Rekha’s new biography reveals her hidden loneliness

A new book by author Yasser Usman on the actress details her early life and the many controversies in her personal and professional life.

Sonal Pandya

Upcoming book, Rekha: The Untold Story, reveals previously unknown facts about one of Hindi cinema’s most controversial actresses. Author Yasser Usman delves into all aspects of Rekha’s life, from her personal sorrows to her professional failures.

Usman decided to write about the actress after coming across a lot of information on her in the research for his book, Rajesh Khanna: The Untold Story of India's First Superstar. He found similarities between both the stars; after achieving the highest points of fame, they retreated within themselves.

Despite all odds, Rekha remained a top lead actress in the film industry for over 20 years from 1969 to the early 90s and made the occasional film here and there afterwards. Usman’s book reveals that the outspoken actress was much maligned by men and women alike for her alleged affairs with Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra.

In an article on his book for newspaper Hindustan Times, Usman wrote, “In typically sexist style, the film industry and the press repeatedly singled out Rekha and maligned her, never her partners, for her supposed relationships. After reports of affairs with Jeetendra, Dharmendra, Sunil Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan, among others, Rekha was projected as a woman who posed a 'threat' to the happiness of married couples in Bollywood. The press uninventively called her a 'man eater' and a 'nymphomaniac'. Even someone of Nargis Dutt’s stature unwisely pitched in: 'She gives the impression to men that she is easily available... I’ve worked with a lot of children with a lot of psychological problems in my time. She’s lost. She needs a strong man.' Dimple Kapadia was pithy and direct: 'Stay away from my husband,' she said, as if her husband Rajesh Khanna had no agency in the matter. Even with no one seemingly on her side, Rekha went on to become a superstar, and the highest paid actress of her time.”

A young Rekha

The most horrific revelation from the book is the early discrimination and sexual harassment the young actress suffered at the hands of her directors and co-stars. In the same article, Usman detailed, “At a shoot for Anjana Safar, later renamed Do Shikari, producer Kuljeet Pal, director Raja Nawathe and lead actor Biswajeet conspired to force Rekha into a kissing scene. When the director called 'action', Biswajeet grabbed Rekha and forced himself on her while the camera was rolling. The director didn’t call 'cut' for five long minutes. Rekha couldn’t protest for fear of the consequences; and rather than being damned and proceeded against by the law, the producer was celebrated for the discovery of a 'bold sex kitten', the most obnoxious of phrases.” The above scene took place when Rekha was only 14.

The book also highlights the brief happiness which turned to profound sorrow Rekha endured when her marriage to businessman Mukesh Agarwal came under scrutiny after his suicide. Instead of being with her at her time of need, the industry blamed her for his death. “Film magazines tried to implicate Rekha using flimsy and unverified trivia like that Mukesh hanged himself using her dupatta, and ran irresponsible and scurrilous headlines like 'The Black Widow' and 'How Rekha drove Mukesh to Attempt Suicide'. Her film that was playing at that time, Sheshnaag, was boycotted, and vandals blackened her face on its posters.”

Rekha in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996)

With each setback, Rekha bounced back strong and held her head high. She continued to work in supporting roles, even winning the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1996 for Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi in a negative role. Rekha had prominent roles in Shyam Benegal’s Zubeida (2000) co-starring Karisma Kapoor and appeared as Hrithik Roshan’s mother Sonia Mehra in hit franchise series, Krrish.

With every film role and appearance and at several award shows, the ageless star remains as elusive as ever with the media. She declined to be a part of the book, which is based upon the many interviews and film personalities who spoke about the star over the years. Usman’s book hopes to shine further light on all she has endured to became the star she is today.