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On Rekha’s Birthday: Is This Child Of Controversy A Role Model For Women?

Posted: October 8, 2017

Actor Rekha has lived a life that drew many brickbats, yet emerged triumphantly as her own person. Here’s a look at whether she could consider her a role model for women.

I am sucker for biographies, and so it didn’t take me much time to plunge into the latest offering about someone who has always been a personal favorite, Rekha – An Untold Story, by Yasser Usman. Rekhaji’s life has always intrigued me, and I am sure it has touched quite a few of you too.

When I was young, Rekhaji was a style statement and an actress par excellence for me. But, the more I started understanding the nuances of life, she turned out to be a mystery, an enigma to be explored. Today, with this book in hand, I am probably visiting some uncomfortable terrains of her life, which cajoles me to think as a woman: Can she be our role model?

Rekhaji is a love child, who was born to Tamil superstar Gemini Ganeshan and Telugu actress Pushpavalli. She was allegedly never acknowledged by her father, as he never married her mother. That makes her an illegitimate child, a fact that remained one of her biggest issues, which she dealt with all along her life. Rekhaji moved to Mumbai at the age of 14 to support her family and provide financial assistance to her mother who had turned alcoholic and a gambler by then.

Her struggle with fate continued in Mumbai, with explicit aspersions hurled at her dusky skin, Hindi accent and body. In an interview, author Yaseer Usman said, “At her very first shooting schedule, in the late 1960s, Rekha fell victim to the machinations of the film’s director, producer and lead actor. They coerced her into a kissing scene, with the film’s unit members salaciously catcalling, whistling and cheering. Those lascivious voices were said to have echoed in her mind till much later.”

Rekhaji’s love life always ran the gossip mills along and her personal life was a matter of scrutiny ever since she joined Bollywood. But, this gritty lady fought all odds and emerged as a winner in every possible sense. The male brigade and society did everything possible to pin her down, but she emerged a winner, and established herself as one of the finest actresses Indian celluloid has ever seen, and perhaps a name to reckon with. She yet again showed the world that you just need to move and create your own space, and ‘log to kahenge…kehne do!” (Let people say what they will!)

From the time I have followed Rekhaji, she was already the Greta Garbo of India! She lives in Mumbai with her friend Farzana, and leads a hermetic life. But, when occasionally seen at the odd award function, she ensures that she makes her presence felt with style and panache. The more I think about her life, the more I am intrigued, charmed and mesmerized by her enigma and beauty, inspite of the wretched life that was bestowed on her.

Rekhaji’s life is a tale in itself. She is a living example of a woman fighting it out alone in a male dominated patriarchal society with spunk and bold statements. This was perhaps a way to make her way through the humiliations that were hurled at her by people from all walks of life. My love and admiration for women who make it for themselves in this hard male world, compels me to admire Rekhaji more because of everything she has been through.

Her love, life and career is in itself a space that can give many of us life lessons that are hard to learn. While some of you might feel that she has been beyond her limits and invited the criticisms with her own deeds…well, to them all I can say is, being born out of wedlock was probably the biggest scar of her life and a reason for several upheavals. I wonder what was her fault. Why is she to be blamed for something that her parents did?

She must have made mistakes, like we all do, but she is a self made women in her own right, and at the end of the day that is all that matters. Usman in his book adds, “Rekha fell in love several times — with Jeetendra, Vinod Mehra and Kiran Kumar, among others — but each relationship was fated to end the same way. The men in Rekha’s life could not stand up for a woman who had an ‘illegitimate’ past (her father never married her mother). She was left heartbroken each time, even publicly humiliated.”

Now, coming back to where I started from: Can she be our role model? Well, I will leave that for you all to decide. I will rather park my words for now. But, yes, I have huge respect and admiration for her because, inspite of the fact that she was blamed and crucified endlessly, she chose to live and not succumb to the nastiness of the people around her. Being a staunch feminist, she spoke her mind with verve and vociferousness. In An Untold Story, author Yasser Usman states, “Her spunk and loud statements were perhaps a strategy to tune out and cope with the ridicule and harassment she was subjected to by both the film industry and the public. Here was a young girl from Madras who was pushed into Bollywood at the age of 14 by her gambling addict of a mother.”

Well, for me this statement sums up the life of this Diva. Along with being an ethereal beauty, Rekhaji remains a woman of substance whom this world failed to understand. Rekhaji will always be someone who is one of my favorites on and off the screen. May this Silsila (lineage)…continue….ever and forever!

Wishing her a very Happy Birthday! (coming up on 10th October).

First published at author’s blog.

Top image of Rekha in one of her noted movies Umrao Jaan

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  1. My Icon, I met her when we were shooting for Utsav, she looked at me and said,”You look exactly like Dhanlakshmi”

  2. Maitabi Banerjee

    OMG….That must have been a moment for you… I always admire her strength of character…

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