Timeless beauty and eternal diva are just some of the epithets that are used to describe veteran Bollywood actor Rekha. Over the past four decades, she has delivered diverse performances — from the role of a victim of sexual assault in Ghar (1978), a woman torn between her husband and her lover in Silsila (1981) to someone who seeks revenge from the one who tries to kill her in Khoon Bhari Maang (1988).
And her ardent love for her craft is evident even today. As the actor turns a year older, she talks about her journey and more, in an exclusive chat with HT Café.
Do you have a birthday ritual? How do you celebrate?
I am not a ritualistic person. I believe in lapping up the best of life. I live each moment as if it is my last. Every day is a festival, and I celebrate it with gratitude. I am born again every single day, and I value the blessings bestowed upon me by my parents, family, fans and loved ones.
How did you survive without acting for so many years?
The word survive is not in my vocabulary. I live life to the fullest. I do not merely survive. The truth is that the roles that were offered to me were repetitive, and that’s boring for an actor. I missed facing the camera, but what gave me courage and inspired me was that there was new talent springing up. They were fascinating to watch, and that challenged me to be more patient and improve my skills. Most importantly, it was the unflinching love, patience and loyalty of my fans that pumped me with the strength and the faith that the shutters are not down yet. The best is yet to come.
What kind of films would you like to act in now?
We [artistes] are lalchi (greedy). We want to play a zillion roles. One lifetime would not be enough to fulfil the needs of an actor. To me, an interesting role and an inspiring director are all that matters. There was never discrimination between art-house and commercial cinema. It was about the film-maker, the director, the subject, my role and my co-actors, who always brought out the best in me. Today, one is at a point where one has had the privilege of being exposed to world cinema, coupled with life’s experiences. I feel I am ready to take on any role.
Were you an obedient student or a rebel?
I am a student of life, and nature is my greatest teacher. I have always been an obedient child to my mother. I never questioned her actions. I am a passive aggressive rebel. I am strongest when I am silent. I am observant, perceptive and receptive to all vibes around me. I have an elephantine memory. I even retained things that I needed to forget. I don’t ask questions verbally, although my mind interprets the situation quite accurately. I have never retaliated. I am a non-violent person. There is no negative bone in my body. Focusing on the better side has been my motto, though anger is a valuable and strong emotion only if channelised in the right direction.
You started working when you were very young. If you had to change one aspect from that phase, what would that be?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I am not someone who repents. Life is the result of the choices one makes. My mother made the best choice for me — to be in the movies, and I shall be grateful to her for that. She always told me, “If your life is thought-provoking, it means you are worthy. Good, bad, ugly, people should never lose interest in you. It is only when the chatter stops that there is proof that no one cares and you don’t matter anymore.” I am proud of my roots.
Would you like a biopic to be made on your life?
Biopics are not for me. I believe that movies should be original, larger than life, entertaining and thought-provoking, which is why remakes do not impress me. Why settle for something that has already been done.
Who are the people instrumental in shaping your career?
Apart from my mentors, Mohan Sehgal (director), Hrishida (Hrishikesh Mukherjee; film-maker), Manmohan Desai (director), Prakash Mehra (director) and T Rama Rao (director), who moulded me and nurtured my acting skills, all the people who doubted my capabilities and tried to crush my morale, by saying, “Oh, you may be a great mimic, but you will never become a great actor.” Or “South Indians will never drop their accent and master the diction and intonation of the Hindi language,” have helped me in my career. I am grateful to those who smirked and said, “Tu itni kaali aur moti hai, apni shakal kabhi aaine mein dekhi hai (You are dark and fat, have you seen your face in the mirror)?” I owe my life and my growth in my craft to my gurus such as Savitri amma, Meena appa and Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan), who introduced me to the power of dialogue delivery and voice modulation.
Whose body of work do you admire from the current lot of actors?
Today’s generation is well prepared and are trained in all aspects of film-making — be it dance or action. Nowadays, there are prerequisites and demands from the film-makers even before actors enter the industry. They better showcase their optimum skills or else one would just end up being a pin-up girl or an Internet sensation. Vidya (Balan), Deepika (Padukone), Ranbir (Kapoor), Ranveer (Singh), Alia (Bhatt), Parineeti (Chopra) and Kangana (Ranaut) are volcanoes of talent who never cease to amaze me. And Priyanka Chopra is the first to pave the way, and represent our country across the world. She has set the standards really high, and it is a tall order for future generations to supersede that.
Would you like to join social media someday?
No, I have different, if not better ways to express, relish and communicate with my fans and loved ones. My purpose in life is to heal. Emotions are priceless and cannot be diluted by any other worldly power. Twitter and Instagram can never do that for me. By being one of the most-searched actor on the Internet, if one is curious with a wrong piece of information about me, don’t be, because it is not the real me. I am not Internet-savvy, but I manage to browse if I need some information.
Don’t you wish to communicate with your fans more often...
Words are the last form of communicating or expressing what I feel. I can sense the feelings and positive energies that my admirers send me. Adulation makes one a better person. My greatest luxury is my independence and what’s even greater is that I have the sixth sense, never to abuse or misuse it. I am the most blessed one that I know, and there’s never a moment, that I don’t remind myself that God loves me.