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You Can’t Get Really Close To A Man Without Making Love: Rekha

The life and loves of Rekha have been a source of eternal fascination for Bollywood buffs.

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Entertainment
7 min read
Rekha’s exuberance and boldness is unparalleled in Bollywood. (Photo: Jayesh Seth)

The just released Rekha: An Untold Story by Yasser Usman is not only a tribute to one of the greatest actresses of Bollywood, but Rekha, the much maligned and misunderstood woman. The author delves into the life of the actress who, even after profound body-shaming and exploitation, was exuberant, bold and sexually frank to a degree unimaginable in Bollywood even today, but who turned into a “mysterious” recluse post 1990. Here are selected excerpts from the book:

It all started when she was born in 1954. Bhanurekha was the “illegitimate” and unacknowledged daughter of the polygamous Tamil film star Gemini Ganesan. She was unrelentingly teased in school as a “lotta”, Tamil for bastard. Such cruelty was to be her fate for years to come.  
Yasser Usman, Author, Rekha: An Untold Story
Perhaps the most egregious example of the harassment – assault, really – that Rekha had to endure took place on a film set when she was fourteen. At a shoot for Anjana Safar, later renamed Do Shikari, producer Kuljeet Pal, director Raja Nawathe and lead actor Biswajeet conspired to force Rekha into a kissing scene...The director didn’t call “cut” for five long minutes. Rekha couldn’t protest for fear of the consequences...
Her 33-inch waist was a source of mirth and much commented on, as was the colour of her skin.... When Navin Nischol found out that Rekha had been signed as his co-star for Sawan Bhadon, he complained to the producer: “From where did you pick out this namoona [character]? Itni kaali-kalooti [So dark and ugly]!”
Rekha’s sexual openness, too, was revolutionary, even by modern standards, and won her yet more ire. It is impossible to imagine a young starlet today saying some of the things Rekha said four decades ago: “You can’t come close, really close, to a man without making love”, “It is sheer fluke that I have never got pregnant so far” and “Premarital sex is very natural. And all those prudes who say that a single woman should have sex only on her suhaag raat are talking bull”!
But perhaps the most devastating blow, the proverbial last straw, was the reaction to the suicide, in 1990, of Mukesh Agarwal, Rekha’s estranged husband of a few months who had been clinically depressed for years. In spite of Rekha having worked in Bollywood for two decades by that time, Shashi Kapoor was the only industry insider who condoled with her. The rest were either coldly silent or nastily and baselessly blamed Rekha for the suicide. 

(Source: Hindustan Times)

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 10 October 2015, to mark Rekha’s birth anniversary. Here are some reflections on the life and loves of Rekha, in her words, as told to Khalid Mohamed in interviews over the years.)

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This is my story, the story of a woman who is considered to be a closed book although every page of that book is open for everyone to read. Stories abound about me – that I believe in rebirth, that I believe that I was a princess in my last birth. I do not deny or confirm these stories. I don’t ask for scrutiny.

Foremost, I am a woman, an actor next. I could have been a little puppy – who knows? I’m blessed that I have received so much adulation, unconditional respect, so many prayers. I couldn’t have asked for more.

I do not live in fantasies. I have never believed that a maharaja would whisk me away in slow motion. Friendship, apnapan and trust are the most valuable gifts any partner could give me on a long-term basis.  

For me, no day is different from the other. Every day is an extension of my growth.

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Why This Obsession With Myself ?

Rekha with Amitabh Bachchan in the movie <i>Silsila </i>(Photo: Yashrajfilms.com)
Rekha with Amitabh Bachchan in the movie Silsila (Photo: Yashrajfilms.com)

Why this obsession with I, me, myself ? Tell me, why not? I’ve always been that way, it has worked for me. It all starts off narcissistically naturally.

I don’t care if it’s said, ‘she’s on some sort of trip, she’s obscure, vague, not normal... she wants to be different’. I am not so different. People don’t want me to be common or normal though. They have put me on a high pedestal or they think I am an alien.

After going through so much in life, I still trust people. About my marriage (to the late Rakesh Agarwal), people only know what is published. One goes through a private hell every day. One just chooses not to announce the gory details. Today, it’s all about give and take, take and give... ‘what’s-in-it-for-me?’ ...networking. Throats can be cut, backs can be stabbed. Mostly, we create our own hells. There was a point when I was really in hell, in a cesspool, a dark pit. Or so it seemed at that time.  
Rekha, Actor

That is not to be associated with any one personality or the person the media and therefore, the public, have in mind.

