Rekha Birthday Special: What Makes Rekha So Mysterious?

As she turns 64, Subhash K Jha looks at a woman who has lived life on her own terms and continues to be as magnetic as she is inspirational
Rekha Birthday Special:  What Makes Rekha So Mysterious?
Rekha

On  October 10, Rekha turns  64...hard to believe. Even harder for her to believe, I am sure. The first time that I met Rekha, she was this gorgeous apparition in  spotless white. Hair tied in a  casual bun, face  completely  free of makeup , sitting behind an over-sized glass-top table with the sun setting behind  her with  painted perfection,  Rekha looked  like a   vision out of  Sanjay Bhansali’s cinema.

Unfortunately  the interview didn’t go according  to her  satisfaction. Perfectionist that she  is, Rekha asked me  to  drop  the  interview.  I did. But  promptly wrote an  acidic  column on  her. To my surprise, Rekha remembered  every detail  of our meeting  and its somewhat disastrous aftermath.

Eccentric? I wonder who labelled her  that, and for what purpose! Rekha  is one of  the  most grounded and  unassuming  persons  I’ve encountered  in Bollywood.  What’s more she’s completely self-made.   She may have plenty  of blemishes as a  human-being. But  vindictiveness and vanity  aren’t among her short-comings.

Once we were discussing how frequently she  meets  her good friends. “Oh  about  once a year! And  going by my  track record,  that’s quite a  lot,” Rekha deadpanned.

I remember  once she had  told me  she doesn’t get affected by changes in atmospheric temperature.

Cool as a cucumber, Rekha remains hot to this day . Nothing   shakes her,  not outwardly instead.  Rekha once told me, “It isn’t as if I don’t want to reach  out to people…Of course I do. I’m a normal healthy woman. But to me, reaching out to people, making demands over their time and attention is an encroachment. I’d rather connect once in while.  That’s enough to keep me going. I’ve accepted  everything in life. My mother taught me to take everything in life, from age to criticism,  with  humility.  You’ve to have the confidence to carry your age without  self-consciousness. I’m proud even of that wrinkle which  appears on my face. It’s a symbol of all that  life has taught me for  years. Aging is so inevitable. All the choices I’ve made, all  the people I’ve met , all the hurt and all the happiness… they’ve all carved every contour on   my face. And  I’m  proud  of them all.”

Such beauty can only mean a life well lived. “Don’t  be too sure. Besides, I don’t give that much importance to physical beauty. My looks are only a small  part  of my personality.  Looks are  just a reflection of who you are from within. No amount of expensive saris, diamonds and makeup  cannot  make you look beautiful  unless you  at peace inside. Lots of worldly wrongs have happened  to me. But I didn’t wallow  in them and let them affect me in a negative  way. Every day I  go through the bad and the good. There’s an angel and devil within  me. It’s up to us  to  choose  who rules  our lives.  We all have a choice in life. We can make something  positive  happen in every situation.  That’s the key to my life. I’m always asked why I’m so calm all the  time, is it  a façade? I agree I’m a great actor on screen. But no one can live a lifetime  of  lies. I don’t believe in living a lie. But I know  a lot of people think I live a lie. If that’s how they feel about me, so be it.”

Stunningly poised, Rekha is  perched at a  place  in her  life where very few celebrities have been.  Neither age  nor rage ever wrinkles her soul.  Immaculate and unspoilt….impervious to the blows  of  mundane  irritants, Rekha  is  arguably Bollywood’s most exclusive female icon.

I haven’t been able to figure Rekha  out.  But then  no one else has, not even Rekha herself.  She’s unarguably the most enigmatic star in Bollywood.  No one ‘knows’ her well. And anyone claiming to do so is a  liar.  Rekha lives alone in a home where no visitors are allowed.  Her  next-door neighbour is Farhan Akhtar . And  he’s never visited her place. I know of no one who has visited her at home.   When I ask her about this startling solitude she brushes it off as my biased opinion.

“You think I’m lonely?  That’s your  view. It needn’t be the truth.”   From  the little that I know of Rekha I’ve found her to be extremely sharp …and compassionate.  Not many people in the self-serving world of make-believe (a.k.a  Bollywood)   have that quality. Rekha never retaliates. No matter what the hurt she keeps it within  herself…and she always  remains  in control  over her emotions .  This is something she has learnt to do over the years. The earlier phase  of her career and life were pretty turbulent.  Wild stories about her mercurial behaviour kept the Page 3 writers active long before Page 3 was invented.

Then something happened in and to her life. Whatever it was it changed her  completely. Mellowed her down, smoothed out all the rough edges,  transformed the wild child into an enigmatic  enchantress. A lot  of    people  think Rekha is an epitome of cultivated elegance. If she is, then all the more power to her! And I wish more actresses would follow her style and grace. Rekha never raises her voice, never loses her emper….It’s as though she belongs to  a coffee-table book rather than  the realm  of  flesh and blood.

But  under the veneer of  flawless hauteur Rekha is as vulnerable as the next person.  I believe she lives in  a world that she has created in her mind. It’s  a  lovely world of enchantment and  mystery, mirth and mysticism, fun and heartbreak.  In that oyster she has created a spiral of possibilities, none of them crystallized or obtainable,  but nonetheless real enough for her to believe in them.

There’s only one way to reach Rekha. You leave a  message on her answering machine on the landline. If she wishes to connect she calls back…personally.

Once after a long silence I threw my coin in the wishing well. I left a message on her answering service. My phone rang. And I heard the mythic husky voice on the  end. “Subhashji hain.  Main Rekha bol rahi hoon.” I remember how Vivek Oberoi couldn’t stop rubbing his ears when the same voice had congratulated him after Company was released.

Even after dealing with stars of every hue and weight for so many years that voice had the power of turning me into jelly. I  knew  Rekha doesn’t call too many people. I knew I had the rare privilege.  And I cherished it.  Rekha has a rare star quality . The aura IS all-crucial  to her personality. Over the years she has mastered that aura,  honed it to  a  fashion statement.  By maintaining an exclusivity, not making herself  incessantly accessible to the press, not appearing on every channel each time a film of hers is on release, Rekha has showed us why she’s what she is.

Nothing   in  her    life is  open to scrutiny. Nothing about her stardom  is uncommon. And when people say, ‘Rekha isn’t for real’ they mean to pay her a backhanded compliment.  What they mean is, in a  world where stars have lost their sheen by dancing at weddings and attending birthday parties for a price , she refuses  to step out of  her ivory tower.

It isn’t  as though she doesn’t make friends.  She does…but only on the sets. After the arclights are switched off she heads home to live another dimension of that spectacular subterfuge which we give the name of life.

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