FILM glossies ran the trailers long before the final showdown. In April 1998, Cine Blitz carried "the bizarre details" of the Zeenat-Mazhar divorce, listing out the darker side of Ms Aman. A month later, Stardust carried Zeenat's version of "Mazhar's Revenge". Then, on May 8, 1998, Zeenat's Hill Road home in suburban Bandra was stormed by in-laws and her furious first-born Azaan—leaving in its devastating wake shattered panes, a battered car, smashed chairs, a bruised Zeenat, her battered friend Zaheer Aslam and her shell-shocked eight-year-old son Zahaan.
Two days later a shaken Zeenat, along with close friends actress Dimple Kapadia and script-writer Honey Irani, summoned the press. In presenting her "side of the story", the famed stoic silence of the Khan couple took a severe beating.
But then, so did Zeenat. The sex symbol of the '70s wore makeup to camouflage her swollen face. Through the warpaint, 12 years of an unhappy marriage proclaimed themselves. "Nobody remembers the 12 years of devotion and sacrifice to my children—and to Mr Mazhar Khan. His addiction to drugs, his 10-year-old film which never took off, his debts, spending sprees, cars—nobody saw that. Nobody saw that emotionally and financially I got nothing out of this relationship. Right now I want to rescue my son who's being used as a weapon against me," was Zeenat's constant refrain.
It was seconded in equally powerful tones by Dimple Kapadia. "We have a right to live the way we want to. We can't have people coming into our homes and bashing us up. After all, she has been divorced. What do they want from her? What right do they have to spoil the relationship between her and her son? That's the saddest part of all."
But the solidarity of the three women seeking common cause with women's rights stirred little sympathy with the industry. "The industry will be divided over the issue," notes Bharati Pradhan, former editor of Showtime. "They'll discuss the couple, dissect the marriage and then go back to leading their own lives."
Condemning the assault, Cine Blitz editor Rita Mehta says: "If the industry is coming together over this act of violence, it should also take up violence on screen. The issue at hand is highly convoluted. Is Mazhar to blame? Is Azaan, the child, to blame? There are too many considerations here."
Of equal significance is the fact that support came from quarters that could be sniggered at. Dimple, whose liaison with Sunny Deol had caused immense heartache to wife Pooja; Honey, who traipsed in and out of relationships, largely with younger men. In Zeenat's case: a 25-year-old called Zaheer Aslam who weaned her away from her family. Soon after the attack, producer Tajdar Amrohi, Mazhar's brother-in-law and one of the in-laws charged with assaulting Zeenat, said: "I've been unnecessarily defamed in all this. I vow on the Holy Koran I can't even remotely think of harming a woman. Zeenat seems to have gone crazy. Maybe it's that boy who stays with her. I wonder what relationship they share—is he a relative, friend...? What could be the reason for the son not wanting to stay with his mother?"
As per Zeenat's confession to a friend, "getting beaten up was becoming the story of my life". A secretive whirlwind wedding with actor-director Sanjay Khan ended in a smash-up at Mumbai's five-star lobby of the Taj. Forgotten flame Robin Kumar reportedly hit her in public while toy boy Frank Marino sped away with her money. Then, the Mazhar-Zeenat rollercoaster romance ended in disaster. "Save for Dev Anand, Zeenat has this ability to pick up the wrong guys. Mazhar was a much-married man, why did she choose him?" asks Pradhan.
Shrugging off her sex symbol status and settling down to her role of a spouse, two kids and 12 years of marriage just raced by for Zeenat, except in the last four years. She confined her public appearances in the early years of marriage to launching a phonetics album for kids and an eponymous perfume. Says Kiron Kher: "She gave up working and has been a devoted mother. She's stood by Mazhar and was with him in England during his illness. The last 2-3 years have been very hard for her. The hardest was losing her emotional anchor, her mother." Meanwhile, Mazhar's Gang was shot in spasms. Debts mounted. Then pancreatitis struck him, leading to renal failure. Followed by a marital breakdown.
ASSERTING that while Zeenat only sought separation, it was he who asked for divorce, Mazhar thunders: "I've hit people for her but never lifted a finger on her. I know there has been talk about how much money has been spent on my film and for my treatment in London. Stardust has written that she has spent Rs 70 lakh on me. If she can produce a piece of paper to show that she even spent Rs 70 on me, I'll accept she spent Rs 70-80 lakh on me. Yes, she stood by me but in the entire 14 years we were together, I never took money from her. For the last four years, my family and friends have borne the expenses for my treatment. Jackie Shroff, Nana Patekar, all my friends have rallied around me. Besides, shouldn't she have been glad I had a weakness for cars—not booze, drugs or women?"
Taking all these troubles to heart is 12-year-old Azaan who Zeenat claims is being "brainwashed" by her in-laws. But, says Mehta: "Children find it extremely difficult to understand when another man or woman is living openly in the house. They can't accept anyone else besides their mom and dad. In such a scenario, one can't be blatant about things and confuse them. One should go easy on their emotions."
Though the divorce by "mutual consent" came through in January, the couple have yet to resolve their conflicts. Uppermost among them is the custody of their children—as evident in Zeenat's March 25 police complaint which listed "abduction of son Azaan" by Mazhar and family. Well-wishers believe all is not lost. All it needs is an actor called Mazhar Khan and the superstar of such hits as Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Satyam Shivam Sundaram to get their collective wits—and act together.
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