She was never beautiful, certainly not in the league of Madhubala or Nargis Dutt. But Rekha was perhaps, and still is, one of the most enigmatic actresses in entire Bollywood. Having acted in more than 180 films in a career spanning nearly half a century, her journey from Bhanurekha Ganesan to the Rekha we know today, is undeniably magical. Carefree, outspoken and brash—ever since she stepped into Bollywood—Rekha’s statements have always been the fodder for film buffs to stay interested in her.
Whether her decision to exchange wedding vows with a fan, or go underground after his suicide, or battle the rumoured affairs with dignified and often blunt responses, Bollywood could never tame the passion and life of this hugely successful actress. Rekha has always been much ahead of her time.
In conversation with actress Simi Garewal for the inaugural episode of chat show “It’s a Woman’s World”, Rekha was unabashedly herself. It was a time when women in India were trying to forge a balance between family and career. Traditional vestiges of the wife as the all-sacrificing (read suffering) half in a marriage were beginning to be questioned, and women were increasingly exerting their independence. Many found succour in Rekha, who often embodied the woman of substance. She was everything that every woman wanted to be—energetic, independent, and career-oriented—a woman who showed a thumbs down to societal norms.
Sometime in the early 1980s, when she was questioned about her transformation from an “ugly duckling” to one of the most desirable women in Bollywood, Rekha asked back: “Appearance? What appearance? A complete beautiful woman has beauty both ways. Inside and out.”
Forty years ago, when Rekha debuted in Bollywood with Saawan Bhadon, she was overweight and dark, and considered unattractive by the film fraternity. She was unlike what other actresses were back then—pretty—the single most important criterion for actresses to be cast in films. The daughter of Gemini Ganesan, who never acknowledged her as his child, brushed all criticisms aside to stand tall in an industry where success was the first and last word.
Rekha’s fashion and style statement has evolved over the decades. She never shies away from sporting her beliefs. Time and again, she has set yardsticks for other actresses to follow, both with her on-screen and off-screen looks. With an enviable collection of Kanjeevaram sarees, pronounced makeup, and dark colours, she can give present day actresses a run for their money. Ask for her charm, and younger actors like Akshay Kumar and Sanjay Dutt could be more forthcoming, not to mention of an angry old man.
One of the boldest actresses ever, she is still distant as much as she is reachable in the Hindi film industry.
Happy birthday, diva.