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Gems from biography: 18 things you didn't know about Rekha — birthday special

On the actress’ 62nd birthday today (10 October), we’ve rounded out a list of information revealed in author Yasser Usman’s new book on the ageless star.

Sonal Pandya

The newest celebrity biography, Rekha: The Untold Story, recently out in bookstores revived old controversies when events from her life were re-examined. From failed relationships to rediscovering the inner actress within her, author Yasser Usman reveals her early anguish in the Hindi film industry, becoming one of the most sought-after heroines and finally into the reclusive diva she is today.

1. Rekha was introduced to her late husband Mukesh Agarwal in Delhi by fashion designer Bina Ramani by early 1990. She first got his number from Ramani who insisted that she meet him as he was a fan of hers. They married after a month.

2. She introduced herself to her half-sister Narayani at the Presentation Convent School in Chennai for the first time as children.

3. Rekha attempted suicide in 1968 as a teenager after failing in her exams. The young girl was given three choices — films, studies and marriage. She reluctantly chose films.

4. Producer Kuljeet Pal signed Rekha on for a multiple-film, five-year contract after spotting her on the sets of a Tamil movie where she was the second lead. It led to her first film signing, Anjana Safar later titled Do Shikari opposite Biswajeet.

5. The film shooting of Do Shikari became involved in controversy when director Raja Nawathe, Pal and Biswajeet reportedly conspired to film a kissing scene with the unsuspecting young actress.

6. Rekha lived in Room No. 115 in Hotel Ajanta in Juhu during the shooting of her first Hindi film.

7. She has a photographic memory that allowed her to memorise her Hindi dialogues phonetically when she first didn’t know the language.

8. When she joined Hindi films, Rekha was hurtfully nicknamed the ‘Ugly Duckling’. Despite this, she shot for advertisements early on in her career. One of them, for the soft drink Gold Spot, was filmed by Shyam Benegal. They worked together years later in Kalyug (1981).

9. The rumoured marriage between the late Vinod Mehra and Rekha in Kolkata, 1973 was attended by actress Moushumi Chatterjee and her husband Ritesh (Babu) Chatterjee. Moushumi even gave her nose pin to Rekha to wear. In later interviews, Rekha has denied the marriage to Mehra.

10. Her first film with Amitabh Bachchan was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Namak Haraam (1973). However, the two actors did not have any scenes together in the film.

11. After living a hotel during the early part of her career until she was 18, she bought her first flat in Beach Apartments where Jaya Bhaduri also resided. The two became friends and she affectionately called her 'Didibhai'.

12. The film Do Anjaane (1976), with co-star Amitabh Bachchan, was turned down by Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz before Rekha stepped as the lead actress. It was the first time she was playing a character with negative shades.

13. In the 1970s, Rekha underwent a physical transformation, changing her appearance drastically; she was one of earliest actress to adopt a fitness routine and practice yoga.

14. Gulzar had a significant hand in shaping Rekha’s performance in 1978. She played a rape survivor in a critically acclaimed film. Her raw, honest performance in the film’s most difficult scene was so good that Gulzar used the original audio from it and didn’t require her to re-dub it later.

15. Rekha won her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Khubsurat (1981). The director called her Chinnapunnu, which in Tamil means youngest daughter.

16. Rekha’s bungalow is named after her mother Pushapavalli.

17. According to photographer Jayesh Sheth, “Rekha is the first one who started the personalised theme-based photoshoot fad in Bollywood.”

18. Rekha is fascinated by the legendary actress Meena Kumari and even hired her former makeup man, Ram Dada, to work for her.