Time and tide wait for no one but Rekha, she seems to have defied time. From the time of her teenaged Bollywood debut in Sawan Bhadon to Super Nani, Rekha has loomed super large in the national consciousness. We wish the ageless glamour queen many happy returns of the day on her 64th birthday.
The Undefined Struggle
Rekha’s come a long way from starting off as the self-professed ‘ugly duckling’ to being one of the most enchanting and charming women in the movie industry. She’s worked in more than 180 films and is perhaps the only Indian actress to have balanced her career between ups and downs.
Rekha was the top owed leading lady in the late ’70s and almost all through the ’80s. If she epitomized the other woman in films like Silsila and Ghar, she was also the classic wife in films like Do Anjaane and Ijaazat. She played saucy as well as conventional characters with equal felicity.
Even in the late ’90s, a well over 40 Rekha redefined the norms. Yes, she did get a bit lenient with films like Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, Madame X but then such marvellous aura can be a bit exhilarating too. Despite her long absences from the screen (she’s appeared in only two to three films in the last five years), she remains a major draw.
The Hit Films She Gave
Having signed many films and delivered a few hits too, Rekha was certainly making news at that time. Let’s have a sneak peek of her films:
Sawan Bhadon (1970)
Reportedly, a too-voluptuous Bhanurekha had no takers in Hindi cinema and was chased by B-grade film offers before a gutsy Mohan Sehgal signed her for Sawan Bhadon. Two-and-a-half hours of potboiler fun with a loud-mouth, plus-size village belle named Chanda, laid the base for what would be one of the most prolific careers in film history.
Do Anjaane (1976)
In Do Anjaane, Rekha emerged in a new, sleeker avatar and it was also the first time she was paired with Amitabh Bachchan and this was one of the few occasions where she was more than just a glamorous heroine. Rekha played a determined actress and Amitabh’s alienated wife.
Rekha had established herself as a glam queen and a half decent actress. What next?
A makeover and step into the area of serious actors. So Rekha stripped herself of her multi-million dollar image, donned a homely housewife avatar and played a rape victim. Rekha’s performance was all about being stoic and poignant. And to this date songs like Tere bina and Aapki aankhon mein haunt our memories. Pun inadvertent, she became the Amitabh Bachchan of actresses. LOL!
Her acting prowess proved to the world, Rekha found a presence in the de-glam but the much-appreciated world of Gulzar and Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. And one of her most memorable performances came in Khubsoorat. Her character though childish had quite a lot of moralistic teaching to do in the film. Rekha also decided to sing Qaida Qaida in the film. All that effort paid off as Rekha won her first Filmfare award for Best Actress.
Flowing silk saris, cascading tresses and eyes full of love, passion and sorrow, that sums up Rekha’s character from Silsila in its physical form, but there was so much more. The film featured Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha in a love triangle that mirrored their rumoured real-life. What added value to Rekha’s performance was that she held her own against big names like Amitabh, Jaya and Shashi Kapoor and also maintained a level of glamour. The female fans were duplicating her high fashion while the critics couldn’t stop singing accolades. It was a triumph situation for Rekha.
Umrao Jaan (1981)
Well more than anything else, Umrao Jaan and Rekha gave the movie world, in Aankhon Ki Masti Mein. It was a mujra sequence that would be remembered for years to come. But it wasn’t just the music and poetry that made the film memorable. Like many people now believe, Rekha was born to play Umrao Jaan. Her despondent conduct matched with her misty eyes bewitched everyone between Kashmir and Kanyakumari.
Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996)
Deepa Sahi might have played Maya Memsaab but that wasn’t a patch on Rekha’s Maya from Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi. Yes, both had their erotic highs on screen but to see a bare Rekha, even if it were through the murky shower glass, was a steaming hot proposition not many could handle. But despite all the controversies and mêlée Rekha did manage to leave an impact. Her role of a criminal mastermind (reminiscent of Madame X) and a passionate lover got her a Filmfare Best Actor in a Negative Role Award too.
Rekha’s life and times have always been tentative. Always under the public eye for suspected off-screen romances and a muddled personal life, Rekha did well never to allow any of it to affect the actor within. So over a period of four decades, Rekha’s reinvented and persevered to carve out career balance brilliance. And as an added bonus, the gods have made sure age has no effect on the lovely diva.
At 64, Rekha is finally disciplined. She has turned into the ‘Bharat ki nari.’ It is to Rekha’s credit that even though she carried the ‘wounds’ in her heart, as her Umrao Jaan director Muzaffar Ali put it; she isn’t a ‘broken person in the end.’