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.