By Team Bollyy
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Rekha 3

-Ali Peter John

The kind of metamorphosis this wonder woman Rekha has gone through is nothing short of a modern day miracle, a miracle that more than proves that God is very much there in His Heaven and also has his favorites. Rekha is certainly one of God’s chosen ones. She herself knows it and has openly said, “I am God’s chosen one” not once but every time something special happens in her life and what is her colorful life if not a long string of happenings and achievements? The very fact that she is around and all on her own terms is the greatest achievement of an individual in modern times, I believe.

publive-imageRekha first came to Bombay almost forty years ago, believe it or not. She had already done two films in Tamil, one of them, “Ammakosam” made by her own aunt, the actress Anjali Devi. She could have done some more films and even established herself in Tamil films but her mother, Pushpavalli, a one-time popular actress saw better prospects for her daughter in Bombay and had her sent to the city of dreams when she was just thirteen, going on fourteen, but with a body that made her look twenty or more. Rekha had to go through a very tough struggle. She had to make all kinds of adjustments and compromises. The young and innocent girl had no godfather or guardian to look after her career and all the men who came in to help only turned out to be men who were more interested in her body than her talent. They wanted her only for their selfish interests. It is said that when Rekha was asked to do a kissing scene with Biswajit for her very first film on the very first day of her shoot, the first day of her work in Bombay no one told her why she had to do the scene and whether she wanted to do the scene or not. They only told her how to do it and they made her do it and the poor girl had no voice to protest. She only had the insecurity of loosing out on the role because if she didn’t do the scene there were several other girls anxiously waiting to do it.

publive-imageThis life continued till a gentleman director, Mohan Segal, the “guru” of directors like J. Om Prakash and Mohan Kumar gave her a big break in “Saawan Bhaadon”. Rekha had still to learn the basics of acting and how to carry herself but her raw sexuality and sensuality worked magic for her and was one of the major reasons for the film to turn into a blockbuster. The success of the film catapulted Rekha into the top “B” grade actresses. She was successful. She signed several films, most of them unknown directors and small-time stars. The biggest star she was teamed with was Jeetendra who she once called “my God in white dancing shoes”. She played the leading lady of heroes like Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna too in films where she was just considered to be the “sex appeal” of the film. She did not mind anything because she knew she had to make her own way and had to.

publive-imageThen came the golden era in her life and career. She had done Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Namak Haram” and Desh Mukherjee’s “Imaan Dharam” with a struggling but talented actor called Amitabh Bachchan. Another Bengali director of Hindi films, Dulal Guha cast Amitabh and Rekha in the remake of Bengali hit and called it “Do Anjaane” and both the film and the team clicked. They were soon seen together in films like “Mr. Natwarlal”, “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar”, “Suhaag” and they were brilliant together in every film they did till Yash Chopra brought about that casting coup in “Silsila” by bringing together Amitabh, Rekha and Jaya Bachchan who staged a comeback to prove a point as it were. The result was a major sensation. The sizzle of the romantic scenes between Amitabh and Rekha are still considered to be the most romantic scenes in the history of Indian cinema. Unfortunately, “Silsila” was also the last film, Amitabh and Rekha did together. The reason why they stopped is a secret which they have managed to keep, a secret till this day. This was the time when everyone in the industry and every film mag or rag ran stories of the roaring affair between the two. And they refused to talk about their relationship but all those who had watched the team grow from film to film realized the impact Amitabh had made on Rekha. The same Rekha who was once called an ugly woman was now called the most gorgeous woman, the most talented actress, the complete woman. The woman who neither knew English, nor Hindi or Urdu spoke the languages with command which could put scholars and writers and poets of the languages to shame. In fact, Amitabh’s influence on Rekha was so strong that when she did a film called “Khoobsurat” for Hrishikesh Mukherjee she unintentionally imitated Amitabh in every scene and every dance she perform did and was called “the female Amitabh”.


