Director’s diva, master’s muse, poet’s inspiration, Rekha has proved, time and again, how to be the true diva of Bollywood. She made news for her films, fitness choices, her performances, and even her rumoured relationships. Known for her dusky and glamorous look, terrific acting skills and outspoken personality, Rekha was one of the leading actresses of the late 70s and 80s. The actress never hesitated to take on challenging roles in her career and tasted the sweetness of success.
From the time of her teenaged Bollywood debut in Anjana Safar to Super Nani, Rekha has loomed super large in the national consciousness. In some sense, she is a worthy throwback, or an inheritor if you choose to see it that way, to the classic heroines of the yore like Madhubala and Meena Kumari. Dreadfully, with the latter, she has much in common.
Rekha was born on October 10, 1954, to Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan and Telugu actress Pushpavalli. Rekha’s father Gemini Ganesan had 4 wives but he didn’t accept Rekha’s mother lawfully. Hence, Rekha had experienced the worst childhood. Rekha’s mother was the sole breadwinner of the house, however, due to the financial crisis, Rekha had to quit school when she was in class 9 to act in films.
Rekha initially did some films in the south but when she came to Bombay to try her luck in Bollywood, she was criticised for her not so fluent Hindi language. She had to accept a lot of B-grade Hindi and Tamil film offers due to the dearth of money. But finally, in 1970, Rekha bagged her first Hindi film, Saawan Bhado directed by Mohan Sehgal opposite Navin Nischal. After the debut of Rekha, she started giving back to back hits at the box office.
Rekha, who has done a jaw-dropping 180 films and upwards, came at a time when actresses like Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh and Mumtaz were ruling the marquee. But there was something natural about the new entrant. Her performances, whether it is Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Ghar (for the record, the film is her personal favourite and she described it as her major breakthrough in “serious acting”), Umrao Jaan or Ijaazat, reflect the pain, melancholy and the lived experiences (of rejections and heartbreaks) of a troubled life.
‘Umrao Jaan’ became a landmark movie in Rekha’s career. She won the National Film Award in 1982 for the best actress category for her performance in the movie. Two popular songs from the movie – ‘In Aankhon Ki Masti’ and ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ – remain her most-talked about dance performances of all time
She is often described as an enigma. Yet, if you think about it, it’s not like she’s Greta Garbo who kept herself away from the prying press. She was accessible and yet, forever unknowable. So much of Rekha and her various affairs and eccentricities are out in the public domain yet there’s a feeling that we don’t know her enough. That explains the cinema-crazed India’s inexhaustible desire and capacity for Rekha-mongering. That also explains why in any award ceremony, if Rekha is on stage there’s a mandatory shot of a sheepish Amitabh Bachchan and vice versa.
Despite her long absences from the screen, she remains a major draw. And that’s definitely not for her so-called affair with Amitabh. She may be the perpetual Other Woman in the real-life Silsila of the Bachchan saga but as far as her Bollywood rep goes, Rekha is the First Lady.
Much like Amitabh, Rekha is the only superstar of her generation who has travelled well over the years and aged gracefully. The key difference between Rekha and her contemporaries is that while others wear their age on their sleeves, Rekha looks practically ageless. Many see her as an evergreen beauty, nonpareil and in a league of her own. Among the younger lot, she commands a ‘touch the feet’ kind of reverence.
Visual by: Abhiskar Banik
Article by Sandipan Roy, The North-Eastern Chronicle