In this issue of NRI Achievers our Mumbai bureau has managed to pencil in Rekha, noted for her elusiveness and maintaining a safe distance from scribes. Sex-bomb of the the Hindi screen of yesteryears who used to rank a third in the race for the top position next only to Hema Malini and Zeenat Aman – elfin charm, a curvaceous figure oozing sex appeal from every pore of her vivacious body in capital letters, an ‘I-don’t-care-what-the-hell-the-world-thinks-of-me’ attitude toward society and a rare combination of beauty and brains … this, in short, is what Rekha is made of. To pin down this grand lady of Indian cinema for an interview is like asking for the moon, as she continues to cold shoulder the film press and has always played hide and seek for interviews. But our Bollywood maven succeeded where many have not, and we bring you her thoughts here …

Rekha is one actress who never minces words. Point blank, she had told me that she had stopped giving interviews to journalists because she is fed up of the itsy-bitsy image of a nymphomaniac that the film press has saddled her with, in the wake of her romantic escapades with Vinod Mehra, Kiran Kumar, Yash Kohli and Amitabh Bachchan. “Have I no other job other than jumping in and out of the bed of every eligible star in filmland?” she snorted and flared, as the conversation veered around to her so called ‘reputation’ in the industry.

Her performance in IMMAN DHARAM, for the first time in her career, had even fetched her an award for the best actress. She was then thrilled on having bagged the Filmfare award for the best actress and having proved to the world at large that she too can act. “If today I am not acclaimed as a fantastic actress, the reason is that I am just not inspired to give out my best in the kind of roles that I am saddled with by producers. Tell me which film today affords the heroines with an opportunity to shine in an industry dominated by heroes.” she asks. Rekha has a point there. Films with a heroine-oriented theme have floundered at the box office badly. Like DREAM GIRL starring the hit-pair of Dharmendra and Hema Malini, DOOSARA AADMI starring Raakhee in the pivotal role with Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, KADAMBARI with Shabana Azmi in the title role with the late Vijay Arora and Raj Kapoor’s SATYAM SHIVAM SUNDARAM with Zeenat Aman in the pivotal role. And naturally every producer wishes to play safe by launching projects which boasts of a lion’s share by the heroes.

Rekha has come a long way in films ever since her debut in filmland with Mohan Sehgal’s SAAWAN BHADON opposite Navin Nischol, way back forty seven years ago. Navin Nischol is not alive today, while Rekha is liked by each and everyone in the industry for her affable nature and kindhearted disposition. “I want to prove my mettle as an actress. It is not that I want to end up only as a star. It is just a coincidence that even my worst films have clicked at the box office and virtually thrown stardom at my doorstep. But I rarely get roles which I enjoy to play. Like my role in GHAR directed by Manik Chatterjee. After ELAAN I acted with Vinod Mehra in GHAR and enjoyed every moment of my work in the film, because it was a meaningful role and afforded scope for me to get my teeth into it. It posed a challenge to the actress in me.”

Rekha used to say that she is prepared to work with dedication, concentrating all her time and attention on her roles and taking an individual interest in all her films like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi. Yet numerous were the occasions when Rekha had ditched her producers after confirming the dates allotted to them by her. Producer Shiv Kumar suffered heavily when Rekha ditched him after promising him that she would join Sunil Dutt and the unit of his film at Aurangabad where the outdoor schedule of the film was scheduled to be held. His film AHIMSA remains incomplete because he dared to complain about Rekha’s irresponsible behavior to the Producer’s Council.

Rekha was replaced by Reena Roy in Narendra Bedi’s INSAAN, in which Jeetendra and Vinod Khanna were the co-stars. Prakash Mehra didn’t replace her because of the fact that she dared to play truant on the sets of DAKU and MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR. What Rekha needs is a director who can really make her work and hold her reins in his control. She is like a spoilt kid who is too pampered to turn over a new leaf. To her credit, Rekha has several memorable films in her career like PREM BANDHAN opposite Rajesh Khanna, LAMBU DADA and MR NATWARLAL with Amitabh Bachchan, MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR opposite Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna, BHOLA BHOLA opposite Rajesh Khanna and Moushumi Chatrterji, RAM BALRAM with Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, Mohan Sehgal’s KARTAVYA opposite Dharmendra, and Raaj Kumar Kohli’s JAANI DUSHMAN opposite a horde of stars like Jeetendra , Sanjeev Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Vinod Mehra, and Shatrughan Sinha.

What Rekha needs to inch ahead in her career which at the moment is at the cross roads, is perseverance and a little bit of enthusiasm for her work. Because all said and done, Rekha is a chip off the old Gemini Ganesan block. Both Gemini Ganesan and Pushpavalli, her parents, were the top stars of the Tamil screen once upon a time, and talent runs in her veins. Her father had once told me during one of my visits to Madras: “What does Rekha not have that either Zeenat Aman or Hema Malini have? She has everything that is needed to make it to the top. Yet she is speeding ahead in her career at a snail’s pace. Why is it that in spite of her beauty and talent, Rekha is not the No 1 actress of the Hindi screen?”

Well, the dice is cast, and its up to Rekha to accept or ignore it. She can even now start taking up meaty character roles that are offered to her, or it will just be too late. Because, just around the bend are other actresses awaiting their turn, like Parveen Babi and Reena Roy, who are proven serious threats to her. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Rekha was replaced by Bindiya in N.C. Sippy’s film GOLMAAL directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

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