Alone but free, thoughtful but catty, spirited and alive – A Rekha like you might have never seen before, straight from the Cine Blitz files of 1993.
Our very own Queen Bee just refuses to accept the fact that she’s over the hill … Oops … I mean over Four-0. We were sitting on her sets one day, discussing our common sun sign Libra. Someone complimented me and Rekha was quick to point – After all, she’s a Libran. And silly me added, “We are even the same age.” Rekha grinned, obviously flattered. Because a few days later, when I met her old comrade Jeetendra, I learnt that she’s almost a decade older than I am.
In fact, Jeetu had asked me to guess Rekha’s age. And very seriously I began, “In 1969, when she did SAAWAN BHADON, she was 13 …” He grinned sarcastically, “Haan, haan, kyon nahin, she could’ve been 10 also.” Jaya Prada, sitting close by, laughed the loudest but that’s another story. Jeetu told me Rekha’s age and that set me thinking. How she has fooled the world…
Determined to meet Madame to discuss the age factor, I got to her … She began, “Life does not begin with birth or end with death. It’s a process of living, controlling your present, determining your future and dramatically changing your life. It’s growing and developing through those incalculable myriads of experiences.
“It’s more important to feel better, than to look younger. Healthwise, I’ve really worked on myself and it didn’t come easy because even one day of negligence can show on your face, in your attitude, your work. I’m very sincere to my body and this is just the beginning. For the sake of the millions who love me, I have absolutely no business to go in front of the camera and not look my best.
“I’ve been bestowed with more than what others get and now it’s up to me how I maintain it. You know it’s easy to get away with negative points, but when you have so many good qualities in you, you must make use of them. That’s what I’m doing. It’s easy to say it’s a blessing. But there are so many people who are blessed with beauty but they don’t discipline themselves. In my case, I have no vices, no sidetracks.”
Right through this, there was a movie I was thinking of – was it, LOOK WHO’S TALKING? Or HOME ALONE? What I do recall though, is when I stepped into this beautiful world of journalism, and would go to the Sea Rock for a midnight coffee with my hubby and his shippy friends, every time we passed Rekha’s place each would nudge the other and whisper, “The lady is lonely.” Private joke of course.
But that’s exactly what I asked Rekha. How did she cope with loneliness?
“As long as you have the ability to think, you are never alone. If you have the sense and sanity to mix colours and bring out a totally new shade, it means you are alive. And as long as you are alive, in the sense that I am, you can’t be lonely. There’s so much to think of.”
Sure like those 13 ‘tall’ years… But does she enjoy living alone?
“Well, I can’t exactly say it’s enjoyable. But there are definitely moments of solitude which I relish. I too need company. I am human, aren’t I?
“But there are times,” she continued, “when one enjoys being alone. I have nobody to push me around, telling me what to do. I sleep or get up when I want to. I paint, I listen to music or I read a book. So it is a nice feeling to be living alone. But at the same time, I don’t take undue advantage of my freedom. One could have boyfriends if one wanted to, but that’s not in my nature. One has to rise in one’s own eyes. As each and every thought, action and step counts.”
If loneliness is fun as she claims, why does she give the impression of being so forlorn and isolated? Is it a deliberate move?
“No, it’s not a deliberate move, that’s only the impression people have of me.
I never chose to be isolated or to be alone and live alone. My sisters got married and went away. My mother chose to live down South because my sisters needed her more than I did. Then she passed away. So I guess the present situation has happened quite naturally.”
Didn’t she feel the need of a friend, a confidante? Okay, Farzana is always there. But one does like to have a best friend with common interests.
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me. It could be anyone or anything that you don’t necessarily have to see or talk to. For instance, my mother is no longer with me. But every time I think of her I smile, I feel inspired… Why even a hawa ka jhoka with mogre ki khushboo can thrill me to bits. I think if you have the sensitivity to notice and feel these little things they can be your best friends forever.”
Rather kinky way of feeling though.
I too live alone most of the time, but I need my writing, the kitty parties, the shopping spree or whatever … These are oxygen for any woman who is forced to live alone.Madame spread out the ghagra she was wearing, pulled up her chin, gave a mysterious smile, and said, “Oxygen? I think love is the most purified form of oxygen.”
I gaped for Aqua Pura! A dog and a secret are no company for any normal person. Human beings are social animals and if there’s no interaction with normal people, you really need a check-up. Social life is important, whatever kind.
“Socialising, I think, is a sheer waste of time and energy. Some people are such hypocrites. Daaru pilayenge, khana khillayenge and then will praise you, ‘Tusi great ho ji, tusi pope ho’ and the very next moment, they will bitch behind your back. I’m not interested in such a social life. I have a handful of friends and am proud of them. It’s better to have a few close friends than a bunch of parasites who live on you, drink your booze and then gaali dete hai. Groupism makes me laugh. Also since I’m living alone, I have to be more careful about who comes home and who doesn’t.”
Does that explain the exclusivity?
“Anything that’s talked about or is common loses it essence. Don’t you think so? People don’t understand silence. They have no time even to listen to their own conscience.” But why did she like to behave so hoity-toity with the Fourth Estate? Every star realises that sometime or the other, they need the Press. So why this nose-in-the-air attitude? I mean, even the superstar respects the written word, what’s her problem?
