No one knows the real Rekha. Not even Rekha herself. One minute she will “play” Rekha the husky-throated mysterious star; the next minute she will drop the masked persona and laugh, sing, scream in pleasurable delight at her own witticism, fill your ears with gossip about the industry.
Would the real Rekha please stand up? Errrr, sit down?
“I look into the mirror and whom do I see. That persona, that persona, is not me,” she once confessed to me in an unguarded moment. At 68, Rekha continues to radiate a charm which no other female star in India possesses, certainly not someone past her prime.
But then, Rekha is immune to the ravages of time. It would be no exaggeration to say that at 68 she looks twenty years younger.
“How would you know, you haven’t seen me for years?” she teases. The voice remains as smokily husky as ever. There is something irresistibly appealing about Rekha. I still remember my first meeting with her. I was a 30-year old start-struck journalist from Patna visiting the City Of Dreams for a few days.
Ironically I had back-to-back appointments with Jaya Bachchan and Rekha one after another, a few hours apart. After I finished my wonderful conversation with Jaya, I began to rush out of her office in Jalsa.
“Whom are you interviewing now?” Jaya asked chattily. For a second I thought I would lie. But I told her the truth.
“Oh, her!” I will never forget the grimace on Jaya’s face.
Over the years I’ve realized that Rekha, in one way or another, poses a threat to all those who come in close contact with her. The image of the recluse is more a defence mechanism than an act. Before others wound her soul, she quickly folds up the tent and fades into the night.
Rekha admits she is afraid of being hurt. “It (the hurt) has happened over and over again. I’ve lost count. I don’t allow it to affect me too deeply. Haan, dard toh zaroor hota hai. But I don’t allow the wound to become a scar,” she once told me.
Rekha never allows the hurt to dictate to her heart. She goes out of her way to be friendly with younger actresses, most of whom genuinely idolize her. Rekha’s current favourite is Alia Bhatt who is among the rarefied cluster of film folk who get her random phone call. Rekha’s current passion is singing. She loves to sing on the phone to her friends.
Alia reminds me of the premiere of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi earlier this year. Rekha arrived at the venue, Yash Raj Studio, laden with a basket of her favourite mogra flowers. After the show she handed the fragrant basket to Alia with a hug and kiss.
It is a pity she has not become a Sanjay Leela Bhansali heroine as yet. Rekha was born to be a Bhansali heroine. That the director has, so far, not signed her is a hurt she carries in her heart. But she has never allowed it to colour her love for Bhansali’s cinema. After every film of his, she sends a beautifully handpicked saree to Bhansali’s heroine, be it Aishwarya, Rani, Deepika or Alia – they have all received Rekha’s token of appreciation.
To those whom she loves, Rekha is a very warm and generous woman. Those who don’t know her label her as enigmatic, eccentric, troublesome. At the height of her romantic obsession Rekha would walk off the sets of Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan for her secret rendezvous. She regretted her passionate impulses later.
Rekha once told me she didn’t believe that true love existed. She lied. She continues to love one man all her life. Although she had a brief stormy relationships with other men (including an irrational fling with Raj Babbar) she has never stopped loving the love of her life.
Tragically everyone connected to that one relationship that defines Rekha’s personality and existence to a large extent, is in complete denial. As if it never existed! I wonder when she looks at the mirror now what does she see: a woman who could never love any other man except one? Or a woman whom the world knows and loves as Rekha, the unattainable star?