They then stopped working together and their split took them in various directions. Amitabh met with that ghastly accident and survived. He then got into politics and came back disillusioned taking a vow never to go back to politics again. He also too a long and mysterious break from acting. This was the time when Rekha consolidated her position as an actress of a very high order. She had already proved how gifted she could be when challenged when she played the victim of rape in “Ghar”, the famous courtesan Umrao Jaan in Muzaffar Ali’s film of the same name and “Khoobsurat” which was a  crown in her head. Her performance in “Umrao Jaan” even won her the National Award for the best actress.


She strangely slipped after reaching the top when maybe the friends who advised her and the big money coming from filmmakers from the South influenced her to take on any and every film that came her way and it was at this stage when she had made all the money she built her own bungalow facing the sea and was the neighbor of Javed Akhtar and Honey who were married then and had two little children, Farhan and Zoya. It was this period in the eighties when the South literally took over the Hindi film industry that Rekha was considered the “no. 1” actress but somewhere within her she realized the hunger to be known as an actress of the caliber of actresses like Meena Kumari, Geeta Bali, Nutan, Madhubala and Waheeda Rehman.

She realized the mistakes she had made and decided to make amends for them. She got her first opportunity to do that in Rakesh Roshan’s “Khoon Bari Maang” in which she played the angry young woman and once again showed the sparks of the angry Amitabh Bachchan in one of his angry young man roles. She also played the angry young woman in “Phool Bane Angaarey” with Rajnikant as her hero and even went out of her way to play the vamp to the core in “Khiladiyon Ke Khiladi”, a film in which she takes away the young hero (Akshay Kumar) from right under the pretty nose of the young heroine (Raveena Tandon). A time came when she was accepted as the most complete actress in the industry who could play any role with the same passion and intensity.

Then came another lull in the life of the beautiful actress, which was difficult to be found anywhere else. She even went out of her way to play the guru of sex in Mira Nair’s “Kamasutra”. Her steamy bedroom scenes in Basu Bhattacharya’s “Aastha” and her sexy scenes in Gautam Ghosh’s “Yaatra” was the talk among all those who had seen the film. She was still being offered the same kind of roles but she was not interested now. She made the big changeover when she agreed to play Hrithik Roshan’s mother in “Koi…Mil Gaya” and then his grandmother in “Krissh”. The best tribute to her performance as a mother came from Rakesh Roshan who directed her in “Khoon Bari Maang”. “Koi…Mil Gaya” and “Krissh” who said, “You must have seen screen mothers and grandmothers, but you see Rekhaji in my films and you will see the difference she makes. She has the extra-ordinary ability to get into any role with effortless ease. The best thing about her is that she has not changed because of age which makes it very challenging for directors to mould her into any kind of character. I love working with her and would love working with her in the future too”.

Rekha has now reached the crescendo of her career. There are some very challenging roles coming her way. The most interesting news is all the talks about bringing Rekha and Amitabh together again after more than two decades and Amitabh’s agreeing to work with her. She last played the central character in Raj Kanwar’s “Sadiyaan” with Rishi Kapoor as her leading man and has just completed work on “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tammana Hain”, a film being directed by Ramesh Talwaar for Mrs. Poonam Sinha, wife of Shatrughan Sinha, who is also the leading man of the film. She has, according to very, reliable sources charged the producers (which include my friend Ms Kamia Malhotra, a one-time-actress-turned-hotelier) a staggering sum of Rs. One crore. One crore at her age! That is what the industry is asking and gasping for breath but with a woman as mysterious and full of wonders like Rekha you can never say, you can just never say. Who knows, this could only be the beginning of a new line (Rekha) in her chequered life and career.

And even as I write, she has taken her oath as a member of the Rajya Sabha and I hope she does not become one more vote to be counted during debates but becomes an active member who will take part in debates on the various issues associated with films and also the many problems of women in India.


-      Rekha was born Bhanurekha on 10th October 1954 in Madras (now Chennai). She was one of the many children of Gemini Ganesan, a mega star of Tamil films called, “The King Of Love” and Pushpavalli one of his many wives who was also an actress. Gemini deserted Pushpavalli and her children and opted for a new woman and Pushpavalli took on the challenge of bringing up her children. Bhanurekha was her favourite daughter. She wanted her favourite to be the best and sent her to the best convent school in the area. But she could not afford the fees after a certain time and had no other way but to stop Bhanurekha from going to school long before she could complete school. The mother saw in her daughter a future as an actress. She groomed the daughter herself and did everything possible to groom her into an actress. She had enough clout to get her leading roles in Tamil films but that was not her goal. She wanted her to be a part of Hindi films and the next thing she did was send her fourteen year old daughter to Bombay.

