Rekha: ‘My calling in life is not to be a provider or wife or mother’

Editor’s Note: This essay is excerpted from critic Anupama Chopra’s, ‘First Day, First Show: Writings from the Bollywood Trenches” which reprises nearly two decades of film criticism. A rare encounter with the notoriously reclusive Rekha offers a rare glimpse of the woman behind the legend; a woman who has chosen to age with grace and without apologies. Witty, quirky, and incurably honest, she reminds us of the excellent reasons why we adore her so.

Rekha in the film Umrao Jaan. Image still from the movie.
Rekha is a Rorschach test. What you see depends on who you are. Bollywood insiders speak about an ageing, fading actress who can no longer differentiate between the mask and the face. Tabloids paint her as an erotic icon, still longing for her great unfulfilled love, Amitabh Bachchan; every few months there are whispers of clandestine meetings in London. Journalists talk in pitying tones of a reclusive woman twisted bitter by lecherous men and loneliness.

But the Rekha I meet is none of these. She wears a black knit top over jeans, and solitaires. Her hair, which she herself cropped to shoulder length recently, is held back by a silver clip. Her face, without make-up or discernible lines, is stunning. She is chatty and curious, excited and energetic, cheerful and almost illegally optimistic. She laughs uproariously and talks for hours about films and art, love and rasmalai.

If Rekha really is a gnarled, forlorn, delusional has-been, either it is such a well-kept secret that even she doesn’t know or she is the best actor alive:

I am open to any and every kind of role. I always have been. Actually, I’ve only said no to people I didn’t trust. Otherwise I’ve done every role that was offered to me. Every role. You know what that means . . . so little has been offered to me . . . (breaks into laughter)

Rekha is a Hindi movie miracle. Long after her contemporaries have retired into marriage and motherhood, she soldiers on. Not in vapid bhabhi roles but as characters that shape the narrative. In Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot, a horror film set in an apartment in Mumbai, she plays a psychic.Varma says he could not think of anyone else: “She has a tremendous natural dignity. One look and the audience takes her seriously.” In Rakesh Roshan’s sci-fi Koi Mil Gaya, Rekha is a middle class mother who struggles to bring up a mentally deficient child with love.

Directors wax eloquent about her. Mira Nair, who cast her in Kamasutra, likens her to a “Jamini Roy painting”. “Like Marilyn Monroe is shorthand for sex, Rekha is shorthand for charisma. She is a movie star in any language.” Mahesh Manjrekar says he has grown up adoring her and will “beg at her feet” for her to work with him. Sanjay Leela Bhansali labels her the “last of the great stars”. He says, “Rekha is a question mark, an exclamation mark, a comma, never a full stop. To know her is to be seduced by life.” Shyam Benegal calls her “a director’s actress”.

Thirty-three years of facing the camera in 200-odd films hasn’t jaded Rekha. She still approaches each role as if it were her first. So she is wearing ill-fitting blouses in Koi Mil Gaya to make sure she looks adequately ordinary (“For me that is truly a challenge”). “No matter how many times she rehearses a dance step,” says choreographer Saroj Khan, “she will start from scratch and is nervous.” Varma says she is “more professional than any actor I’ve worked with”. “I’ve seen so many actors lose track as soon as they see the “S” of success but she still has the same interest and concentration.”

So why does she have only two films? Because Bollywood still hasn’t figured out what to do with an incandescent forty-eight-year-old single woman. It hasn’t been able to find a place for her. So while Bachchan, at sixty, is the busiest star in the business, Rekha waits for a film-maker who can reinterpret her. Meanwhile, she is also making plans to turn director herself. Her film will be “romantic, intense, meaningful, intellectually stimulating, different, unique, thought-provoking, visually stunning, unknown and yet totally familiar”. In other words, it will be Rekha:

I am in love with someone I haven’t met. It is a perfect image in my mind. I have had much more than love, such intense feelings overflowing and coming out of each hair and cuticle in my body. If it hasn’t happened in real, it has been so strong in my imagination.

