never what may suit your body and look good on it.”

Ananya isn’t here to emulate someone’s trajectory, but to carve her own space in a competitive industry where her competitors happen to be dear friends. Says Ananya, “My dad always says you can’t copy someone else’s journey. Everyone’s time and opportunity and skill sets are different.” With momentum on her side, all eyes are on what Ananya does next. A project with Vikramaditya Motwane who has drawn career-best performances out of Sonakshi Sinha (Lootera), Rajkummar Rao (Trapped) and Wamiqa Gabbi (Jubilee) offers optimism. Buzz is that she will share screen space with Akshay Kumar. “I am being more patient now for something meaningful,” she says. “I saw the difference if you put your heart and soul into a project. You find something about yourself, go into depths that you didn’t know you have.” Five years into the industry, young Ananya has only started embarking on the adventure of self-discovery. The possibilities are endless.

The resurgence

Image credits: Zeenat is wearing shirt, AK-OK (; dress, Payal Khandwala (@payalkhandwala); earrings; Amrapali (@amrapalijewels); and glasses, Giorgio Armani (@giorgioarmani); Raagmala hand knotted woollen and silk rug by Tarun Tahiliani and The Gallant hand-knotted woollen and silk rug by Shantnu & Nikhil, both Obeetee (@obeetee)

Up until February 11, 2023 Zeenat Aman’s life in her own words was “a little mundane, but nice”. Surrounded by family, which includes a rescue indie dog named Lily and four cats—Theo, Oz, Benji and Zoey—and friends, the yesteryear star had relished her peaceful existence as an introvert, a homebody. Then one day, on the prodding of her son, Zahaan, a composer, and his partner, Cara, a writer and wildlife conservationist, Zeenat decided to surface on Instagram. A year later she continues to be the talk of the town, receiving an outpouring of adulation from across the world. 

This isn’t a comeback but more a renaissance. Or should we call it Aman-aissance. And it’s a rebirth that the 71-year-old has been the author of from the get go. In the age of artifice, Zeenat is making a statement with her non-conformist credentials, honesty and generosity. There’s no oversaturation of posts and stories; no paid followers (she hasn’t hit the million mark yet) and no professional manager monitoring the account. Zeenat’s authenticity is intricately packaged with introspection of self, of her work and that of the film industry, with the occasional wit thrown in. “I think for me Instagram has been more about my voice than my face or figure, which is a big departure from my youth,” says Zeenat. “The interest in desirability or people-pleasing is minimal at this point in my life. It’s easier to be authentic and reflective when your goal is not to ‘make it big’ or ‘stay relevant at any cost’.” If anything, Aman-aissance has only reaffirmed Zeenat’s belief about how “hungry the audiences are for actual connection and conversation from actors as opposed to just vanity shoots and new looks”.

Zeenat is strengthening that bond with her followers through a unique blend of posts which range from insightful nostalgia tripping and championing causes to the occasional ‘paid post’ done in trademark Zee style. Far from copy pasting captions, Zeenat’s page reads like a descriptive journal entry offering words of wisdom accumulated from decades of experience. It’s not all serious. On social media she is learning to laugh at herself (she’s a sport and loves memes), looking at the past through a contemporary lens and documenting aspects of her life that slipped as scandals and controversies took precedence. There’s a willingness to share but Zeenat’s doing it with an eloquence and poise that’s been missing on what’s now an ads-inundated platform. Yes, there’s the odd brand collaboration but there’s also Zeenat encouraging people to adopt indie strays, follow the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) account, and paying tributes to her colleagues. Says Zeenat, “I am not an activist, but I am a citizen who can recognise societal evils when they are shown to me.”

She didn’t expect there’d be so much interest in an actor who, unlike some of her peers, didn’t even do the annual present-an-award pilgrimage or feature in a noteworthy role. Old women rarely get seen in public eye or mainstream cinema, Zeenat herself observed in a post. She is cognisant of the pertinent role she plays in changingageist attitudes and defying standards of beauty. “My inbox is flooded with job and collaboration offers which goes to show that there is room for an older woman such as myself, or if there wasn’t before, it’s being made now,” says Zeenat. “It’s been very moving to receive messages from people, particularly women, across the world thanking me for breaking the mould and paving the way for bold decisions.” The bold here is the beautiful silver hair that she proudly shows off. She talks of how, inspired by her, people in some cases are “even looking forward to ageing”.

