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Rekha is trending on Twitter for being the amazing woman with chutzpah she is, even at 66, but here’s the sad thing that also immediately pops up.
That the name ‘Rekha’ should immediately conjure up the name of the man she was rumoured to be in a relationship with, nearly half a century ago, instead of her own achievements is a sad commentary on how we perceive our women.
So the Bollywood actress of yesteryear, OG diva of all time, and poster girl of DWTFYW (do whatever the **** you want) is trending on Twitter. Video after video shows her in a familiar uniform of shiny Kanjeevaram, heavy gold jewelry, and flawless makeup, dancing like she lives in a time machine.
A majority of the Twitter junta is, understandably, raving in all the best ways, incredulous at her unending supply of talent and spunk. Bhanurekha Ganesan, at 66 years old, would give twenty-somethings a run for their chutzpah and stamina. In a country where women her age are expected to be shelling peas with grandchildren at their knee (and only if their arthritis allows it), she shows us how our social roles are mere scaffolding, forcibly superimposed on who we really choose to be.
And yet, as I Google her famous mononym, the first few search options offered to me are:
Because here’s what a woman is apparently defined by: how old she is, who she is married to, whether she did anything worthwhile with her uterus, and how she is forever coloured by her relationships, never mind that one of those was in the news around the time I was born (and I’m no spring chicken!).
Let’s say search number 1 is partly understandable. In a world rife with ageism, especially when it comes to adding further restrictions to women’s lives, I live in the hope that people are merely astounded by and curious about her youthful grace and ability to shimmy like she did 40 years ago.
Number 4 is the unfortunate auto-response to anything to do with the lady. She could sneeze and people would want to know if Mr. Bachchan has a cold. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, when the gentleman in question tested positive for Covid last year, memes abounded about her home being shuttered due to a Covid-positive security guard.
To play devil’s advocate, search number 4 may have been retriggered by Rekha’s recent tongue-in-cheek quip on Indian Idol, about knowing how a woman in love with a married man feels. Here is a woman who enjoys all eyeballs on her. She clearly has zero damns left to give. Unfortunately, any insinuation towards her alleged extra marital affair from the last century has the sexists come crawling out of the woodwork and dragging an unwitting participant into the circus: Jaya Bachchan. Actor extraordinaire, Rajya Sabha member, and Mr. Bachchan’s spouse.
Twitterati intent on comparing the two women call one ‘gold’ and the other ‘diamonds‘. We are asked to retweet for one, and like for the other. And we are back to pitting women against each other, with the man as the grand trophy to be fought over. There we are, falling for the oldest patriarchal trope in existence: the centrality of the man.
For one quick minute, let’s attempt to imagine a world in which three supremely talented individuals found themselves in a messy love situation. There was marriage and morality and attraction, and more than a couple broken hearts thrown into the equation. For reasons best known to them (and them alone), they chose to revert to the original scenario and moved on with their lives.
Two of those people in the narrative happen to be women. They are accomplished and talented in their own right. They need nobody to add to their personas. These are not trophy wives or girlfriends, in need of some superstar glamor to rub off on them. And yet, here we are, comparing the two, with an equally imperfect man used as a human measuring tape.
There is no doubt that Rekha is the diva of Bollywood. There is also no doubt that she has cleverly cultivated this persona to propel her soft power to greater heights.
Here is a woman who has won a National Award, four Filmfare Awards, and the Padma Shri. She has been a one-term Member of Parliament and was nominated for a Filmfare Award a further TEN times. She is hailed as one of the finest actresses of her time, a living legend who still stuns us with her wellspring of zest.
And yet, all her talent, her hard work, her success and glamour—everything she alone is responsible for—is diminished and minimized in the face of her one-time rumored love association. In her unauthorised biography, Rekha: The Untold Story by Yasser Usman, entire chapters are dedicated to her ‘chemistry’ with Mr. Bachchan, while readers are left wanting to learn more about how her dysfunctional childhood moulded her personality and propelled her to achieve what she did.
Ms. Bachchan is the winner of 8 Filmfare Awards and 3 IIFA Awards. She chose to raise her family for several years before stepping into an additional role as Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha for no less than four terms. Her fiery, articulate speeches in parliament make it amply clear she is no pushover. She has a firm voice and does not hesitate to use it. But she is compressed into the damaging and limiting role of ‘wronged and angry wife’.
Trailblazers like these, women at the top of the heap, are whittled down to their connection to a man. And then people wonder why feminists feel rage. If we didn’t see red at these humiliating, reductive tropes, patriarchy’s job would be done.
I, however, live in the hope that so many of us can dismantle the scaffolding, view women in their own wholeness for their brilliance, talents, flaws and imperfect choices. We don’t need to tether them to a man to validate their existence. We need to rethink the way we tell our stories. We alone are the central figures of our lives, with everyone else playing supporting actor roles. Even if that actor is the biggest movie star of all time.
Image source: YouTube
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