Films, films and more films — this is one medium of art which has been ruling our hearts for decades. Stars in movies have been icons in the past and are more so today. They not only epitomise beauty and style but are also fabulous examples of elegance and grace. When we look at Indian cinema and its super gorgeous actresses, one actress that comes to our mind is the one and only diva of Indian cinema — Rekha.
Rekhaji has been the symbol of beauty for almost half-a-century and there has been no looking back for her since the time she first appeared on silver screen in Sawan Bhadon directed by Mohan Sehgal.
Bhanurekha Ganesan, better known by her screen name, Rekha, is truly considered one of the most beautiful Indian film actresses. She is not only known for her drop dead beauty but also for her versatility. She is acknowledged as one of the finest actresses in Indian cinema. Rekhaji started her career in 1966 as a child artiste in Telugu film Rangula Ratnam though her film debut as a lead happened four years later. Despite the success of several of her early films, she was often panned for her looks and it was not until the mid- to late-1970s that she got recognition as an actress.
Rekhaji has acted in more than 200 films in a career spanning over 60 years. Throughout this period, she has often played strong female characters and apart from mainstream cinema, she has appeared in art house films or parallel cinema. She has won three Filmfare Awards, two for Best Actress and one for Best Supporting Actress for her roles in 1980 film Khubsoorat, 1988 film Khoon Bhari Maang and 1996 film Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi respectively.
Her portrayal of a classical courtesan in Muzaffar Ali’s 1981 film Umrao Jaan won her the National Film Award for Best Actress. Talking about Rekhaji, Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj once told me, “Usski aankhein usski adaa lakhon ki baatein karti hain (her eyes and style speak a million words)” and this is so true when she comes on stage to dance. One cannot look elsewhere but at her perfect expressions and adaa (style).
I have met the ultimate diva of Bollywood on a few occasions — first one being at the Mr India contest where I was a contestant. During one-on-one interviews when I came face-to-face with her, I was speechless seeing her beauty. Later I choreographed her in my first film Zubaidaa and then we bumped into each other at many social events. I recollect a few of my dance based conversations with her and with the help of timeless Indian melodies and the magician photographer Jayesh Sheth, I am penning down a few things for you to get a bit insight into the life of the reclusive and mysterious beauty of our cinema, Rekhaji.
Are you conscious of the fact that you are a superstar?
I am conscious of the fact that everyone thinks I am a superstar. For myself, I am an artiste.
To reach this position, it has been a difficult path for you?
I got success overnight with my first film. It is only after a few years did I realise that I want to be an artiste.
Your parents were well-known actors? Did they ever guide you and help you?
Yes, my mother did but like most actors if you talk to them, they will say they always wanted to be an actor since childhood. In my case, it was totally different. I never wanted to be an actor. In fact, I was forced to become an actor. (laughs)
So when did your casual attitude towards films change?
In the 1970s after my first film was a big success. I became an overnight star. But for me, what was nice is that my school and my friends loved my film and that made me happy. I really did not know what I was doing in the beginning.
We all love your dance. Where did you learn your dance from?
You will not believe me but neither have I taken any dance training nor learnt dance.. Everyone in my house, in my family, dance. My mother and sisters are all dancers but I never took it seriously. Yes, my mother did send my sisters and me to a dance class to learn dance and I did go there but I never paid attention in the class so never got to learn it really. Though I wish if I had taken professional training, my dance would have been lot different.
But in films we have seen so many of your legendary moves?
Yes, I agree. But for me dance is a feeling, how one feels from inside. If you feel it from your soul then woh aapke aang aang mein aa jata hai (it pours out of your body). It is the natural grace that one has matters and in my family everyone is very graceful.
You have worked in so many films. Which has been your favourite?
In the beginning, I did not like any of my films. But in 1975, Ghar was the movie when I felt I should start taking interest in acting. I loved the rape scene in that film and that is when I decided I should pay more attention to my acting skills.
Till date, dancers from all over the world try to copy your Umrao Jaan moves. Did you take any training for the tehzeeb and adaa you showcased perfectly in the film?
(Smiles) I know it is very difficult to believe and you will not believe it too but I did not learn Urdu language or anything of that sort. Umrao Jaan to be was ok. I do not think I deserved a National Award for it. The best part of the film was its atmosphere and because of which, it happened the way it did. In those days, I was going through a certain phase in my life that it came on my face too. To add to that, Muzaffar Ali was a fabulous painter and because of that texture of the clothes, the background was in complete detail. It is because of this detailing that the film became such a success.
There have been so many gossips and rumours about you in the media. When you read all about it, how do you feel?
In the beginning, I did not understand anything. I came to Mumbai in 1969 and till 1974, I did not bother. But there was a time when people started to take advantage. They started to paint a picture that was not me. Then from 1975-76 onwards, I decided I will not talk much because what I say is rarely written.
Yes, it is true Rekhaji speaks rarely to the media but whenever she does, she speaks from the heart. Her life has been filled with super success and loads of controversies yet she fought through it all and made a benchmark that no one can touch. Even today draped in her exquisite Kanvijaram saris, wearing her trademark red hot lipstick when she makes an entry into any event, performs on stage or comes on a television show, millions lose their heart and mind. That is the supremacy, the power, the mystery and the enigma of the diva of Indian cinema, the one and the only — Rekha.
Photo Credit – Jayesh Sheth
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore, is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]