Back in action, Zeenat has noticed a discernible shift in how the industry works and how far it has come since she
dominated the landscape with labels like “glamour girl”, “bombshell”, “Miss Professional” and “diva” in the 1970s80s. For starters, she notices many more young women on set handling different jobs. “It’s a wonderful change from the days when I was the only woman on set,” she says. 

Image credits: Zeenat is wearing Shirt, Raw Mango (@raw_mango); trousers, stylist's own; earrings, Moi (@moi.vibe); glasses, Prada (@prada). Artwork, Rita at The Piano (2020-2022), oil on canvas by Atul Dodiya from Chemould Prescott Road Collection (@chemouldprescottroad), Parrot Hand Knotted Woollen and Viscose Rug By Anita Dalmia, Obeetee Carpets (@obeetee)

Zeenat’s rise came in what would later be defined as the era of the angry young man.  Amidst the backdrop of action films and multi-starrers, Zeenat became a bonafide movie star as she wore her sensuality on her sleeve and played the good-bad girl. But so far she’d been accepted predominantly for acing the modern Indian woman.

That changed in 1978 when Zeenat decided to break the glamour mould and landed at Raj Kapoor’s residence dressed in a ghagra choli and sporting a long braid to earn the lead part of a pujari’s daughter with a disfigured face in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Raj Kapoor and his wife, Krishna, were notably impressed by her efforts. India Today magazine would feature Zeenat on the cover dressed in a white sari sans blouse with the headline “Raj Kapoor’s biggest gamble”. It detailed how the film was the rare heroine-dominated vehicle to be made by a major studio. On her part, Zeenat, the actor known to speak Hindi with an accent and who made a statement with her sartorial choices and an enviable physique to boast, simply “wanted to do challenging parts with the directors of consequence at the time. I never stepped out of that mindset to see myself as an anomaly”, she says now.

By late ’80s as motherhood took precedence and the parts dried up, Zeenat happily took a backseat. “I’ve had the basic courage and confidence to never follow convention. I’ve never been part of the mainstream of hypocrisy,” she had said to India Today in 1985. It’s a statement by and large, she feels, still holds true of her today. With her “informal little band of millennials” Zeenat negotiates the entertainment industry as she slowly, and selectively, returns to work. Zeenat will make a special appearance in Manish Malhotra-produced  Bun Tikki, which also stars Shabana Azmi and Abhay Deol. “Working in it has been an exceptional experience… I do love my character Sitara Jaan,” she says.

Fame has been a familiar friend of Zeenat’s since her late teens. But at 71 as she finds it by her side again, her opinion stays unchanged. “It’s fickle,” she says. Therein lies a lesson for the younger generation of stars. As they worship the altar that is Zeenat Aman’s Instagram page liking and commenting, they can take a leaf out of her well-curated chronicling. Be real, mindful and have fun. If Aman-aissance teaches all of anything, it’s that only you who truly knows your worth. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. 


Editor: Rasna Bhasin (@rasnabhasin)
Digital Editor: Sonal Ved (@sonalved)
Interview: Suhani Singh (@suhani84)
Photographer: Avani Rai (@avani.rai)
Stylist: James Lalthanzuala (@jameslalthanzuala)
Cover Design: Mandeep Khokhar (@mandy_khokhar19)
Editorial Coordinator: Shalini Kanojia (@shalinikanojia)
Photographer Assistants: Harman Achint (@iamharmanachint), Ritika Kadam (@kadam_ritika19)
Hair for Zeenat Aman: Ankita Varkhade (@Ankita Varkhade)
Makeup for Zeenat Aman: Pratiksha Nair (@_pratikshanair_)
Production: Imran Khatri Production (@ikp.insta)

Lead image caption: Zeenat is wearing a cropped jacket, dress, both Gaurav Gupta (@gauravguptaofficial) and earrings, Hanut Singh (@hanut101) and glasses Giorgio Armani (@giorgioarmani)
Ananya is wearing a dress, Gaurav Gupta (@gauravguptaofficial); earrings, Moi (@moi.vibe)