How Sanjay Khan Went Blank on the Assault on Zeenat Aman

Sanjay Khan’s autobiography almost blanks out on the brutal assault on Zeenat Aman.

5 min read
Sanjay Khan and Zeenat Aman in <i>Abdullah.</i>

She was keeping a cup of cappuccino, and an elderly couple, company. This was about a year ago at the BBC café in the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel in Juhu. By early evening, shaded by saucer-shaped glares, she was still recognizable. Instinctively, I waved, “Hello, how have you been?”

Dumb question. Zeenat Aman, the toofani Zeenie baby of the 1970s and the mid-‘80s Bollywood entertainers, responded with a curt, “Hello. I’m fine. Good to see you.” Evidently, she didn’t wish to gab with a journo who had interviewed her a gazillion times over during the boom-time days. Understandable. Ever since her right eye was irreparably damaged after a despicable altercation with her co-star Sanjay Khan, she has maintained a hush-profile.

The Bandra denizen emerges only when she must, and occasionally features in matronly roles in eminently forgettable B-graders. She’s been a victim of physical, emotional and verbal abuse. To this day, she hasn’t escaped from the trap of exploitative relationships.

Zeenat Aman with Sanjay Khan.&nbsp;
Zeenat Aman with Sanjay Khan. 

In Hollywood, the tabloids would have gone on a rampage, a biopic would have been fashioned, biographies would have winged off the shelves of book stores. On her part, an authorised autobiography, she has avoided like junk food, despite offers of hefty advance payments from publishers.

Unexpectedly, though, Sanjay Khan – born Shah Abbas Mehndi Ali Khan -- perpetrator of that violence in public, has lately released a hardback quite smugly titled The Best Mistakes of my Life.

Predictably, then, in the book that incident of brutal violence on the night of November 3, 1979 at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel, has been cavalierly broom swept under a thick, floral-patterned carpet,the sort you find on the hotel’s grand staircase.

Quiz around today, and those in the know hazard guesses: Khan had lost his cool (read senses) because the heroine whom he was much in love with for three years and some more had barged in at a party hosted in the hotel’s Neptune suite where he was accompanied by his wife Zarine, and the late high society diva Parmeshwar Godrej.

Still what could have made the seemingly well-mannered gentleman-actor behave barbarically? Some say the reprehensible incident was catalysed by Zeenat showing up at the soiree with her nikaahnama. They had ostensibly married on December 10, 1978 in Jaisalmer during a shooting stretch of Khan’s magnum opus Abdullah. The marriage was annulled on November 24, 1979.

Others aver that the actress had dared to bring up the issue of debts taken under her name for bankrolling the Arabian nights fantasy. Another take has it that she had fetched up to discuss a batch of extra dates required for the Abdullah shoot. These are three of the Rashomon-like versions for the unprecedented public display of violence. The survivor didn’t resort to a police complaint. On the contrary, reportedly she stated, “I love that man..I will make him a king some day”, adding, “Yes, I was married to Abbas. I believed in the sanctity of marriage. And all the time I was married to him, I served him as a dutiful wife.”

Zeenat Aman’s broken jaw was set right surgically but the eye which had stared tantalisingly at thousands of cameras was never the same again. Outcome: a prematurely aborted career, trauma and dare I use the word, heartbreak?
  • 01/03
    The report in Cine Blitz, which describes Sanjay Khan’s assault on Zeenat Aman.
    The report in <i>Cine Blitz, </i>which describes Sanjay Khan’s assault on Zeenat Aman.
  • 02/03
    The report in Cine Blitz, which describes Sanjay Khan’s assault on Zeenat Aman.
    The report in <i>Cine Blitz, </i>which describes Sanjay Khan’s assault on Zeenat Aman.
  • 03/03
    The report in Cine Blitz, which describes Sanjay Khan’s assault on Zeenat Aman.
    The report in <i>Cine Blitz, </i>which describes Sanjay Khan’s assault on Zeenat Aman.

As for the 77-year-old author of Best Mistakes… quite naturally the outburst of violence isn’t important enough to be explicated or defended, a call presumably taken before keying an autobiography into a laptop. Rather there are some foggy scenes listed from an imagined sequel to Abdullah, narrating a fanciful tale of love, treachery and reprisal involving an Aesop’s fable-like Prince and Princess.

Attempt as I did, with all my faculties to read between the lines, the scenes are a cat’s cradle of confusion. Couldn’t make head or tale of them. If the intention was to blank out the scary “It happened one night” real-life episode, then why the quarter-baked apologia? Frankly, the book’s editorial team could have just deleted the love-tossed Rajkumar-Rajkumari faux drama.

Cut back to reality. Currently, devoted to building a sprawling 1,000-acre theme park depicting the history and culture of seven cities by the banks of the Yamuna in Agra, Sanjay Khan’s grandiose project stands thwarted for the time being. Reportedly, the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation has posted a notice of Rs 608 crore for not conforming to the contractual terms for the park estimated to cost Rs 10,000 crore.

Indeed, trouble has dogged him periodically. That he emerged alive from the holocaustic fire which broke out in 1989 on the Mysore sets of his ambitious TV series The Sword of Tipu Sultan, is a miracle by itself.

Over time he has thrown in his lot with politicians, be it his valued friend Ghulam Nabi Azad and assorted heads of states here and abroad. He has articulated his regard for the Gandhi family, flashed back to Atal Bihari Vajpayee who dozed off during a meeting with him, and packs in glowing words about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Clearly, here’s a movie actor who knows how to be political correct, but to what consequence?

Of his professional peers, he lavishes praise on Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra and chum Bob Christo. And there’s an unintentionally funny bit about how once on looking at himself naked in a mirror, he saw a handsome man. Narcissism is a common factor to Bollywood stars, so let’s grant him that privilege.

Also his journey is sprinkled with anecdotes about his mega-popularity, what with 100 films being offered to him simultaneously. And what do you know? A mess-up by his secretary led to his exclusion from the Yash Chopra-helmed whodunit Ittefaq in which he was replaced by Rajesh Khanna. Oddly, there’s no braggadacio about the fact that Amitabh Bachchan during his lean days was dropped from the Rekha starrer Duniya ka Mela, and was replaced by ahem you-know-who.

Sanjay Khan with wife Zarine Khan.
Sanjay Khan with wife Zarine Khan.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Repeatedly handsome-is-as-handsome-does expresses his boundless love for his four children and wife Zarine Khan, who’ve been his life rafts. The love story which commenced on Juhu beach between Zarine nee Katrak and the upcoming star is tenderly recalled. It is stated that she was a busy model. Inexplicably, the fact that she acted in Dev Anand’s Tere Ghar ke Saamne in a supporting role, isn’t worthy of a passing reference.

Handsome Khan from a Bangalore family, elaborates upon his ardour for Bombay, of the old-time trams, the bustling Colaba Causeway and the serenity of the once-sparsely populated Juhu. Yet there’s a gaffe: Parsi Dairy which he has retained in his memory file isn’t situated at Marine Drive. He has confused it with the now-defunct Parisian Cafe. For the record, the still-existing Parsi Dairy Farm, as it is called, is situated close to a traffic junction at Dhobi Talao, Marine Lines.

Piffling quibble that. Sanjay Khan’s crucial point of omission, is in the blanking out the brutalisation of Zeenat Aman, witnessed by the hotel staff, her hairstylist Flory, and duly reported by the magazines of the time.

Now that was Sanjay Khan’s Worst Mistake of his Life. And that can never be swept under the thickest carpet.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter)

(This story is from The Quints archives and was first published on 13 November 2018. It is now being republished to mark Zeenat Aman’s birthday.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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