The Rekha Mystiqueby Khalid Mohamed April 8 2022, 3:24 pm Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 35 secs
Khalid Mohamed escorts us back to an up-close-and-personal interview with the eternally enigmatic Rekha
Anytime is Rekha time. Characteristically, she has kept a lower-than-low profile during the last two pandemic years. The only time she was seen in public was at the premiere of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi. The news that she could be doing a mammoth project with Bhansali, co-starring Madhuri Dixit has gone off the radar. The names conjectured next were of Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Rao Hydari, and it was also claimed, Priyanka Chopra.
Plus it was reported that Rekha was no longer in the opus Heeramandi located in the pre-independence era in the famed red-light neighbourhood of Lahore.
Rekha, now at 67, would surely have been a casting coup, since she abruptly dropped out midstream, after mutual consent of Abhishek Kapoor’ Fitoor, to be replaced by Tabu. The last film she was seen in briefly was R. Balki’s Shamitabh (2015) and a guest appearance in the Dharmendra-produced Jat Yamla Pagla Deewana: Phir Se (2018).
Whatever Rekha wants Rekha gets, has been her stubborn credo in life, obviously. Meanwhile, her peers in showbiz claim that she’s working on an autobiography, painting canvases and let’s say, just being.
Intriguing, she is, having beavered away at the image of an enigma around her. And that has kept the Bollywood trackers, keeping a vigilant eye on when she will throw the dice on the showbiz roulette, if at all. Unpredictable she is, and she’s probably aware that’s what keeps Rekhalogy (her coinage) going.
For today, I transcribe a quintessential interview conducted in 1994. Believe me, till I knew her well into the new millennium, she hadn’t changed a whit at all. That aforecited calendar year, too, was when she had been playing hide-‘n’-seek with her acting vocation. So during the q and a, as was often mandatory, conducted with her in her first-floor office, Seabird Apartments, facing the Bandra ocean-front, I had to ask:
Are you on a boom or bust?
Bust? What do you mean? That’s a new term to me.
I mean is your career booming or is it finished?
Over the years, I’ve constantly heard this..that Rekha is finished, that Rekha is lost in oblivion. From Baseraa, Umrao Jaan, Silsila to Khoon Bhari Maang and Phool Bane Angaray, there was a gap of at least two to three years between each one of them. Every time, I had a new release, it was said, “Oh Rekha is making a comeback.” Every time I’ve spoken, it has been said, “Oh, Rekha is breaking her silence.” I’d like to ask, “What silence?” I have never been silent, Because my silence can speak volumes. If one would only have the sensitivity and intelligence to hear the sound of my silence.
If the general public is wondering where Rekha is today, as far as I’m concerned, I was there even before the beginning. I know I’ve often deprived my fans of my presence. I owe them much more. Still, I think they trust me, by now they’re used to my time-table, to the gap between my new releases. For them, I can never go away. In fact, the gaps have helped me to be around to this day. The vacant days have also helped me to recoup and learn.
Could you elaborate?
Some people arrive late, some people learn late. In my case, I arrived early and learnt, much more than I ever thought I could, swiftly. I continue to utilise what I learnt when I was 14. I’ve learnt from the experiences of my family - my uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters.
Actually, I’m in a Catch-22 situation. I feel like I am 14 but I know I will never be 14 again. And I accept this. I’m blooming or booming if you’d like to call it that instead. Like Joan Collins was once dismissed as a poor man’s Elizabeth Taylor. Yet Joan Collins stuck on, did exactly what she wanted to and became a legend in her own right.
Do you see yourself as a legend?
No! God forbid. I see a legend as someone from the past. Believe me, among actors, the only living legend has been Dilip Kumar.
What about Amitabh Bachchan?
Why? Why not?
Because Mr Bachchan is still a baby. Let me ask you, does my opinion on this really matter? All that matters to me is that only Dilip Kumar deserved the honour of a living legend.
Don’t you miss working with Amitabh Bachchan?
Tantara..tan. There we go again.
But the entire nation has been curious to know why you’ve never teamed up again after Silsila?
Some things you have to leave to nature.
It’s on record. A dialogue in Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom even referred to the Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha link-up.
I know. So did a dialogue in Woh Saat Din. It was a commercial line at that point of time. We were a saleable couple like Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla were after Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Such references bring a smile on the audience’s faces.
Aren’t such references confirmations of rumours?
They’re confirmations only for yellow journalists. Such references have been used to only enhance certain scenes in certain films. In Ghar, Vinod (Mehra) suggested that we should see a Sophia Loren film, and then we contemplate to see an Amitabh Bachchan film. That’s because Sophia Loren and Mr Bachchan were very popular at the time.
