Let me start with a confession. I’m still waiting to interview Rekha. I made it to the door of her pristine white bungalow once. A few steps and I would have been inside. I’d heard that only women could cross the threshold. Well, my gender was in my favour. But the door remained firmly shut. And a watchman — male — whisked the invite I’d come to deliver from my hand and shooed me away.
Cut to January 20, 2001: It’s 7 pm. The lights dim. A suave Rahul Khanna steps on stage. Mumbai’s Shahaji Bhonsale Kreeda Sankul is buzzing with excitement. It’s the first film awards of the millennium. Everyone wants to take the golden lady home. That includes 22-year-old Hrithik Roshan whose Kaho Naa... Pyar Hai has made him a superstar. And put him in the reckoning for two awards, Best Debutant (Male) and Best Actor.
He bags both. The first from Shah Rukh Khan who greets him with a hug and a heart-felt, “I wish I could be like Hrithik.” Bollywood’s Badshah talks about the humble boy whom he has known since he was a production assistant to his dad, Rakesh Roshan. The humble boy accepts the trophy with a bashful blush.
The blush deepens when he returns to accept his second award. Rekha announces the winner in her unmistakable husky voice, “It’s Duggu, my baby!” and hands him his trophy with a kiss. Like Shah Rukh, Rekha has seen the shy and always smiling Hrithik grow into a still shy, still smiling star. She had once confided to a friend that if she had a son, she’d have liked him to be just like Duggu.
She went on to play his mother in reel life, in Koi.. Mil Gaya, and his grandmother in Krrish. In fact, at another award function, five years later, she even accepted a Best Actor Award on behalf of Hrithik for his superhero act in Krrish. For me though, it was difficult to reconcile the gray-haired granny on screen with the golden lady on stage.
Memories of Rekha at galas will always be entwined in gold threads because she invariably turned up in yards of gilded silk, gold glittering at her throat and wrists. She was picture perfect, from one year to the next, and usually accompanied by the suited-booted Farzana, her manager-friend.
Once she came with Pisti, her pet Pom, who slept through the goings-on cradled in her arms. On another occasion, it was with a dashing young stranger. Tongues wagged till we discovered that he was her nephew.
Rekha never fussed about seats. But she was firm about whom she wanted to present an award to… And with whom. Once an upcoming actor who had just completed a film with her deluded herself into believing that they were buddies and insisted they’d present an award together. Rekha just shrugged her off and picked Dil Chahta Hai Farhan Akhtar as her partner. He was delighted, while the scorned lady turned demented. And stomped out with a I-could-kill-you tirade. I took the tirade in my stride because it involved a Re of gold. Never mind that she has still to grant me an audience.
Today, as she turns 56, I can only quote Shakespeare from Antony And Cleoptra: Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety: other women cloy The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry Where most she satisfies…