Category Archives: Reading the Landscape 2016

The Avant-Garde, Zeenat Aman

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The cinema of the 70s is often termed as an era that marveled the art of pop culture reorientation. A decade that immersed itself in the chaos of coming of age screenplay and ever inspired music ensemble, the flights of imagination was anything but predictable. It was during this period that Hindi cinema saw the rise of its one of the most ground-breaking actress, a gifted performer and a formidable fashion icon – Zeenat Aman. The characters that she adorned were unafraid of juxtapositions and oozed liberation that was rarely seen in the public eye. From being an adultress in Dhund (Obsession) to a cheerful prostitute in Manoranjan (Entertainment), Zeenat Aman redefined narratives of gender roles in not only Hindi cinema but also in the entire urban Indian society. A former Miss Asia Pacific (1970), she was the first South Asian woman to win this coveted title. Even though her acting skills were second to none, Zeenat Aman had sealed her name in the history of Indian cinema for her unparalleled contribution in revolutionizing the use of fashion in Hindi movies.

The looks adorned by the lady swing across the spectrum of avant-garde fashion. She had never ceased to reinvent herself and often pushed the boundaries of artistic expression by her V-neck hem slit evening gowns or her infamous Boho looks. This post is a tribute to some of the most foresighted, coming of age and classical fashion statements of the woman that charmed the 70s and cemented her position in the pop culture.

  1. The Boho Chick

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Dubbed as her first block-burster hit, Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) paved the way for Zeenat’s towering success. What began as a role received by fluke, later unraveled into a timeless performance that got her the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress, and most importantly, her perennial place in the pop culture.

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Playing the role of a girl separated from her family who subsequently slips into drug addiction, the character of Janice was unconventional for her period but beheld potential for a memorable performance. And for the visionary as she was, she delivered, and delivered with utmost excellence.

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2. The Girl with a Guitar 

When Zeenat Aman held a guitar to belt out a soothing lullaby for her lover in Yaadon Ki Baraat (The caravan of memories), she gave us a melody of a generation. The climatic progression of the music with the innocent smile decorating her face, Chura Liya Hai (Now that you’ve stolen my heart) is the musical beauty of the highest order. Apart form its melodious supremacy, it was this long white gown that etched Zeenat Aman in every man’s heart for years to come. Complementing that look with a choker necklace, she added one more feather to her overtly decorated hat of fashion laurels.

3. The Femme Fatale 

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Although, every song of Zeenat Aman has been a masterpiece in its own right, there is one song that not only concreted her as a superstar but also reflected her ideas of empowerment through sexual liberation. In Laila Main Laila (Laila, I’m Laila), a song that has been subsequently covered by a dozen singers and actresses, Zeenat Aman unleashes her femme fatale and explodes into the space where she adheres to no boundaries, rising above the artificial constructions of gender roles.

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In Aap Jaisa Koi (Someone Like You) and Don, she takes her seduction to next level and amalgamates it with her impeccable acting skills to deliver the critically acclaimed performances as a cabaret dancer and a villain respectively.

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Zeenat Aman had metamorphosed into a multi faceted performer who freed herself from the fear of being judged for her decisions. She pushed the limits of visual representation in Hindi cinema and became an icon for all the actresses that followed. Apart from her mounting commercial successes, she was critically well received for her depiction of a rape victim in Insaaf Ka Taraazu (The Scales of Justice). She was translated as a visionary, an artistic maverick, and a farsighted actress for her coming of age role of a cheerful hooker in Manoranjan (Entertainment). With more than half a ton movies on her name, Zeenat Aman was and will always be the first and the most beloved diva  of Hindi cinema.

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Reading the Landscape: 53

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As the sun finally goes down on this hideous election cycle, the Clinton signs finally begin to come out. The people who own this house, as privileged as it gets, probably wouldn’t suffer under either a Trump or a Clinton administration. But I suppose Trump’s having revealed himself as not only a racist buffoon, but a sexist buffoon, at long last crossed the line. Clinton will probably win New Jersey in the double digits. If we’re lucky, Chris Christie will end up in handcuffs.

Reading the Landscape: 52

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I won’t say “I hate to be that guy” because I love being “that guy.” Nobody who “served” in Iraq died for his (or her) country, let alone for anybody’s freedom. They died because the American ruling class wanted to destroy a large country in the Middle East (for reasons nobody’s quite entirely figured out but probably to remove it as a threat to Israel). So this memorial is basically a lie. Yet what to say to the families who have had young men in the prime of their life die for a rich man’s war? I’d have to be a sadist to say “oh well too bad you were dumb enough to believe what the President and the corporate media told you,” but I suppose that kind of sadism would also be telling them the truth.

Reading the Landscape: 51

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My bike stopping to check out some local history. Washington stopped in Rahway, New Jersey on the way to New York City (the first capital of the USA) to just before taking the oath of office to serve his first term as president. My home state of New Jersey has as much history as New England (which markets itself much better) but there’s something vaguely idolatrous about turning what was basically an Eighteenth Century B & B into a museum just because the President stopped there for a night. I doubt Washington himself would have approved. The real point of the whole area anyway is traffic. Traffic has stomped history into the ground. The Inn on the left is strikingly old, as is the adjacent cemetery. But there are genuine Eighteenth Century houses on the next block in disrepair, houses which have avoided being torn down and rebuilt as McMansions only because the property values in Rahway aren’t really that high.

Reading the Landscape: 50

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Irving Street — where Nicholoas Tesla once owned a factory —  in downtown Rahway, New Jersey has never struck me as a particularly dangerous place, but this mural reminds me of a horrible and senseless crime that happened earlier this year.

Jamal Gaines, a small business owner at 19, dead at 21.

Gaines, 21, co-owned the popular Irving Street sneaker boutique East Coast and was also partners in other tri-state stores, capitalizing on his love of being a “sneakerhead” which started when he was a teenager, said Tina Wilson, his mother.

But it was at that same shop where Gaines’ “booming” career as an entrepreneur was tragically cut short Friday when he was fatally shot.

http://www.nj.com/union/index.ssf/2016/02/rahway_store_owner_loved_family_sneakers_being_an.html

Reading the Landscape: 49

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Back in the 1950s, when planes taking off from Newark International Airport developed a bad habit of falling out of the sky onto downtown Elizabeth, NJ, there was talk of opening a new airport 20 miles west in Morris County. Environmentalists quickly mobilized, and not only blocked the project, but eventually managed to turn most of the land into the “Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,” the very first of what would be hundreds all across the United States. Did their success have something to do with the way the new airport’s flight paths would have crossed over some of the wealthiest towns in the state? Undoubtedly, but it was a victory for everybody (including broke cyclists like me) who love the the wilderness.