Shooting Rekha: The Woman Behind the Drama

Khalid Mohamed on Rekha’s whims and fancies when it comes to getting photographed for any magazine.

5 min read
Rekha, in all her glory.

Whatever Ma’am Re wants Ma’am Re gets. If she wants to inform you that you occupy a room in her heart and mind – “dil aur zehan” she calls them – her words go, “Listen, I may not be in touch with you, I may not take your calls, but remember you’re always with me.”

Result: I felt 10 feel tall, never mind a shudder tingling up my spine. I can confirm that Rekha has a certain way, she can make any man believe he’s Einstein and Brad Pitt rolled into one package. Since then, eons have elapsed. We haven’t been in touch, but ha! Maybe I’m still in that exclusive domain. Who knows? Who cares?

True confession: I do care. Simply because Ma’am – she doesn’t like to be addressed just as Rekha, balking when the new-gen journos get familiar – is an interviewer’s fantasy come true.

Rekha, the bold girl. 
Rekha, the bold girl. 
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)
Her quotes which could have been pre-rehearsed made for cool copy. As it happened, I quizzed her and then Amitabh Bachchan, separately of course on alternate weeks for the Sunday section of The Times of India. Questions were darted at them about their liaison or the lack of it. Pronto, Shabana Azmi called to say, “Do you know Saeed Mirza said are they chatting to each via a national newspaper?” Point noted.
Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in <i>Silsila.</i>
Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in Silsila.
(Photo Courtesy: Yash Raj Films)

Versed in the art of media-control, apart from her chatfests Rekhaji is particular about the photographs which accompany her heartspeak in the media spreads. Curiously, too, Rekhaji would insist that she doesn’t subscribe to any newspaper or magazine: two copies have to be delivered to her ivory-tower bungalow facing the Bandra oceanfront.

“No man ever enters my home, the copies can be left with the security guard” she would assert. What happens when plumbers and electricians have to be called in, Ma’am? Question ignored.

If Pablo Bartholomew had shot her within her sanctum sanctorum for the in-house Taj Hotel magazine, that supposedly was a one-off thing. Come to think of it, Ma’am’s true colours come to life when she assents to a photo-session. From the lighting, props and angles to the make-up and costumes, she’s the sole authority. The photos have to be approved. Those which aren’t, are scissored or marked with violent crosses in red-felt pens.

Glamour still photographers, permitted to frame her, would be hand-picked seasonally. The late Jagdish Mali was her choice No 1 for years, then Gautam Rajadhyaksha, followed by Jayesh Seth, and once in a tinsel moon Ashok Salian. For a cover shoot of Filmfare, it was Taiyeb Badshah.

Rekha’s many <i>Filmfare</i> covers.&nbsp;
Rekha’s many Filmfare covers. 
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)
Rekha on the cover of <i>Filmfare </i>1997.
Rekha on the cover of Filmfare 1997.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

“Don’t worry,” she stated firmly. “I’ll handle everything.” Ulp, at the last hour, photos reached the office, showing her off in oriental regalia, very Thailandish but an eye-boinger. The cover looks highly camp in retrospect. My only consolation was that Dilip Kumar loved it. “Kya baat hai! Bahut hi nirali hai yeh heroine,” he had remarked with a straight face.

The mother of all photo-shoots, though, was conducted at Lake District, UK.

Breathing in the cool air on leaving the airport terminal, she sighed, “It’s so romantic. You should have brought a girlfriend along. I wish I’d brought someone special.” A minute later, the cellphone buzzed, which she answered after waiting a while, and smiled, “Speak of the devil. And it’s him.” No inquiries allowed about this mysterious ‘him’.
Rekha with the writer, Khalid Mohamed in UK’s Lake District.
Rekha with the writer, Khalid Mohamed in UK’s Lake District.
(Photo Courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

Ashok Salian chortled in the car’s front seat. Soon after landing, Lake District became Ma’am’s studio. Toffee shops, a pub, a horse stable, the grassy slopes, the hotel’s bath-tub decorated with scores of flaming candles became the photo backdrops.

A bicyclist’s helmet and scarf were borrowed for a quick click. Taken aback, the cyclist huffed, “Who’s she? Bollywood’s Elizabeth Taylor?” Unfrazzled, the photo-session continued for three days, even at the breakfast table. Quite a change, actually, from other Bollywood stars who whine, “We hate doing photos.” Well, they should take tuitions from the woman who makes love to the camera, no?

Truly, she could teach a trick or two to the poster girls of today.

Rekha, the poster girl.&nbsp;
Rekha, the poster girl. 
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

And for this b’day scroll, I’d just like to recall a clutch of quotes which are representative of ‘Rekhalogy’. Her term, not mine.

“I don’t agree with Oprah Winfrey who says if you’re not happy in a relationship, then it’s not love. It all depends how you change and utilise the pain in a relationship. The word love is used too frivolously. Pain is not necessarily bad. You can’t blank it out but you can rise from the situation. Why wallow in it like some Dead Woman Walking?”
“For years, I’ve been my best South Indian self. I sleep at 10 pm, wake up at 5 am, have three proper meals, no snacking. I don’t know what it is to be like a wife, mother, friend or lover. Yet, I do know that those who come into contact, value me. I’m not commercial. Whatever I do must soothe my soul. That’s why I don’t do ads and TV. At times, I do films just for the heck of it, for peanuts. Then Aastha becomes a success. I’m even accepted as a grandma in Krrish.”
“Once a relationship is established, it’s forever! I truly believe there’s somebody somewhere out there for me. If we meet, that’s great. If he doesn’t recognise this then too bad, it’s his loss.”
“This so-called reclusive woman who is considered a glamorous ‘Diva’, can still touch everyone’s heart. Tomorrow, I could set up a fantastic haven for troubled souls. Or as my sister says I could be the best counsellor and healer. She calls me her role model. Maybe because I’ve lived with strong, unshakeable values. That I would say is what makes ‘Rekha’ click!”

Here I am then, still feeling 10 feet tall, still lodged in that room of her dil and zehan. Or so I would like to believe, being a chump for Bollywood dialogue.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)

(This piece is from The Quint’s archives and is now being republished to mark Rekha’s birthday.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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