Popular Bollywood actor’s advice to young people to cohabit sparks debate

Indian Bollywood actress Zeenat Aman attends red carpet during the Zee Cine Awards 2012 (Getty Images)
Indian Bollywood actress Zeenat Aman attends red carpet during the Zee Cine Awards 2012 (Getty Images)

Indian actor Zeenat Aman is facing criticism from her fellow actors after she took to social media to advocate for young couples to live together before marriage.

In a post on Instagram on 9 April, Aman wrote about why she advocates couples cohabit before getting married.

“If you’re in a relationship, I strongly recommend that you LIVE TOGETHER before getting married!” she said.

“This is the same advice I’ve always given my sons, both of whom have had, or are in, a live-in relationship. It just seems logical to me that before two people get their families and the government involved in their equation, they first put their relationship to the ultimate test”.

“It’s easy to be the best version of yourself for a few hours a day. But can you share a bathroom? Weather the storm of a bad mood? Agree on what to eat for dinner every night? Keep the fire alive in the bedroom? Work through the million tiny conflicts that inevitably arise between two people in close proximity? In short – are you actually compatible?”

She ended with a familiar Indian saying, “Log kya kahenge? (What will people say?)”

Her peers definitely had plenty to say. Fellow Bollywood actor Mumtaz, who starred with Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna in 1971, responded: “Zeenat should be careful with what she is advising. She has all of a sudden come into this huge social media popularity, and I can understand her excitement about sounding like a cool aunty. But giving advice that is counter to our moral values is not the solution to increasing your following.”

“She knew Mazhar Khan for years before marrying him. Her marriage was a living hell. She should be the last person doling out advice on relationships,” Mumtaz told Bollywood website Zoom, a statement she has since denied making.

Mumtaz told Bombay Times that she is very “upset” and the statement is “nonsense”.

“Naturally, Zeenat ji will feel bad. This is nonsense. I have never spoken like this, I want to tell Zeenatji that this is not me…Please forgive me about this”.

Mumtaz was referring to Aman’s unhappy marriage to actor Mazhar Khan, who Aman married in 1985 and stayed with till his death in 1998.

Aman has spoken publicly about her dissatisfaction with her marriage; in 1999, Aman said: “Mazhar never wanted me to grow as an individual or as an artist. He always wanted me to be with the kids and be at home”.

“During the very first year of marriage I realised I had made a huge mistake, but I decided to live by it and make it work. I tried to make it work for another 12 years. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me. There was not a single moment of happiness or joy during those 12 years,” she said on an episode of Indian talk show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal.

Indian actors Dev Anand (left) and Zeenat Aman in 1972 (Getty Images)
Indian actors Dev Anand (left) and Zeenat Aman in 1972 (Getty Images)

Veteran actor Saira Banu, who was active in the film industry around the same time as Aman and Mumtaz, said, “We are very old-fashioned people”.

Iss baat se main toh sehmat nahi ho sakti hu kabhi bhi (I could never agree with [Aman’s} statement). I would never advocate live-in relationships like that. It’s something unimaginable and unacceptable for me,” she told Indian newspaper Hindustan Times.

Aman responded: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I’ve never been one to comment on others’ personal lives or tear down my colleagues, and I’m not going to start now”.

Actor Mukesh Khanna, who became a household name in the late ‘90s for playing Indian superhero Shaktimaan, attributed Aman’s views to “western” influences and called them “unacceptable”.

“Live-in relationships are not recognised in our culture and history. It has come from western civilisation. Whatever Zeenat Aman is talking about, she has lived her life according to western civilisation,” he told Hindi language daily Dainik Jagran.

“Just imagine if a boy and a girl live with each other like husband and wife before marriage, and they do not get along well, then imagine what will happen to both of them. Those who are saying such things should think before speaking”.

Despite the naysayers, Aman’s words resonated with Bollywood actor Soni Razdan, who posted on X, reacting to the flak Aman was getting, saying: “Gosh. Can’t imagine what would happen if a couple lived together in a ‘live-in’ relationship and didn’t get along. The mind boggles”.