Q. Is this person a fantasy?

A. He is totally oblivious to what I feel for him. He has always been and will always be. He has no clue to what I feel for him. It is true and this is a huge confession.

Q. So why don’t you just tell him?

A. No man or woman can know how the other person feels. There is no rule, no book, you do the best you can and not expect anything in return.

Rekha’s love life has been of national interest for three decades. Her marriages, affairs and rumours of affairs have consumed enough pages to fill a library. And Rekha has continued to stoke stories by seemingly carelessly dropped hints and dramatic looks in public places. But despite endless speculations and an unauthorised biography, the truth remains elusive. What is known is Rekha has had two failed marriages. She was on the verge of divorce when her second husband Mukesh Agarwal committed suicide. The months that followed were harrowing—she was labelled a murderer and posters of her film Sheshnaag were defaced. But Rekha says she emerged stronger from the crisis: “I grew up then to become the eternal child that I am today. I have never questioned life again. I am absolutely, unconditionally open to anything.”

Her life has been more far-fetched than her films. She is the love child of legendary actor Gemini Ganeshan and Pushpavalli. At fourteen, she took to acting to support her sixteen-member family. She was fat, dark and could hardly speak Hindi. Yet her first film, Sawan Bhadon, was a resounding hit. The slings of fortune haven’t made her a cynic. She has retained her sanity by retreating into her castle, a bungalow by the Arabian Sea named after her mother.

Nobody is welcome here. Neetu Kapoor has been a close friend for two decades —Rekha makes it a point to visit her every year on her birthday but she has never been invited home. And Rekha rarely ventures out. “She has become a recluse,” says Neetu. “Rishi has even fired her for not coming out more but she knows her mind.”

Only a handful of people know the password to the magic kingdom of Pushpavalli. AFP
Only a handful of people know the password to the magic kingdom of Pushpavalli—among them her secretary Farzana, her hairdresser and her immediate family. Rekha artfully controls all relationships, so even Varma, thought to be her friend, does not have her home phone number.

She has chosen to live outside the seductive whirl of the film industry but she has no regrets or fears about growing old alone. She has put the idea of having a child on hold “for now”. “First I have to find the prop, the father,” she says with a throaty laugh. Though she doesn’t believe in marriage (“No man-made institution lasts forever”) she won’t have a child out of wedlock because she knows what it is like to grow up without a father.

She isn’t sure what happiness is but she is content to live with her fantasy man and her maker. God, who she calls “the world’s greatest artist”, is Rekha’s constant companion:

I am open to the cosmos, not just people but every leaf, every molecule and every blade of grass. I am renewing my energy and reinventing myself. My soul is being soothed and nurtured every day. I am looking for only one thing: knowledge. My calling in life is to be not just a provider or wife or mother. My calling is to be a true fellow human being. I am not alone. I am every woman and, may I add, I am every man too.

In her self-imposed confinement, Rekha has bloomed. For her, life is a ritual, to be lived with grace, style and, always, romance. As Bhansali says, “It is the way I imagine Cleopatra or Meena Kumari in Pakeezah must have lived.” So even writing a letter must be imbued with elegance—she makes her own stationery. She also designs her own costumes, sketches, writes poetry and spends time gardening. She wakes up at 5 a.m. and exercises for an hour and a half—yoga, lightweights and treadmill. Though sweets are a passion—on Farzana’s birthday, she relished twelve rasmalais—she eats mostly salads. Water, barley water, coconut water are constants.

She is also, she says, the queen of camouflage. But perhaps the real reason why she has not wilted with age are the commandments she has written for herself:

Never expect; always give the benefit of doubt; give better than your best; be open to everything; don’t expect the worst but if it happens, embrace it; do your karma by giving but never let the person know; never crush your creativity; don’t live life with blinkers on; and learn at least one new thing every day.

Like Rekha, these evolve every day. And she remains, a work in progress.