In a remake of Muqaddar ka Sikandar, what would be the ideal cast today?
The cast to me is pretty obvious. A remake would have to be with the best we have today. Mr Bachchan’s role could be played by Shah Rukh Khan, Vinod Khanna’s by Aamir Khan, or if his dates weren’t possible and the stress was on physicality, by Salman Khan.
Paresh Rawal would be perfect for Amjad Khan’s role. Kajol could be me and the Raakhee role could perhaps be done by Manisha Koirala. And the best director for the remake would be Rajkumar Santoshi. Sounds like a good idea, someone should go ahead and launch the remake.
Tell me, where do you see yourself today?
I’ve analysed myself, I’ve gone deep into myself. I’ve never once manoeuvred my career or life. I’ve never had a secretary who would pick and choose the producers for me. I’ve never hired a PRO to promote me. I’ve never even replied to a fan letter.
Yes, but gratifyingly the fans have been loyal. The grandkids of those who used to write to me, send me letters now.
Once you said that the sex-workers of Bombay’s Falkland Road were such devoted fans of yours that they even tried to look and dress like you.
What! Are you implying I was there? A group of women from Falkland Road came to visit me on the sets one day, they were wearing burqas since they didn’t want to attract attention. They were so taken up by me, they told me that they imitated my eye make-up, wore my kind of clothes, and sang and danced the way I did. They even showed me photographs to prove what they were saying. Now, they’re probably singing Dhak Dhak or Mast Mast.
Are they imitating one particular actress now?
Not one. They’re trying to be a bit like all of them, like Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, Juhi Chawla and Raveena Tandon. At one time, they’d go in for a distinct look popularised by one actress. And it happened to be Rekha. So you had the Silsila dupatta, parandis, ear-rings and pyaaz-colour saris. Now all sorts of stuff can be seen in the market. Instead of Mickey Mouse shaped diyas and kandeels, you have Diwali decorations shaped like Spider-Man and dinosaurs. The bazaars look more like Halloween than Diwali.
How do you look back on the days when you were reigning as No.1?
Years ago, I had said, “Thanks for calling me No.1 And I don’t mind having ten number ones around me.” I stand by that statement to this day. I’ve never believed in words like “superstar”. I believe in stars who are hardworking, lovable and charismatic.
But both Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan have been superstars.
That’s what people say. Rajesh Khanna was a good actor. And Mr Bachchan has been an institution in every aspect of acting - in dubbing, technique, punctuality and rapport. So what else is new? Why am I going on like this? The entire world knows about his qualities.
Would you have preferred the role opposite him instead of being paired with Rajesh Khanna in Namak Haraam?
Namak Haraam is a blank to me today. Let’s see, Simi Garewal did the role opposite him, didn’t she? I remember one scene, after Rajesh Khanna dies in the film. I was supposed to cry and I kept crying and crying even after that shot was okayed. And there was a scene for which Hrishida asked me to do a take-off on Mumtaz. Eeee, I was really bad. I was just floating through my role, I was just a kid then.
You used to imitate Mumtaz’s dance movements quite often. Was this deliberate?
Every actress used to imitate her dances, at the instruction of the dance masters. Such dances used to sell. It’s like two to three shops in the same market can sell apples and the people buy them, that’s all. Personally, I don’t think such ingredients should be repeated. That’s why I take care not to repeat the same colour combinations in my outfits. I believe several actresses ask to see the continuity photo-albums of my films to pick up tips from my costumes.
You mean today’s heroines imitate you?
Whether they like to admit or not, there’s a little bit of me, a spark of me in all of today’s heroines. Perhaps they don’t realise this. Look back at the heroines of the past and you’ll see that Nargis, Madhubala and Geeta Bali set standards in acting, which are followed right to date. Every human being is influenced by images - so if you’re caught in a fire, you’ll end up behaving like someone you’ve seen caught in a similar situation in a film or a TV news report.
Do you think the Rekha style has been taken over by the younger actresses?
I’m not the ultimate. They should follow the greater actresses. I don’t particularly like what I’ve done, so far. I don’t like myself on screen except in a few moments. Believe me, I’m much more expressive in real-life.
At times, you’ve imitated Amitabh Bachchan, haven’t you?
Why do you want to go back to the basics? Can’t we start with Z rather than AB?
Z, which is hopefully not the end. I don’t believe in an end or death. I was there before I was born.
At one point, you believed you were a Rajasthani princess in your previous birth, didn’t you?
