Rekha: An Enduring Enigma

An enchanting and timeless beauty of Bollywood, Rekha has enthralled audiences for decades in a career that has spanned more than 180 films. Despite many years of hiatus from the silver screen, she still makes heads turn when she steps on to the red carpets bedecked in the choicest of Kanjivaram sarees and layered temple jewelry. However, Rekha’s legacy extends far beyond her timeless charismatic appeal and signature look.


The veteran actress’ penchant for reinvention can be seen in her choice of roles from Anjana Safar to the more recent Super Nani. Whether it is her doe-shaped eyes that capture a thousand different emotions in one moment as Umrao Jaan or her bold avatar in Khoon Bhari Maang, Rekha has proven her acting prowess and diva status time and again. From possessing the inherent grace and poise of yesteryear actresses to the groundbreaking roles that came to define the modern Indian woman, Rekha has traversed the bridge connecting Bollywood of today to its older roots.


Born as Bhanurekha Ganeshan, Rekha inherited her acting prowess from her father Gemini Ganeshan and mother Pushpavalli, both of whom were renowned Telugu actors. Like many famous personalities who have faced adversities from early childhood, Rekha too saw many financial adversities which forced her foray into films as the breadwinner of her family.


She debuted as a child artist in the Telugu film Rangula Ratnam and made her Kannada film debut with Operation Jackpot Nalli CID 999 in 1969, following which she made her Hindi film debut with Do Shikaari that was initially titled Anjana Safar. Her hit performance in Sawan Bhaado was a stepping stone for her career and made her a name on every director’s casting list in the ’70s. It was during that period that the Amitabh Bachchan-Rekha leading pair established dominance over the Bollywood industry.


Even though both actors were brilliant in their own right, together they commanded the audience’s attention like no other. Amitabh’s angry young man and enigmatic presence onscreen was greatly complemented by the graceful and coy personality of Rekha who brought the much-needed feminine softness to balance the rough masculinity in hit films such as Muqaddar ka Sikandar and Mr Natwarlal.


The pair also starred in romantic films like the Yash Chopra directorial Silsila which depicted a classic love triangle and is often said to be a reflection of the real-life love triangle between Amitabh, Rekha and Jaya Bachchan who also starred in the film as the parallel female lead.


Incidentally, Amitabh and Rekha’s successful pairing at the box office was cut short after this film as the pair never reappeared together onscreen after this and the movie is still believed to be one of the best love triangles to play out on the silver screen.


Whether it is the suicide of her husband Mukesh Agarwal a few days after marriage or the fact that she continues to wear sindoor, many aspects of the Padma Shri recipient continue to be shrouded in mystery. Despite being surrounded by many controversies and rumours in the ’80s and ’90s, Rekha has stood her ground in the Bollywood industry with her versatile acting, grace and unmatched beauty that remains fresh as ever.

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