Post Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

buy priligy europe cipro 250 mg dogs viagra 100mg dose viagra online narudzba metformin 500 mg price propranolol tab 80mg farmaco wellbutrin 150 mg buy cytotec dubai cialis 20 mg yorum 2.5mg generic cialis viagra 50 mg kaufen 100 mg of wellbutrin generic valtrex tablets levitra 20mg 4 stuck buy viagra 4.18 buy amoxil 250mg buy lasix canadian cialis 2.5 buy online soft cialis 40 mg cialis 20 mg tetracycline 200mg viagra online vendita 10mg lexapro anxiety cheapest levitra canada cialis 5mg x 2 generic strattera 60mg cialis 10 mg cena cialis 5mg work cialis 5 mg or 20 lisinopril smg propecia malaysia online buy viagra discount levitra 10 mg preis 1000 mg generic valtrex lexapro generic expensive 5 mg cialis daily propecia singapore online buy celebrex 400 mg cialis online fda wellbutrin xl 600 mg canada 2.5 mg cialis lexapro generic ingredients buy pzeifer viagra levitra 2 5mg generic nolvadex pct diflucan 100 mg tablete levitra 5 mg fiyat viagra 400mg dosis synthroid 50 mgs cheap cialis 20 mg xenical 120 mg walmart cialis 5mg singapore doxycycline 500mg order cialis generic women cialis original 5mg buy cialis mastercard cialis 20 mg discount lasix 500 mg generic doxycycline 30 mg cvs generic viagra posologie prednisone 20 mg lexapro 3mg cialis 20 mg indicaciones took 25 mg zoloft buy nolvadex gaspari buy dapoxetine treatment ordering celebrex online online store viagra levitra 20mg 4 tabletten viagra drops online propranolol al 40 mg indian generic levitra lexapro 5mg online lexapro 20 mg split propecia online overnight cialis adelaide online non generic lexapro viagra or 800mg generic viagra american order xenical cheap lasix 200 mg iv anxiety disorders buspar generic viagra women viagra buy generic zoloft dosage 25 mg buy viagra 500mg buy Cialis 10 Tabs arzneimittel cialis 5mg propranolol 160mg buy doxycycline antibiotic xenical tablets cheap 500 mg generic cialis augmentin 625mg gia zoloft dosages mg generic viagra us doxycycline hydrochloride 100 online discount levitra 10mg augmentin tab 875 mg lisinopril cf 10 mg 2 100 mg viagra 5mg. cialis levitra 20mg england prednisone 20 mg withdrawal zovirax buying efek xenical 125 mg buy celebrex discount bula strattera 25mg augmentin 625 mg pregnancy strattera mood disorder augmentin 250 mg prospect sides .25 mg propecia viagra 100 mg reimport buy viagra istanbul kamagra online thailand cialis 28x5mg nexium generics cialis original 10mg buy glucophage online levitra 20 mg pill lexapro 10mg cost online cialis coupons levitra 100 mg legit cheap viagra buy kamagra sukhumvit zithromax 200 mg tablets levitra 20 generic capsulas celebrex 200 mg synthroid generic dosage xenical acquisto online celebrex 200mg australia thailand generic viagra 20 mg lexapro alcohol levitra twice 5 mg about xenical 120mg amoxil 250 mg 5 ml buspar generic 5 mg il viagra online metformin generic manufacturers generic synthroid effective liquid nolvadex online augmentin 500 mg cena kamagra online schweiz cipro rx online levitra 10 mg posologie compra buy doxycycline amoxil 875 mg price cheap cialis si celebrex 100 mg cost notice clomid 50mg levitra 20mg effectiveness clomid buy canada find cheap cialis online women viagra 2.5 mg cialis order prednisone overnight buy viagra 30 cheapest cialis pills augmentin 875 mg efectos cipro 750 mg tehlikelimi 100mg clomid success cheap viagra vancouver cialis 20 mg 36 hours buy cialis 150 mg 10mgs cialis enough cheap viagra 50mg buy online cialis zithromax 500 mg erfahrungsberichte