Oh, that was so long ago. It was just a little girl’s fantasy. I dream constantly. There’s no dream, which is more real than a dream itself.
But that’s the idea! What I’m saying is that nothing is in our hands -our birth or our death. We can’t control anything. Like I can’t control the way my films turn out. Madam X took six years to complete and it wasn’t anything like we’d expected it to be. In fact, I’m not doing anything earthshaking right now. Perhaps it’s time for me to diversify.
Why did you go in for that outlandish wardrobe in Madam X?
Because my character was supposed to be larger than life. It was meant to be a fantasy, which turned out to be ugly. There are some films - Ab Insaf Hoga, Kismat ki Rekha and Nishana - which were started ages ago. It’s not my fault that they haven’t been completed and released on schedule. I’d rather concentrate and do my own thing, like say Basu Bhattacharya’s Astha. The outlook of the entire team was serious and realistic. Working with Basuda reminded me of the days with Hrishida. Everyone spoke Bengali on the sets. It was like being back in the 1970s.
To return to the subject of rebirth, would you like to be reborn as a man or a woman?
Most definitely as a woman. Better a known criminal than an unknown one. I admire and respect men in a different way. I admire and respect women much more. I’m fascinated by Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren and most of all, by Rekha. I’m still trying to figure out what Rekha is all about. Besides my own mother, Pushpavalli, I was fascinated by my chhoti mummy, Savitri. As a kid, my mum wouldn’t allow me to see her films. But I could sense that she was so much like my own mother. As years went by, she became even better… on the screen at least. Mum had to look after her six children, while Savitri went on to become a top actress.
Is it true that you’d met your father, Gemini Ganesan, only five to six times in your entire life?
Yes, that’s true. I don’t want to invade on anyone’s privacy. I can’t just drop in at my father’s house in Chennai.
But he’s your dad!
Thanks for the information.
You don’t resent the fact that your father has never been close to you?
Resent? Not at all. I’ve always been there for dad. All he had to do is reach out and touch me. The first time I met dad was only four to five years ago. My mum was operated for a stomach ailment and he came over to see her at the hospital. That’s when his presence registered. I felt, “Oh, I am a part of him!”
Were you overwhelmed when you presented the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award to him on stage?
I must confess that I’m not a very sentimental person. I’m less ‘senti’, more mental. Mentally, there was so much going on within me, it was a moment to cherish forever. For the first time in my life, I’d made a connection with dad. The moment was way more than just touching his feet, hugging him and presenting the trophy. It was a moment when my heart went out to him.
Was it polite to describe Sivaji Ganesan as a greater actor at that moment?
But there’s little doubt that Sivaji Ganesan is a greater actor than dad. I have a collection of 25 films in which chhoti mummy, dad and Sivaji Ganesan acted together. The films celebrated silver jubilees. Dad was so spontaneous… so now you know where I got my spontaneity from. Yet I would rate Sivaji Ganesan as one of the world’s best. His dialogue delivery can’t be matched even by Marlon Brando. He’s a miracle of an actor and a romantic too. I had wanted to marry him ever since I was four years old.
No marriage on the cards now?
Again and again, let me tell you I don’t know what marriage is. I married once and see what happened. I’m still alive and far as age goes, for me it’s just a state of mind.
How did the late Mukesh Aggarwal convince you to marry him?
That’s a very big question mark. That phase of my life is a blank. I feel that the marriage happened to someone else. It’s like I was watching Sawan Bhadon the other day and I wondered who this Rekha is on the screen.
I did learn a lot about human behaviour at that time - of my friends, family members, high society and the media. It was like a six-month crash course at the Oxford University. Ironically, I came out of it as a beautiful person. The change wasn’t drastic but I started accepting life the way it is. I am grateful to God that Mukesh happened to me… may his soul rest in peace.
Didn’t you notice that your colleagues can be extremely indifferent when you’re in a crisis?
They know me better, they left me alone. Neither did I expect to find a shoulder to cry on. I’d rather help out people who need me than the other way around. I still feel very close to some of my colleagues, like I do to Neetu Singh Kapoor. We shared so much around 1972, we were growing up together.
Did you ever feel hurt about being dropped from a project, like Rahul Rawail’s Anjaam? Were you glad when it misfired?
I wasn’t glad. All I know is that I would have done my job. I was glad for Madhuri, she was so good, she got a chance to explore another facet of her personality. And I’m glad that Rahul Rawail was deprived of working with an okay actress like me.
Yeah. Just as in I’m okay dude. People think I’m crazy… crazy you know… it’s an interesting opening line.
What’s an interesting closing line?
That I’m sane enough to be called crazy.