Somewhere on the internet, there’s an interesting anecdote from the late costume designer Leena Daru about Rekha. She’s possibly the only actor in history who was so invested in doing justice to her character’s looks that she would accompany the designer to sari shops so she could weigh in on the selections. Out of character for a star of her stature, and yet, when one sees Rekha in her perfectly-draped Kanjeevaram sari, red lips, matching jewellery, and an immaculate hairdo, it comes as no surprise. To state the obvious, she’s also an immensely talented actor.
The industry is filled to the brim with people calling themselves born performers; for Rekha, though, it’s a bonafide fact. Her biological father, Gemini Ganesan, whom she only ever saw on movie screens, was one of the biggest actors the Tamil film industry has ever witnessed, with the kind of fandom that’s reserved only for actors and actresses of the South. Her mother, Pushpavalli, too, was a famous actor in the Telugu film industry. And it was she who urged Bhanurekha, as she was known back then, to become an actor.
After a couple of roles in Kannada and Telugu movies, her big break came in 1970 with the Hindi film Sawan Bhadon, after which there was no looking back. Rekha had become an actor, even though it wasn’t a career move she’d willingly made. And as for her becoming a household name? That honour was achieved with the 1978 hit Muqaddar Ka Sikandar opposite Amitabh Bachchan, and especially with the song Salaam-E-Ishq Meri Jaan, which catapulted her into the public consciousness.
Much of the ’80s was dominated by the actor who appeared in leading roles in multitudes of films that won her accolades. Comedy-drama Khubsoorat (1980) won her the Filmfare Award for Best Actress while Umrao Jaan (1981) where she played the eponymous courtesan, won her the National Film Award for Best Actress. Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), a movie that heralded a phase of women-centric films in Bollywood won Rekha her second Filmfare Award for Best Actress. And, although she graced the movie screens less often through the ’90s and the early aughts, the roles she did play were well received, especially the period drama Zubeidaa (2001), also starring Karisma Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee, and Koi... Mil Gaya (2003), in which she played the mother of a developmentally-disabled Hrithik Roshan who befriends an extraterrestrial life form.
In her signature look, Rekha looks as stunning today as she always has. By virtue of those looks, her astute sense of style, her famous dance songs, and her phenomenal talent she continues to remain both relevant and iconic.
By Ashwini Arun Kumar
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