The Original Divas of Bollywood: Part 3– Rekha

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She was the woman who mesmerized millions of fans with her sensuality and brought about a change in Bollywood by rising to the top at a time when only "beautiful" actresses were chosen in films.

Today, despite being  in her fifties, she continues to stir the imagination of men and women alike, owing to the aura of mystery that has always surrounded her.The person who made being 'divaesque' fashionable and kept generations of fans constantly bewitched with her bare existence– that's Rekha for you and here is her Bollywood journey.

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Not many know that Rekha was born as Bhanurekha Ganesan, into a filmy family, of sorts. Her fathers was Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan and Telugu actress Pushpavalli. Her Bollywood debut was with the film 'Sawan Bhadon' in the year 1970 though she had already worked in a Telugu and Kannada film respectively. Though her first few films performed quite well commercially, she was never given much appreciation, since she was considered ugly.

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"I was called the 'Ugly Duckling' of Hindi films because of my dark complexion and South Indian features. I used to feel deeply hurt when people compared me with the leading heroines of the time and said I was no match for them. I was determined to make it big on sheer merit," Rekha had once said. (Those people probably had no clue what an icon Rekha would become in the years to come.) Rekha took matters into her own hands and took to yoga, nutritional food and a disciplined lifestyle to change her plump and unattractive looks into a slender and beautiful woman. The ugly duckling had indeed transformed into a swan for everyone in the industry to see.

"I devoted thirty-one years of my life to this industry and in turn this industry has given me everything that I can be proud of - name, fame and the perks that go with stardom."

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Her first film, where she was lauded for her performance, was 'Do Anjaane' where she starred opposite Amitabh Bachchan. The film was a commercial as well as critical success and it launched Rekha's success story in Bollywood. The movie 'Ghar' opposite Vinod Mehra was considered a milestone in Rekha's career with respect to her performance. Her portrayal of a rape victim who struggles to come to terms with life was beautifully brought forth by Rekha and, indeed, remains one of Rekha's best works till date.

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In the same year, 'Muqaddar Ka Sikander' was released which was again, opposite Amitabh Bachchan, and it turned out to be the biggest hit of the year. The film established Rekha as the top actress in the industry and also led to the beginning of the adulterous affair between her and Bachchan, who was already married.

"Well loneliness is still a part of me, but being alone is not necessarily being lonely."

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Rekha's affair with Amitabh Bachchan has captured the fancy imaginations of millions of fans who doted on the pair that went on to star in a total of 10 films together, viz. 'Muqaddar Ka Sikander', 'Do Anjaane', 'Namak Haraam', 'Mr. Natwarlal', 'Ganga Ki Saugandh', 'Suhaag', 'Alaap', 'Khoon Pasina', 'Immaan Dharam' and 'Silsila'. The two, reportedly, had a full fledged affair behind the scenes in spite of Bachchan's marital status. In fact, the love love triangle featuring Bachchan, wife Jaya and Rekha was captured in the film 'Silsila' which would be the last time they would be working together.

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Of the affair, Yash Chopra states, "I was always on tenterhooks and scared (during Silsila) because it was real life coming into reel life. Jaya is his wife and Rekha is his girlfriend – the same story is going on (in real life). Anything could have happened because they are working together." Amitabh Bachchan finally buckled to media and family pressure and called it quits with Rekha. Their affair, though unsuccessful, has remained one of the most popular subjects till date and even today, if the two happen to be seen at the same event, the media goes into a frenzy trying to capture each one's reactions.

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After the turmoil in her personal life, came a new dawn in her career. She went on to act in films which brought her a great deal of appreciation from all quarters. She starred in art films and those which were woman-centric. Her role in 'Umrao Jaan' fetched her a National Award for Best Actress. Her role of a courtesan with a heart of gold showed how much Rekha had grown as an artist. Later the film was remade with Aishwarya Rai stepping into Rekha's shoes, but it sank without a trace.

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Films like 'Utsav', 'Ijaazat', 'Khubsoorat' and 'Khoon Bhari Maang' were some films which Rekha acted in when she was at the peak of her career, and her wonderful performance in the films was celebrated all over. During the 90s, Rekha's career started sliding and the only notable films were 'Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love' and 'Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi', for which she won the Filmfare for Best Supporting Actress.

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Most recently, we saw Rekha as the seductive crooner in 'Parineeta', mother and grandmother to Hrithik Roshan in 'Koi Mil Gaya' and 'Krish' respectively. Though her contemporaries have easily sunken in the roles of mothers and grandmothers with ease, playing such roles more than often, Rekha has always been very selective of her work and rarely fits into out minds as the typical mother figure of Bollywood.

Rekha has always been the ultimate symbol of sensuality and mysteriousness and has lived on in the minds of people despite almost disappearing from the movie scene for such a long time. At a time when the current batch of actresses try every move to bag attention, Rekha commands all that attention without even saying a word. This, only proves the stature she achieved in the industry owing to sheer talent and hard work and, of course, being the diva that she always was. (MensXP.com)

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Also read: The Original Divas of Bollywood: Zeenat Aman