-      The first producer to sign her was a man called Shatrujit Pal. He even got her a room at the Ajanta hotel in Juhu. Significantly, years later, when Amitabh Bachchan started his company A.B.C.L., he had his office in the same hotel and his own personal office was a part of the room occupied by Rekha during her struggling days.

-      Rekha had a big problem with all the languages spoken in Bombay. She was called all kinds of names like “the ugly black duckling”, “the madrasan bai”, “kaali moti” and the names kept on growing. She was the object of ridicule and was one of the struggling heroines.

-      She found a secretary who name was Ganesh, a Tamilian who also looked after the work of Dadamuni, Ashok Kumar. He took charge of her career and the first big film he got her was “Saawan Bhadon” which went on to become a big hit and made her a star in demand.

-      No big male stars were willing to work with her and she had managed with some of the struggling stars of the times. Among her heroes were Kiran Kumar, the son of the veteran villain Jeevan and Vinod Mehra with whom she did her first good film, “Ghar”. There was also talk about their having a marriage of sorts. It was during this affair that Rekha created a storm when she consumed poison spiked with her “upma”.

-      It was only when she started teaming up with the polished and sophisticated Amitabh Bachchan that her life took a beautiful change. The “ugly duckling” became a woman to admire and envy. She spoke languages like English, Hindi and Urdu with the fluency that surprised all those who knew her once. Rekha, it is said at one time even wanted to marry Amitabh, but Amitabh refused because he was a married man with two little children, Shweta and Abhishek.

-      She took the nation by storm when she married an unknown businessman from Delhi, Mukesh Agarwal whose only contact with films was family friend Deepti Naval.  Another shock followed when the same Mukesh just days after their marriage and Rekha came back to Bombay to start her career all over again.

-      I remember the first film she started shooting for after her turning into a “widow”. It was called “Phool Bane Angaarey”. She had wanted my Editor to come and meet her at the shooting in Udaipur, but my Editor dropped out and asked me to go to Udaipur. I pleaded with her to send someone else. I had a major problem with Rekha who I never knew very well. One afternoon I had gone to one of her shootings and I was drunk. She hated alcohol and how could I dare go on her sets in a drunken state? She promptly called my Editor and complained about my going drunk on her sets, the sets of “the chosen one of God”. I got a tongue-lashing for my “sinful” doing and somewhere decided that I would not go anywhere near Rekhaji anytime soon, but my Editor was determined to send me into the den of the lioness. I bid goodbye to all my friends and relatives and took a flight to Udaipur. It was night when I reached the hotel, which was once a palace. That night the producer, K.C. Bokadia had a small party for the unit and I reached there just in time. There was a lot of cheering and laughing all around but I was tense. Then there was silence. “The Rekha” had descended the staircase like a queen. She looked around and just asked one question. “Who is Ali Peter John here?” I knew it was either time for the queen to cut my neck off or to take the next flight home. But I was not prepared for what was to come. She just called me aside and said, “I want you to be in my room at 7 in the morning, remember 7 sharp”. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t sleep all night. The next morning I was at her door 10 minutes before 7. She opened the door herself. I was still looking tense “I am not going to eat you up for breakfast but promise me you will report to me every morning at the same time while you are here and all the time I am free”. Did I have any choice? For the next four days I was with her and she told me the entire story of her life.  I just sat listening with rapt attention. What a life this wonderful woman had lived! On the fourth day she said, “It’s enough for now. We will talk more the next time. This was just the beginning and we are friends remember that”. I asked her if I could write all that she had told me. She said. “Yes you can, but you haven’t taped my voice and you have not taken any notes”. I said, “I would manage and she could hang me if I misquoted her or wrote anything that would do her any damage”. I literally flew back and lived the next days in the air. A miracle like this was something I had never expected. What I wrote was published the following week and I never cared to know what her reaction would be. Everyone wanted to know how I had done it. But I said nothing. Two days later I met her during the shooting of Sunil Dutt’s “Yeh Aag Kab Bhujegi”. She spotted me, called me over, got me a chair, made me sit next to her and asked me, “What are you doing in this world? You belong to another world. You can’t stop at being a film journalist. You are a sensitive poet. You should be sitting in some room high in the mountains and writing poetry or philosophizing about life. We are friends from now on and very good friends, mind you. You can call me up anytime or call up Farzana and fix an appointment with me and I will be very happy to meet you. I shall always be grateful for all that you have written about me”. Was I floating in the air?