“I talk to a few selected journalists because they understand me. And aisa kuch nahi hai that a star needs the Press. One editor friend of mine told me that whenever Amitji sees a man with a sling bag he hops out of his car to do an interview. Now I’ll NEVER do such a thing. I’ll never show such desperation.”
Okay, so she doesn’t need friends, she doesn’t need a social life or the Press. But surely she dreams of marriage, of a family, of being a normal housewife?
“Every woman dreams of these things. Whether she’s a Rekha or a beggar woman, she’ll want to be a complete woman, a wife and mother. But what matters is the ability to make your dreams come true. I too thought I’d marry and have kids. But that was my dream. I tried marriage but it failed. So for me, to marry will be like Gautam Buddha trying to be Dawood Ibrahim. Time and again, it has been proved that God has not willed my life to be ordinary.
“A housewife is the most complicated, misunderstood and underestimated person, so full of complexes. It’s a difficult role to play. She’s taken for granted even though she’s really the backbone of the family as a wife or as a mother. So far, this role has not been written for me … Let’s see.”
Sorry, the role had been written, but the film failed. Talking of her brief marriage, she mentioned her separation with Mukesh Agarwal and subsequently his suicide. And of course, the aftermath that followed. However, it was all brushed aside with sarcasm. “Chalo, at least the Agarwals became a little famous because of me.”
And what of her film career which is almost over? What with all the fierce competition running around, isn’t her professional status definitely in the doldrums?
‘What competition? I have no place for jealousy in my mind. Let the other actresses keep trying to prove themselves. I’m like Cinderella – you know how she glowed because there was no malice in her, whereas her stepsisters grew uglier because they were jealous. Whatever films I’m doing have substance in them. And I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. My fans will always flock to the theatres to see what Rekha has done. Marilyn Monroe still sells, even after her death. A few of us are the last of the stars. Where will you ever get pairs like Nargis-Raj Kapoor, Meena Kumari-Dharmendra, Rishi-Neetu or Rekha-Amitabh? Ideal pairs don’t happen anymore.”
Whatever few films she’s doing, are to keep going. It’s definitely not for the money, because if nothing else, she is financially secure.
“Money is very important; it can buy you a lot. Yes, even happiness at times. But there has to be a limit to your wants. By wanting more and more you could end up losing whatever you have. In my case, I’ve had the good fortune of having enough money ever since I started earning. I may not have got a chance to save, but I’ve never taken money for granted. I value every penny I’ve earned and have invested it wisely. And money is not what makes you financially secure; it’s how you utilise it. It gives you happiness to spend it on your loved ones. Fifteen years ago, I used to buy anything I set my eyes upon. Then gradually, I developed my tastes. I started spending on my house. Now, I enjoy spending on others. That makes me feel financially secure.”
Once a star told me that if Rekha were to stand for elections, she would get all the male votes. What were her political inclinations?
“I don’t know anything about politics. I don’t read the papers or listen to what people have to say. But I do get a very strong picture of the country’s conditions. I form my own opinion.
“Politicians have their own reasons good or bad, for not giving their best. They are capable of giving much more, and if they did then this world would have been a better place to live in. But why blame just the politicians? It is the people’s attitude which is why we are in a mess. Punjab, LTTE, ULFA problems have not been started by the government. It’s the people’s sick minds which start this, ‘Yeh Hindu hai. Yeh Muslim hai’ business. The day politicians and people start thinking alike, our country will be a better place to live in.”
But that’s the country, what about our film industry? Is it a pleasant place to live in? Film wolves and the casting couch are any actress’ nightmare…
“It can happen in any office, any industry. It is up to the individual. Some girls do just about anything to reach the top. They think it is the easy way. Real people who have reached the top are the ones who have self-control, self- respect and are hard working. In so many offices you find bosses trying to act fresh with their secretaries. I am not saying that there is no casting couch or that some top heroines have not done it. Ho bhi gaya hoga! I am aware that there are girls who have been used, misused and they have become mental wrecks…. But ultimately success is what matters and how much respect you command.”
To say that India’s prime star has been through rough times would be the understatement of the century. In fact, at times the bitterness even shows. But you will be surprised that for all the nice talk, Rekha can be catty as well. For instance, when she asked, “Couldn’t Bhagyashree have found a better looking husband?” And another time, when I mentioned reading Amitabh’s interview where he said that he enjoyed working with all his heroines – Zeenat, Parveen, Rekha, Amrita – she was outraged! “Yes, I read it too. But it would have been better if he had not talked about me, instead of mentioning my name in the same breath as that of Amrita Singh.”
But then Rekha has seen enough of life to respect her exclusive status. So even if there are the Amits, Rajas or any freckled foreigner, what is her ultimate emotional security?
“I don’t believe in emotional security, I believe in emotional freedom. People who expect security will only be hurt. By offering emotional security to a person you are making him vulnerable to bondage. Security kisko bolte hain? Security is a deposit vault – you put in what you value most and lock it up. But emotional freedom means that you give that much respect to set him free. I don’t need emotional security to make me feel happy. If you have no sakoon in your heart, then nothing in this world can give you security.”
So what in the world does she value the most?
“Life! There is nothing more important. To be alive, you must be able to register every moment of what you are going through, who you are meeting and what you are doing!”