New Delhi, Oct 9: Bhanurekha Ganesan, better known by her stage name Rekha, has emerged as a highly successful actress. Noted for her versatility and acknowledged as one of the finest actresses in Indian cinema, Rekha began her career in 1966 as a child actress in the Telugu film Rangula Ratnam, though her film debut as a lead happened four years later with Sawan Bhadon. Despite the success of several of her early films, she was often panned for her looks and it was not until the mid-to-late 1970s that she got recognition as an actress.
Rekha acted in over 180 films in her career spanning over 50 years. Throughout her career, she has often played strong female characters and, apart from mainstream cinema, appeared in arthouse films, known in India as parallel cinema.
Rekha won three Filmfare Awards, two for Best Actress and one for Best Supporting Actress, for her roles in Khubsoorat (1980), Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) and Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996), respectively. Her portrayal of a classical courtesan in Umrao Jaan (1981) won her the National Film Award for Best Actress. Though her career has gone through certain periods of decline, she has reinvented herself numerous times and has been credited for her ability to sustain her status.
In 2010, she was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Indian government.
Rekha had no interest in acting and was basically forced to work to sustain her family financially, this was a difficult period in her life. Still a teenager, acclimatising herself to her new surroundings was an uneasy process.
Coming from the South, she did not speak Hindi and struggled to communicate with co-workers, and was constantly missing her mother, who was critically ill. Moreover, she was required to follow a strict diet. Recalling this phase, Rekha was later quoted as saying (Reacting to it, many years later, she said, "I'm healed, I am not bitter anymore, I don't think I ever was."),
“Bombay was like a jungle, and I had walked in unarmed. It was one of the most frightening phases of my life... I was totally ignorant of the ways of this new world. Guys did try and take advantage of my vulnerability. I did feel,"What am I doing? I should be in school, having an ice-cream, fun with my friends, why am I even forced to work, deprived of normal things that a child should be doing at my age?" Every single day I cried, because I had to eat what I didn't like, wear crazy clothes with sequins and stuff poking into my body. Costume, jewelery would give me an absolute terrible allergy. Hairspray wouldn't go off for days even despite all my washing. I was pushed, literally dragged from one studio to another. A terrible thing to do to a 13-year-old child.
In 1990, Rekha married Delhi-based industrialist Mukesh Aggarwal. A year later—while she was in London—he committed suicide, after several previous attempts, leaving a note, "Don't blame anyone". She was pilloried by the press at that time, a period which one journalist termed as "the deepest trough in her life."Bhawana Somaaya observed the period speaking of "a strong anti-wave against the actress — some called her a witch, some a murderess," but added that soon "Rekha came out of the eclipse once again unblemished!"
She was rumoured to have been married to actor Vinod Mehra in 1973, but in a 2004 television interview with Simi Garewal she denied being married to Mehra referring to him as a "well-wisher". Rekha currently lives in her Bandra home in Mumbai.