On the contrary, Mr Bachchan has been one of the best things to have happened in my life. The best teacher, the best guru. I’ve chosen to learn as much from his off-camera as from his on-camera demeanours. Yet there’s no stopping the tongue wagging.

Once, I was going to a function straight from a film shooting for which I had to wear sindoor. Immediately, there were conjectures. Not that they mattered. Sindoor looks good on me. Why shouldn’t I wear it?

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I don’t agree with Oprah Winfrey who has said 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 instead of wallowing in it like some Dead Woman Walking.

I’ve never been vindictive, petty-minded, bitter or selfish. I’ve been a cool and calm soul and yet intense. Even as a kid, I’d look out of the window at the sea for hours. I was quite an obedient child. If there were negative vibes from other kids, I’d give them chocolates and ask, “Now can I be your friend?” There’s never been a minute to sulk. If I’m ill, I celebrate – make the best of that time at home instead of going into depression.
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‘I Was Never Materialistic’

“I was never materialistic, I’ve never cared for diamonds and fancy cars,” says Rekha.&nbsp;(Photo: Jayesh Sheth)
“I was never materialistic, I’ve never cared for diamonds and fancy cars,” says Rekha. (Photo: Jayesh Sheth)

When and if I do find an ideal man, I will celebrate the event with champagne in Paris, though I’ve never touched a drop of it ever. Or I’ll watch a sunset while riding a camel in Rajasthan. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.

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I was never materialistic, I’ve never cared for diamonds and fancy cars. If I pamper myself, think of my ideal man, it is simply in the hope that he should understand me by reading between the lines of my silences. At the end of the day, it’s between the man and me – name, social status, caste and creed no bar. Once a relationship is established, it’s forever! I still 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!

I know so many who have achieved a lot. Take my bai, she had eight kids before she was 30. She’s expected to be different by her family – stronger – the same way my life and experiences have taught me to be different. I do not invite people into my house. By hook or by crook, those who must, should find their way in. In fact, my privacy’s worked better than any screenplay. Anything connected with my work, the producers meet me in my office, no one comes into my house except family.

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My bedroom is a reflection of me: Basic, simple, real, extremely comforting, warm and aesthetically attractive. It just has a bed. I am a big girl, quite tall, and I need a big bed, somewhere between king and queen-sized. That said, of course the best bed that I have slept in is my mamma’s godi (lap).  

I got my complexion, jawline and instinct for yoga from my mum (Pushpavalli). I adored my father but there was a distance which could never be covered. My father (Gemini Ganesan) wrote poetry fluidly, he was a man of literature. As an actor, he was a heart-throb for decades.

‘I Would Never Adopt a Child’

Rekha with Khalid Mohamed at Lake District, UK, where they had gone for a photo-shoot. (Photo: Khalid Mohamed)
Rekha with Khalid Mohamed at Lake District, UK, where they had gone for a photo-shoot. (Photo: Khalid Mohamed)

The twinkle in my eyes, the baby-like texture of my skin, beauty spots and fondness for dance I got from mum. My height, 5’7”, from my grandma. 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. This is the era of tucks and nips – not my route. I don’t believe in short-cuts.

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I would never adopt a child because it is the hardest job ever. I know what it is to be deprived of a father’s love. I would want a child to have both parents. That’s why I’ve never thought of adoption… or of having a child out of wedlock.  

Whatever I do in the future must soothe my soul. That’s why I don’t do ads and TV.

Paradoxically, 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.’ My sister says I could be the best counsellor and healer.

I live on dosas, idlis with ghee and karapuddi. In my non-veggie days, I adored Hyderabad ka halim and sea food which I still binge on once or twice a year. And anything that’s dark like chocolates. I can eat five Tirupati laddoos at one go, Italian pasta – everything Italian actually, except guys. My kink is that my guy has to be 100 percent Hindustani with a great way of speaking Hindustani. I’m quite the street food type – paani puri, dahi sev puri, missal paav, mmm.  

There are words which I depend on: Om, Infinity, Trust, Loyalty, Subtlety, Mystery, Music, Dance, Ma, Miracle, Us, Solitude, Grace, and any word in Bengali, French and Telugu.

These words are my story.

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

(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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