On October 10 1954, actress Rekha was born as Bhanurekha Ganesan. She joined the industry at just 12 yrs & her life has been no less than a film script!
Rekha went on to fight several personal and professional battles in her life.
Other than her illustrious cinematic career, where she worked with all the major actors, directors, producers and production houses in the Hindi film industry, her life story was no less than a film script itself.
Rekha was born to Tamil and Telugu actress Pentapadu Pushpavalli . Her father was the huge superstar Ganapati Subramanian Sarma or Ramasamy Ganesan, better known by his stage name Gemini Ganesan.
Ganesan was one of the three biggest names of Tamil cinema at that time and was almost a demi-god down south. But his relationship with Pushpavalli didn’t have a legal stamp on it. Rekha was what the society calls a “love child.” Her father at that time was married to another woman with whom he had four daughters.
Contrary to his larger-than-life image of a hero and popular romantic actor, Ganesan left Rekha’s mother with her two daughters to fend for themselves. Rekha has never spoken much about her father in press.
In an interview with Simi Garewal, the actress said-“He moved out when I was a baby. I don’t remember that time. We were never given the impression that anything was out of the ordinary or dysfunctional. She (her mom) was never in a mode of crying or that my husband left me. She was full of lovely stories about him and just madly she was in love with him,” the actress said.
As a consequence of this abandonment, her mother forced a barely-in-her-teens Bhanurekha to take up acting assignments to support the family.
That marked the struggle of this young girl in the cut throat world of films. Rekha was barely 12 when she made her debut in the Telugu film, Rangula Ratnam (1966). Later at about 15, she did her first “adult” role in a Kannada film and soon after moved on to the bigger stage Hindi films.
These early years of being a newbie and an “outsider” caused her deep anguish and trauma. Her famous biography– Rekha-The Untold Story by Yasser Usman mentions how senior actors molested this non-Hindi speaking young girl, who was not even an adult!
Usman also mentions how she was even body-shamed and targeted for being dark-complexioned by fellow actors and having no taste or style. She was literally forced to grow up, much before time.
Actress Rekha was on the covers of all major film magazines. Later she was on page 3 and gossip columns of all major publications for her alleged affair with a famous married actor. She was then obnoxiously labelled a “black widow” after her divorce with and untimely death of first husband Vinod Mehra and death by suicide of her second husband Mukesh Agarwal.
She was subjected to a national witch-hunt and she was given several nasty titles. Since then, Rekha became a recluse. She took up occasional acting assignments or made brief appearances in award shows, film event and TV shows.
Usman said in an interview, “I wasn’t able to do the psychological profile. There are many angles I could not probe because I could not find someone to talk about those phases of her life. It would have been good to get her version, but I doubt that she would have said anything. I realised that until 1990, she was outspoken and would take names, but after the suicide, the tone changed considerably.”
Due to her alleged affair with another legendary Hindi cinema actor, Amitabh Bachchan, the industry largely remained tight-lipped about Rekha. Yash Chopra’s famous film ‘Silsila’ cast the actor, his wife and Rekha in roles mirroring the ongoing rumours about their then real-life situation. It was the last Indian screens saw of Rekha and Bachchan together.
Nevertheless, the hushed whispers of her being the “almost-home-breaker” and the “other woman” continue to haunt her. This, inspite of more than 180 Hindi films, Padma Shri in 2010, a National Film Award and three Filmfare Awards.
She is a legendary dancer, actress and diva and yet her personal life is raked up time and again to make headlines and grab eyeballs.
The irony is that neither of her husband or alleged lovers were ever put under scrutiny by either the film industry or the society. The young girl who was body-shamed worked on her language, diction and appearance. She went on to become one of the most beautiful and accomplished actors on the Indian silver screen ever.
Imagine someone who barely knew Hindi, spoke long dialogues in Urdu to perfection as a courtesan for the titular role of much-awarded ‘Umrao Jaan.’
Rekha has proven to be a fighter and survivor. She fought not just personal battles but also a hostile and sexist film industry.
The Greta Garbo of Hindi films lives in her self-imposed seclusion and the mystery called Rekha remains as alluring as ever!
Image source: IMDB
Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...
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