cheapest valtrex 25 or 50 mg viagra strattera 30 mg amoxil 250 mg capsules brand levitra 100mg 50mg clomid triplets generic for tetracycline cialis 10 mg nedir nexium 40 mg thailand generic vs viagra erythromycin 500mg medicine generic cialis e 20 valtrex generic brand generic prednisone order purchase hydrochlorothiazide online erythromycin 250 mg uses generic levitra 10 difference generic cialis panic disorder zoloft wellbutrin 125 mg obat celebrex 100 mg cialis online dubai generic viagra wirkung 40mg cialis capsules blue zoloft 50 mg augmentin 875 125 mg tab viagra 120 mg tablets propecia buy online cheap levitra 40 mg prednisone 10mg high selling viagra 100 mgs buy free viagra cialis daffodils 20mg viagra 25 mg kopen beipackzettel celebrex 200mg propranolol hydrochloride 20 mg diflucan tablet 150 mg lexapro generic effects prednisone dosage 50 mg nexium 20 mg posologia zithromax australia order 800 generic viagra online diflucan 150 mg indicaciones propranolol 20 mg 400 mg synthroid 75 mg strattera nexium mups 40 mg 90 diflucan 150 mg dosis celebrex 200 mg dosierung cialis 10 mg duration metformin 1000 mg .ma levitra canada 5mg mylan 10 mg lisinopril 1000 mg metformin hcl lisinopril 10 mg nebenwirkungen viagra generic cyprus purchase clomid online intitle:buy viagra clomid deutsch online pfizer viagra 100mg nexium 80 mg overdose generic cipro 1000 viagra mexico online generic nexium canada viagra generico 50 propecia 5mg approved cialis 5mg directions cheapest cialis 2.5mg cialis 10mg canad generic lasix images doxycycline 100 mg espanol lexapro 150 mg 20mg lexapro pregnancy propiedades celebrex 200 mg diflucan 150mg generico 200 mg celebrex there generic zoloft order augmentin viagra oil buy wellbutrin 450 mg dosage augmentin 500mg goi cialis generic manila glucophage for cheap propecia x generico viagra 25 mg wirkungsdauer 40 mgs prednisone levitra 20 mg comprar viagra 120 mg zoloft vs generics cialis generic walgreens 300mg wellbutrin xl prednisone 50 mg daily doxycycline hyc 100 mg lisinopril 5mg itching lexapro 5 mg shaky lexapro 15 mg anxiety viagra generic india cialis generic compare clomid 100mg eisprong celebrex 200mg preco onlinestore buy viagra kamagra online germany viagra 400 mg lasix 500 mg romania cheap viagra medicine generic zoloft buy cipro 500mg generic online viagra al clomid 50mg homme buy levitra edmonton viagra online branded lisinopril 10 mg capsule dosage xenical 120 mg cipro 500mg antibiotic zithromax 5oomg synthroid 0.137mg 250mg zoloft order strattera augmentin 600 mgs xenical 40mg price cialis 5 10 20 mg canadian cialis 200 mg. buy cialis everyday generic nexium 20 mg tadacip tadalafil 20mg viagra generic when lisinopril vs generic metformin 1000 mg online viagra online discreetly cialis 30 100 mg glucophage 50 mg you buy viagra doxycycline 250 mg tabs doxycycline 100mg x14 buy levitra withpaypal mg lisinopril hctz generic lexapro dreaming cialis generic 40 mg augmentin 375 mg price propecia 1 mg generic generic zoloft hives viagra online zoll efeitos viagra generico 150 mg viagra effectiveness cialis 2 5mg bula levitra odt 10mg viagra ricetta online cialis 5 mg bijsluiter viagra cheap drugs notice augmentin 500 mg propecia online singapore viagra onlinee buying taking 450 mg wellbutrin buy australian viagra viagra 50 mg ervaringen viagra pet online nexium 20 mg capsules clomid progynova 2mg buy doxycycline 200 mg amoxil 500 mg liquid generic for viagra taking 3 cialis 5mg viagra 50 mg satis prednisone 40mg alcohol viagra doses 200 mg strattera 18 mg cap cipro