When searching for vintage style inspiration our first instincts might be to turn to America and Europe. But as we all know, beauty knows no boundaries. For some international inspiration and full-on Seventies glamour, India is the place to look to. Liz Kenny reports on vintage Bollywood icons.

In the late Sixties the Beatles had already set a precedent endorsing India with their musical adventures, and thanks to sitars and Ravi Shankhar the rest of the world got tuned in to India.

However, it’s the Seventies that are a real style inspiration: two unforgettable Bollywood actresses everyone should know about are Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman. The two women became synonymous with free-spirited rule breakers and their roles changed the way Indian women were perceived on the screen, both at home and abroad.

Parveen (pictured left) was born in 1949 in Gujarat and talent spotted as a student at Ahmenabad University. She was cast in the hit movie Charitraheen (1973) and went on to enjoy a string of blockbuster films. She became known for portraying bohemian, free-spirited women. Her uninhibited nature meant she was usually cast as the “bad girl” or “other woman”.

She was unafraid to be seen drinking or smoking on camera at a time when such things were considered taboo. And to top it all off, she made comments admitting to drug use and advocating free love. She certainly practiced what she preached, indulging in affairs with many of her married co-stars, including the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, with whom she made eight films. One affair even inspired a semi-autobiographical movie, Arth in 1979.

In March 1973 she became the first Indian actress to grace the cover of Time magazine. Unfortunately the good times weren’t to last. In the late Seventies she started to demonstrate signs of mental illness which would eventually take over her life. She retired from films and relocated to New York in 1983, many said to gain privacy in order to undergo psychiatric treatment, which the gossip mongers of her homeland would be sure to find out about. Her remaining years were marred by paranoid episodes which had her file lawsuits against everyone from Bill Clinton to her previous leading men, accusing them of wanting to do her harm. She passed away in 2005. It’s a shame if her latter years tarnish the memory of a beautiful and talented actress.
Zeenat Aman (pictured left) again came from an academic background, having won a scholarship to study at university in California. She returned to India to work as a journalist on ‘Femina India’ magazine and whilst there, was encouraged to take part in beauty contests. She won the titles of Miss India and Miss Asia-Pacific which led to film roles being offered her way.

Her third movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) was a box office and critical hit, winning her a best supporting actress award. This was highly unusual at the time as her character was not the squeaky clean, moral woman Indian audiences had come to expect. She went on to further push the boundaries, if not blast them into oblivion, throughout the rest of her career.

She picked roles showcasing complex three-dimensional women, who alternately considered abortions, dumped poor lovers for rich ones, sought justice after being assaulted and serenaded potential lovers by strumming them songs on the guitar. She played a revenge seeking action heroine in Don (1978) and in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1977) she became the first Indian actress to kiss a leading man on the mouth.

All this and she still won the audience over, winning another best actress award in 1980. She broke boundaries also with her personal style, unusually for Indian cinema she wasn’t an outstanding dancer, dressed in western fashions and cropped her long dark hair into a bob. Supremely at ease with her body she wasn’t afraid to wear the skimpiest of outfits which no doubt helped increase her popularity. She wasn’t quite as free with her love as Parveen, only one affair of note, and instead had two sons with her second husband and retired from the film industry.

Indian beauty is all about full on glamour and femininity. A great tip if you feel inspired to go Bollywood is to condition your hair with olive oil. It probably works best if your hair is brown or black and you wear it straight. Just a small amount should be smoothed over, left for 30 minutes, then washed out. It creates a really beautiful shine.

Slap on your kohl eyeliner and you’re ready to go!

What exotic countries or cultures are giving you vintage inspiration right now?

2 Responses

  1. ARay

    Indian beauty in a bikini ??? What about Mandakini in only a thin white saree under a waterfall ?

  2. Catherine

    ahh i love 70s Indian films! So much colour! thank you for this, i dont often get to see the actresses names let along their back stories