Oct 10, 1954 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Oct 10, 1954 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Rekha Ganeshan, popularly known by her stage name Rekha, is one of the most successful Indian actresses to appear in Bollywood and South Indian movies. After making her debut as a child artist in 1966, she went on to star in many commercially successful movies. In a career that spanned over four decades the actress appeared in over 150 films, which also include appearances in arthouse films. She immortalized the character of the courtesan Umrao Jaan from the 1981 movie of the same name, and also won a National Award for her role as well. In 2010, the Government of India honoured her with Padma Shri - India’s fourth highest civilian award.
Early LifeRekha was born to the succesful Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan, and Pushpavalli, a Telugu actress. She was enrolled at the Church Park Convent School in Chennai. Rekha endured a troubled childhood as her father disowned her, refused to acknowledge his paternity; her mother raised her as a single parent. The actress has one real sister, five half-sisters, and one half-brother.
Personal LifeIn 1973, Rekha was rumored to have been married with her co-star Vinod Mehra, however, the actress later denied the same. In the early 1980s, it was also revealed that Rekha was secretly having an affair with actor Amitabh Bachchan and received a lot of criticism as Bachchan was married to actor Jaya Bachchan. In 1990, Rekha married Mukesh Aggarwal, a Delhi-based businessman. However, only after a year of their marriage, Aggarwal committed suicide.
Movie CareerAlthough Rekha was born to actor-parents, she was never inclined towards being an actress. It was the troubled financial condition of her family that forced her to quit school and take up acting as a profession. Before making her debut as a lead actress, she had appeared as a child artist in the Telugu movie Rangula Ratnam, at the age of 12 in the year 1966. Three years later the actress made her lead debut with the Kannada movie Operation Jackpot Nalli CID 999 (1969). She was supposed to make her Bollywood debut in the same year with the movie Anjana Safar, however, the movie was delayed only to be released a decade later in 1979, renamed as Do Shikari.
In the following year Rekha appeared in the movie Sawan Bhadon, which marked her Bollywood debut and was a commercial success. The young actress who was struggling with the Hindi language had to learn it but managed to woo the audience with her on-screen presence. Rekha became an overnight star and went on to star in successful movies such as Rampur Ka Lakshman (1972), Kahaani Kismat Ki (1973), and Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (1974). Although the actress basked glory of being a part of hit movies. She was much disappointed as her acting skills weren’t appreciated. More so, her dark complexion and plump figure was completely contrasting against the standard norms of ‘beauty’ - as followed by the Bollywood industry. She soon became focused on her looks and also chose her role meticulously.
Rekha’s first character-driven role came with the movie Do Anjaane opposite Amitabh Bachchan. She portrayed the character of a greedy housewife and was applauded for her role. This also marked the beginning of one of the most successful and talked about on-screen couples of Bollywood - Rekha and Amitabh - they went on to star in several blockbusters together and were also linked together as couple. However, it was only in the year 1978 that brought about a significant transformation in Rekha’s acting career. Her portrayal of a rape victim in the movie Ghar (1978), opposite Vinod Mehra was termed to be one of her finest performances at the time of her career. In the same year she also starred in the movie Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, opposite Amitabh Bachchan. The movie went on to become one of the biggest hits of the decade and her portrayal of Zohra, a courtesan, garnered positive reviews at the box office. This further cemented Rekha as one of the most successful actresses of Bollywood.
From taking up glamourous, and serious roles, Rekha then proved her acting abilities by appearing in the comedy movie Khubsoourat directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Another commendable performance as Manju Dayal, a young vivacious woman, meant Rekha would go on to win her maiden Filmfare Award for Best Actress. The Film World Magazine reported: "Rekha's done it. Smoothly, successfully. From a plump, pelvis-jerking, cleavage-flashing temptress, she has metamorphosed into a sleek, accomplished actress. Gone are most of the inane mannerisms, pouts, wiggles and giggles.”
In the 1980s, on-screen chemistry of Rekha and Amitabh reached to point where in the couple were reported to be in a relationship off-screen. This being one of the biggest talking points of Bollywood at that time, acclaimed director Yash Chopra went on to cast the couple in his romantic drama Silsila. In the movie, Rekha essayed the role of Amitabh’s love interest, while his real-life wife, Jaya Bachchan portrayed Amitabh’s on-screen wife. Deemed as one of the most scandalous films of the era, the film was a commercial success but also marked the end of Rekha-Amitabh on-screen pairing; Silsila was the last film they worked together.
Rekha next starred in the movie Umrao Jaan (1981), directed by Muzzafer Ali and won the National Award for her performance a courtesan. Following this, she went on to act in similar roles later in her career. By 1983, Rekha had established herself as the top actress of Bollywood and then also set foot in arthouse cinema - known as Parallel Cinema in India. She appeared in movies such as Kalyug (1981), Vijeta (1982), Utsav (1984), and Ijaazat (1987).
In Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug Rekha essayed the character of Supriya, which was essential based on the mythological character of Draupadi; critic Vijay Nair described her performance as “a masterful interpretation of the modern Draupadi”. However, it was Girish Karnad’s Utsav that indubitably can be singled out to be one of the most poignant performances of Rekha. Essaying the role of Vasantsena she won the Bengal Film Journalists’ Associations Best Actress (Hindi) Award. Finding success in many films, the actress also was offered roles in movies that are driven by the lead actress. Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) was one such movie that won the actress her second Filmfare Award and later also quoted that: "The first and only film I concentrated and understood all throughout."
After ruling the silver screen for more than two decades, the 1990s turned out to be highly disappointing. Many of Rekha’s roles received negative reviews and many roles went unnoticed. Movies such as Mera Pati Sirf Mera Hai and Amiri Gareebi - both of which release in 1990 - did not fare well at the box office. However, unlike her peers such as Hema Malini and Rakhee, who had moved on to playing character roles, Rekha continued to appear as a lead actress. In 1991, while Rekha was still recovering from the loss of her husband, she was praised for her role in K.C. Bokadia’s Phool Bane Angaray. Rekha essayed the role of a young woman who joins the police force to avenger her husband’s death. Following this, the actress was cast in similar roles. However, her subsequent roles were less effective; Insaaf Ki Devi (1992), Ab Insaf Hoga (1995), and Udaan (1997) turned out to be failures at box office.
By the mid-90s it was evident that Rekha’s choice of movies led to her downfall but the actress further went on to accept controversial roles as well. Her role in Mira Nair’s highly controversial erotic drama Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996), Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996) opposite Akshay Kumar, and Aastha (1997) met with positive reviews at the box office. The next decade saw her accepting various supporting roles; her role in Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja (2001) and Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya (2003) are two of her most promising roles of the decade. The 2000s saw her appear in several movies such as Bachke Rehna Re Baba (2005), Kudiyon Ka Zamana Hai (2006), Yatra (2007), Sadiyaan (2010) - all of which were box office disasters. Rekha last appeared in a cameo role in R. Balki’s Shamitabh released in 2015.