online safe propecia 1 online ic hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg cialis 5 mg australia levitra dosage 100mg online chewable viagra lisinopril 30 mg use valtrex 500 mg tab levitra online sales cialis ervaringen 5mg cialis 5 mg pills 2.5 mg. levitra prednisone 5 mg dog 80 mg strattera adults buy sale viagra cialis spray online 100mg viagra teilen phenergan 50 mg nausea cialis 20 mg effervescent buy diflucan us viagra genericos lisinopril 10 mg apo augmentin vs generic cialis 20mg miami prednisone 40 mg dose cheap kamagra 100mg nexium 40 mg co lisinopril 30 mg tab cialis 10mg walmart cialis generic problem nolvadex 30mg price buy celebrex mexico metformin online kaufen order online diflucan metformin 1000 mg pill zovirax 800 mg filmtabletten nexium 40 mg ulotka cialis 5 mg dauertherapie forum cheapest cialis cialis 10 mg precio buy viagra purchase lexapro 5mg effectiveness online cialis singapore cheap viagra 100 uk viagra 100 mg information valtrex 3000 mg clomid generic name doxycycline 100mg animals buy tetracycline acne clomid thyroid disorders generic viagra euro viagra gold 800mg online cialis canada strattera 60 mg atomoxetine lisinopril 20 mg dosing nexium generic yet wirkung viagra 100 mg metformin 1500mg generic wellbutrin constipation propecia 0.1 mg timeline generic for nexium lexapro 28 mg clomid 50mg infertility buy india cialis zoloft online order diflucan online uk buy celebrex europe usa viagra 3000 mg viagra cheap kamagra generic strattera .80 mg bactrim 200 40 mg dosis wiki viagra online buy cytotec pills lisinopril 40 mg image lexapro generic prednisone sandoz 5 mg mims online celebrex alli orlistat buy ranbaxy viagra 3000 mg generico de propranolol lexapro generic 30 mg doxycycline 100mg rosacea lexapro 40 mg depression cialis 20mg au nexium 5mg review buying cialis calgary jakarta buy viagra levitra generique 40 mg buying viagra gel cialis 10 mg price strattera kopen online buy doxycycline nz diflucan 2mg celebrex 400 mg cap strattera online apotheke viagra online istanbul bactrim 800mg levitra generic brand generic viagra bestseller buy strattera generic farmaco cialis 20 mg xenical dosage 120 mg clomid de 50 mg priligy generic uk find cialis 5mg cialis generico 2.5 buy augmentin cheap order cialis holland viagra online denmark lexapro generico bactrim generic brand viagra consult online generic lexapro 2012 mylan 20 mg levitra reviews citalopram 10 mg libbs cialis online cheap 2 mg propecia brand cialis order buy doxycycline treatment buy 40 mg lisinopril diflucan 150mg tablets 10mg lexapro prescription cheap viagra 800mg buy zoloft canada 20mg prednisone dog generic wellbutrin reviews 2013 diflucan 150mg fluconazole cialis 2.5mg order generic prednisone names lisinopril tab cialis 20 mg durata kamagra postal order tesco viagra buy bought cialis online cialis 20mg rezeptfrei real zithromax online 20 mg generic viagra levitra buy cod ratio metformin 500 mg viagra online vietnam zithromax buy chlamydia 100mg viagra kaufen cheapest strattera valtrex generic pill lexapro overmax 20 mg generico augmentin sandoz viagra buy net viagra online 150 mg buy viagra placebos viagra online fiable viagra ordering online prednisone 10mg pain doxycycline 400 mg overdose doxycycline 100mg milk metformin 500 mg tabl 30 mg prednisone 2 weeks viagra 25 mg dose viagra pro 100 mg doxycycline 100 mg injectable xenical 120 mg paraguai 5mg lisinopril tablets viagra dosage 25 mg levitra generic 10 is cialis generic doxycycline 100 mg dosage viagra 50 mg dosage preis zithromax 500mg