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Book excerpt: When Rekha acted opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Do Anjaane


For her 63rd birthday today (10 October), an excerpt from Yasser Usman’s book discusses a pivotal point in Rekha’s career where she did her first full-fledged role as a grey character in Dulal Guha’s Do Anjaane (1976).

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The biography Rekha: The Untold Story, written by Yasser Usman, details how a simple Bhanurekha turned into the glamorous Rekha. From her tumultuous childhood in Chennai to her journey as teenage film star, the actress adapted herself to change with the times.

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This excerpt talks about a shift in Rekha’s career when the actress began to pay more attention to her role and behaviour on the sets of Dulal Guha’s Do Anjaane (1976) after being cast opposite the meticulous Amitabh Bachchan.

Excerpt:

The filmmaker Dulal Guha had earlier made Dushman (1972) with Rajesh Khanna and Dost (1974) with Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha. Both films did well at the box office. He now wanted to attempt something unusual.

Guha decided to make Do Anjaane (1976), an adaptation of ‘Ratrir Yatri’, a story by Nihar Ranjan Gupta. It was about an ambitious girl who had starry dreams but was married off to a middle-class clerk. Her husband’s wealthy friend then lures her and together they conspire to push him off a running train. The husband survives and later returns to avenge the hideous betrayal. Amitabh Bachchan was signed to play the lead and his friend’s role was given to Prem Chopra. The heroine’s character obviously had strong negative strains; by traditional Hindi film standards, she was a vamp. The role was offered to Sharmila Tagore and Mumtaz but both rejected it thinking it would ruin their image forever. Then Rekha was approached. After the narration of the script, she predictably wavered and told Guha, ‘Dada, this is vampish.’

Guha insisted that the film centred on the female protagonist and that she would be well remembered for the role. His narration and insistence must have intrigued Rekha. Till then nobody had discussed the dimensions of a role seriously with her. So far she had been required mostly for cleavage-flashing song-and-dance routines and clichéd romantic scenes in her films. Despite having negative shades, this role seemed meatier than anything she had done. It was a risk though: she could be hated for the negative on-screen characterization or she could earn some respect as a multidimensional actress, something she had always craved. Rekha finally agreed.

At that time, she was mostly doing terrible B-grade films like Wo Main Nahi (1974), Zorro (1975), Kahte Hain Mujhko Raja (1975) and Dafaa 302 (1975). In big films like Feroz Khan’s Dharmatma (1975), she played second fiddle to Hema Malini. Even in Randhir Kapoor’s Dharam Karam (1975), the focus was mainly on Raj Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor. Do Anjaane had the potential to earn her some credibility as an actress. So what if the role had negative shades?

Rekha’s co-star in the film was Amitabh Bachchan, who was on a roll after Zanjeer and Deewar (1975). Plus he was Didibhai Jaya’s husband. By then, the entire film industry was swearing by Amitabh’s punctuality and professionalism, rare in the unorganized Hindi film industry. Gossip magazines thrived on stories about the tantrums of film stars and their incompetence, and Rekha’s name constantly popped up in such stories; sincerity and punctuality were certainly not her strong suits. The unit of Do Anjaane was bracing for a clash.

But something altogether unexpected happened.

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Amitabh always reached the sets on time. He rehearsed his lines and discussed the finer nuances of the character he was playing. His professionalism extended beyond shoot hours too: he would seldom stay back to party or drink. He chose to leave as soon as work was over and returned on time the next day.

Like everyone else, Rekha, too, was awestruck by Amitabh’s persona. In her famous interview on Rendezvous With Simi Garewal in 2004, Rekha said, ‘Standing in front of Mr Amitabh Bachchan is not easy.’ She revealed that she was paranoid the moment she found out that Amitabh had been signed for Do Anjaane. The entire film industry was raving about his intense portrayal of the Angry Young Man in Deewar. Remembering that time, Rekha said that she was extremely nervous throughout the shoot of Do Anjaane. She light-heartedly recalled how she used to forget her lines out of nervousness and how one day, Amitabh told her in his baritone, ‘Suniye...zara dialogue yaad kar lijiyega.’

On Rendezvous With Simi Garewal, Rekha described Amitabh as ‘something I’d never seen before. I’ve never met anyone like him. How can so many good qualities be bestowed on one person? I’m not a fool, I’m intelligent or so I’d like to believe. When I see a good thing, I can recognize it.’

Amitabh’s dedication, sincerity and professionalism won Rekha over completely. He cast a spell on her, and the impact was clear for all to see.

Call it the Bachchan effect but Rekha now started doing something she had never done in her life: she arrived on the sets of Do Anjaane on time, at 6 a.m. sharp, much to everyone’s surprise. But the change did not end there. She starting thinking deeply about the character she was essaying and discussed the finer points of the portrayal, much like Amitabh was wont to. Here was a man who was charismatic enough to be emulated. The stage was set for a romance the industry would not stop talking about for decades.

The extract from Rekha: The Untold Story by Yasser Usman has been published with permission from Juggernaut Books.