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One of the principal wages of movie superstardom, as any Bollywood luminary will tell you, is the permanent loss of privacy. A film icon is a public figure and every move he or she makes is open to mass scrutiny.
And when the personality in question happens to be as phenomenally charismatic as the Big B and the masses over whom he lords belong to a cinema-crazy nation like India, he cannot ever hope to keep his personal life out of the gossip rags.
For a better part of his career as a leading man, Amitabh Bachchan could not evade the unwanted focus that the media trained on his relationships. Of the three lead actresses who figure right at the top of his list of most regular co-stars during his heydays - Rekha, Parveen Babi and Jaya Bhaduri - his name was romantically linked to two. The third, of course, escaped the net because he actually married her, thereby sparing her the ignominy of receiving undue amount of play in the gossip columns.
On his part, Amitabh always chose the path of dignified silence vis-à-vis his alleged and much publicised liaison with one-time favourite co-star Rekha. But that did not stop pen pushers from pursuing the story relentlessly. Even as it put untold pressure on his marriage, the persistent rumours no doubt helped his on-screening romantic pairing with Rekha flourish to the advantage of the many of the films that had them together. <b1>
The stories were probably apocryphal but they propelled the combo into the realms of Bollywood folklore, adding to the mystique of the two stars.
The Amitabh and Jaya marriage was the culmination of a longish courtship. They had been paired in as many seven films, including Bansi Birju, Ek Nazar, Zanjeer, Mili, Abhimaan and Chupke Chupke, before they tied the knot in mid-1973. Post-marriage, the gifted FTII-trained actress went into retirement.
Amitabh and Jaya had entered the Hrishikesh Mukherjee unit at around the same time - the former with Anand, the latter with Guddi. The two superhits were released in the same year, 1971. By the time they were signed up together for the lead roles in Abhimaan (1973), their relationship had taken on serious enough undertones for the two emerging stars to contemplate marriage.
The Amitabh-Jaya marriage has weathered many storms and the biggest one of them, if the rumour mills are to be believed, answered to the name of Bhanurekha Ganesan, a.k.a. Rekha. The first film that Amitabh did with Rekha (Do Anjaane) was at least three after his marriage to Jaya. They went on to co-star in numerous other films. The Chinese whispers not withstanding, there was never any concrete evidence from any quarters that Amitabh ever crossed the line. <b2>
Rekha had been in the industry for six-seven years, starring in numerous potboilers like Saawan Bhadon, Kahani Kismat Ki, Rampur Ka Lakshman and Gora Aur Kala. It was her professional - and some say, personal - association with Amitabh that altered the course of her career. It transformed her from an ugly duckling to a graceful swan. That Bachchan-inspired makeover set the tongues wagging.
The rumours of an extra-marital affair swirled around Amitabh until the early 1980s, when Yash Chopra pulled off a major casting coup in Silsila. The film starred Amitabh, Jaya (this was her first ever on-screen credit as Jaya Bachchan) and Rekha in a love triangle that was believed to mirror their real life. The publicist and the fans of the three stars could not have asked for more.
The expected commercial success of Silsila, surprisingly, laid all ghosts to rest and Amitabh never shared screen space ever again with Rekha, an actress with him he done the maximum number of films (nine), including some of the biggest hits of his career - Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Suhaag and Khoon Pasina.
While Rekha has often given her true feelings away in the course of television and print interviews in the 20-odd years since then, Amitabh, as always, has maintained complete silence, neither confirming nor contradicting the allegations.
That is the very posture that he adopted when Bollywood gossip rags went to town in the late 1980s with Parveen Babi's bitter recriminations against what she described as a "betrayal" by the Big B.
Amitabh and Parveen had worked with each other in successful films like Deewar, Khuddaar, Shaan, Kaalia and Amar Akbar Anthony. Thanks to the linkage with the megastar, Parveen's career soared beyond all expectations. Her decline is understood to have been triggered as soon as Bachchan dropped her like a hot potato when the rumours mills began to work overtime regarding their alleged affair.
The attention that Bachchan got in the gossip columns wasn't surprising, though. That is how journalists on the trail of juicy stories have treated most successful stars down the years. While in certain cases - notably that of Dharmendra and Hema Malini - they were proved right beyond an iota of doubt, in others they had to scurry for cover soon enough in what were essentially hit-and-run operations.
From Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, Rajesh and Sharmila Tagore to Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, Aamir Khan and Preity Zinta and Govinda and Rani Mukherjee have all found themselves at the receiving end of the febrile imagination of gossip columnists. It would have been too much of an effort for these obsessed, star-struck journos to leave Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha alone.