-      I remembered the time in Hyderabad when a P.R.O. called Gopal Pandey had taken a group of press persons from Bombay to cover the shooting of a film called “Asha Jyoti” starring Rekha with Rajesh Khanna. It was the muhurat shot of the film produced by Kovai Chezian, a popular politician and filmmaker. The moment Rekha came to know the press from Bombay had descended on the set, she went back to the room and called the producer and his director, the well-known Dasari Narayana Rao. The two men came down with solemn faces and asked Gopal Pandey to take the entire press on a round of Hyderabad and not bring any of them to the set because if they did “Madam” would not shoot and it would cause heavy losses. The only man who was allowed to stay was yours truly and I was flattered but I had to join my colleagues because it was a question of their “dal roti”.

-      I remember the high level film delegation from France which had come to Bombay to take part in a festival of French films. I was appointed the liaison man. All they wanted to see in Bombay was “Rekha”, “Rekha”, “Rekha”. I finally found out that she was shooting for Shashi Kapoor’s “Utsav” at Film City. I asked him for permission. He said he had no objection if “Madam” had no objection. I took the risk of taking the delegation from the Taj Mahal hotel to Film City. I did not know Rekha-ji very well till then. But I made bold to go up to her and ask her if she could meet the French delegation. She agreed. They had a long talk with her and behaved like excited children. At the end of the talk all of them said, “Madam, you should be in Hollywood”. She said, “Thank You” and was about to go back to her shoot when she turned back and asked them if they had heard of an Indian actor called Amitabh Bachchan. They looked blank and the colour of her face changed. “If you don’t know him then what do you know about Indian films? The next time please do your homework before you come to meet a woman like me,” she said and walked away in a huff.

-      In a way I was responsible for bringing the father and daughter together again after more than three decades. I invited Rekhaji to be the chief guest at an awards function in Chennai. She agreed. I did not tell her the reason why. I was determined to take her. Till that moment came. The Lifetime Achievement Award had to be presented to her father Gemini Ganesan and she was called to present the award to him. There was silence. She walked up. The father and daughter met. There were tears in their eyes but no word exchanged. “I must thank you for giving me the chance to meet him for the last time,” she said prophetically. A few days later her father was dead.

-      Rekha has never used allopathic medicines. She grows both her medicine and all that she needs for her make-up in the garden behind her bungalow.

-      The only friends she trusts are her secretary, Farzana Jaffrey and her hair dresser Rubaina and if at all there is one man she trusts it is the writer-poet-filmmaker Gulzar.

-      No men, however big or important are allowed inside her bungalow. All meetings and script narrations are conducted in the nearby “Skybird Apartment”.

-      She has a brother, Babuji who once tried to make it as a music director and failed, a sister Radha who has settled down in Chennai and another sister, Dhanlaxmi who is married to the small-time Hindi film villain Tej Sapru.

-      She has vowed never to write an autobiography. There have been some of the most tempting offers but she has turned them down emphatically.

-      Her favourite filmmakers are K. Asif, Mehboob Khan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Roy and Gulzar and he favourite actresses, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Madhubala.

-      Her ambition – to be born again as a female monk or another Mother Teresa, living in some beautiful cave far away from this world.

-      Her favourite one line, “I am God’s chosen one and as long as I have Him with me no one can harm me or even dare to think of harming me.”

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