People fascinated by the Bollywood film industry seem to know a lot about the personalities who define it but even the most ardent fans of one Bhanurekha Ganesan would admit that they don’t know much about the megastar that started off so small and went on to shine as brilliantly as Rekha did. Infamous for being one of the most public ‘private’ people in the industry, Rekha always kept her personal and professional lives apart, revealing only carefully selected information, no matter how explicit it may have seemed at the time. She has, over the years, given numerous interviews about the ‘man’ in her life and how she seemed to be happy as the ‘other woman’ in the life of the superstar. Yasser Usman’s Rekha: the Untold Story taps into another side of Rekha that not many know about.
In this biography the writer uses interviews of Rekha (from the 70s till now) to paint the picture of a diva who always knew how to stay in the news. How this girl from the Tamil film industry became India’s hottest star, what made her stay on top despite the emergence of young and more beautiful actresses, why was she infatuated with a certain AB … all these questions are tackled in this wonderfully compiled book which is a mixture of both facts and myths. It also gives the reader a chance to go inside the world of Rekha, the woman who couldn’t be tamed by glitz and glamour.
According to this book Rekha’s career was nothing short of filmi; her father Gemini Ganesan didn’t acknowledge her existence till very late in their careers. His absence meant she was plunged into films by mother Pushpavalli at a very young age and was pressurized to sign lots of films in order to support her family. The author mentions that due to the neglect she received from her paternal family, she managed to excel at the roles of a courtesan, the other woman and/or the victim like in Ghar, the film where she played a traumatized rape victim to perfection.
There is a lot of talk about Amitabh and Rekha as well and although the former has categorically and consistently denied the relationship, Rekha maintained that she was in love for a long time. Was her love one sided or did Amitabh Bachchan consider her more than a colleague; that’s the million-dollar question that gets answered, unanswered and then flatly denied during the course of this book. At the turn of the century, in a TV interview with Simi Garewal, Rekha denied the relationship altogether. Thus, the myth of Amitabh Bachchan hitting a man in real life, her getting banned from the hospital premises when he was under treatment during Coolie shooting and their coziness in many of the films they starred in together was nothing at all, claimed Rekha. Hard to believe, considering her life-long manager Farzana dresses up like Big B and has been Rekha’s companion for a long time.
The book continues to throw light on instances and anecdotes throughout its course; some known and some unknown. The writer claims that actor Raaj Kumar told Nairobi-return director Kuljeet Pal that since he is from Africa, he likes black girls (like Rekha); Navin Nischol called her a namoona and kaali kalooti ahead of their first film while Shashi Kapoor was shocked to see the ‘dark, plump and gauche actress’ at one of her premieres. Rekha didn’t stop despite being criticized and after getting transformed, was linked to the top heroes of the day and was even dubbed a “man eater” and “nymphomaniac” by the press.
On one hand you get to know about her best work in Khoobsurat, Umrao Jan, Ijazat to name a few while on the other hand, you get to know about her downfall in the 90s. The book however misses few interesting facts such as Rekha stepping in for the departed Smita Patel and dubbing for her in Waaris; her films in the late 70s were worth mentioning however they are written about as if they weren’t important. On the whole, it’s a good peep hole into the life and times of one of the most versatile actresses of our times and while the book tries to decode Rekha the actress, it gives us an insight into Rekha the person.
7 Things You Didn’t Know About Rekha
It began with a Kiss: Rekha claimed to have been tricked into a kiss with fellow actor Biswajeet in the 60s; the kiss was covered by Asian edition of Life magazine
Rekha in Love: She was a different person when in love; first with Vinod Mehra and later with Kiran Kumar. Rekha was impossible to handle when she was in a relationship
Mrs. Mukesh Agarwal: Rekha was married once to a businessman Mukesh Agarwal who committed suicide a few months after their marriage
Rekha and Jaya: Before she became Mrs. Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri and Rekha were friends and Rekha called her Didi bhai
Photographic memory: Rekha is said to have dubbed for her films without the script in front of her since she had a photographic memory
The Makeover: Rekha was way ahead of her times as she started doing yoga in the 70s, became a vegetarian and hired Meena Kumari’s makeup man to transform her from an ugly duckling to a diva
Rekha the Sufi: Pakistani Sufi singer Abida Parveen is said to have asked for Rekha in the audience when she performed at a friend’s place in India; Abida Parveen said Rekha was the only one who understood and appreciated her music.