The entire nation continues to have a crush on you.
It’s such a wonderful thing to hear, thank you very much.
So many years have passed since you ruled, and yet new actresses every year continue to be compared with you.
What can I say? It just makes me feel iconic. I feel very special when I am told that these girls look up to me.
Why aren’t you seen on screen more often?
Honestly, I am not offered anything substantial. The past years of my life have been devoted to my two sons. I’ve been so immersed in the task of being a single parent that I haven’t really given anything else a serious thought. Raising my sons has been my only priority. Now that they are growing up, I am open to any appropriate roles. But nobody is knocking my door down. (laughs heartily)
From ‘Hai Hai Yeh Majboori’ to ‘Mera Gore Gaalon Ka’ to ‘Chura Liya Hai Tumne’, you continue to be associated with the most wonderful songs from the 1970sâ€¦
I was so fortunate to have those songs that are alive even today, 30 years down the road. Even today, they are being aired as remixes or whatever. I guess it was about being in the right place at the right time. When I did those songs or anything else in my career, I had no idea they would be important later. I just went by instinct.
Your colleague Shabana Azmi sang ‘Chura liya hai tumne’ recently.
(Laughs) Yes! I am aware of it. I saw Loins of Punjab Presents and found it genuinely funny. I was quite tickled by the film…and the homage.
Do you watch the new films?
I want to see Saawariya. I saw Om Shanti Om. It goes back to ‘my’ era. And I loved it! I got most of the in-house jokes. I thought it was an irreverent funny film.
Do you think we need to be more reverent about the past?
Oh nonsense! I have two of the most irreverent kids in my house. They poke fun at everything. I enjoy irreverence. One can’t take oneself seriously. Just enjoy the moment. Today, I am so happy to have the gift of life. I see so many of my colleagues in the entertainment industry not being around any longer. It’s so sad.
You’ve gone through very trying timesâ€¦.
Yes! I have gone through all of that. They have made me stronger. There’s no fixed pattern or formula to life. No one is going to guarantee only happiness. There will be downs. The trick is to ride the downs and not get carried away by the highs. Just get on with life.
Do you think stardom comes easier to today’s newcomers?
Not at all! Yes, some of them find it easier to get an entry. But everyone has to work hardâ€¦.very hard. I did. It wasn’t easy for me.
You were right at the top when you opted for marriage and motherhood. Is that what all actresses should do?
I can’t speak for other actresses. Nevertheless, yes, I desperately wanted to be a mother. I had no siblings. I was the only child. After 15 years in the movie business, I was ready to have my own family. And to have a family you need to be married.
Oh, to me marriage was imperative for motherhood. In a society, I could never impose my own morality-no matter what it may be-on my children. I think it’s very wrong to be an unwed mother. You give your child the stigma of illegitimacy.
So would you have gone without marriage if you didn’t want to be a mother?
Definitely! I got married in October and the next October I had my son with me. I’ve loved being a mom, though it hasn’t been easy for me being the nurturer and the bread provider.
What have your sons been doing with their lives?
Azaan (21) is studying filmmaking in the UK. The other, Zahaan (17), is into culinary arts. They’re young. Their priorities change constantly. Let’s see where they finally go.
Are you a friend to your sons?
I’ve told my sons, this is their home and they’re free to bring any of their friends here. I do not want them doing anything on street corners. They have their parties, dinners, gupshup at home. I am there for them, though I give them their space.
How does your average day go?
Quite simply, like a whirlwind. Among my sons, staff, plants, chores and my gym, my day just swishes by.
And a big thank you to the gym.
No. Every passing year the mirror reminds me I am getting old.
The mirror lies.
You make me feel wonderful. Have I earned such goodwill? When young people ask me if I planned my life and career, how do I tell them it just happened?
Have you forgiven the men who have been nasty to you?
(Laughs) I don’t dwell on the past. I am so full of ‘now’, so happy for the gift of each day. When I walk into the house the dogs bathe me in such a warm welcome. That’d all I need.
Don’t dodge the question, Zeenat. Have you forgiven the men who ill-treated you?
(After a silence) Yes, I have forgiven them completely. I see no point in holding grudges. I’d rather not have any negativity within me. It’s all gone, washed away. With every passing year it’s only the here and the now that seems important. As I talk to you I’m sitting in Delhi attending a friend’s wedding, and I’m very happy. My boys are with me. And I feel I’ve a lot to be thankful for.
— Subhash K Jha