Rekha, yes — the same, is suddenly in the news again. After years of “being a recluse” and “shutting the doors of her personal life” on the public, the enigmatic yesteryear actress finds every skeleton in her closet being unceremoniously hauled out and rudely aired in a grand parade through an unauthorized biography titillatingly titled Rekha: The Untold Story. The book is said to have captured “all the minute details, the troubled relationships and the tumultuous episodes of her life”, most of which were controversial, scandalous and unknown.
The biographer attempted to get in touch with Rekha, but failed; the actress who was an interviewer’s delight, transformed into “someone far more guarded” who was “politically correct and diplomatic” where she was once “uninhibited and vivacious”. In short, Rekha had stopped giving interviews. He pulled off the biography that is full of “jaw-dropping revelations” by drawing on interviews Rekha gave in the past and talking to people who played a key role in the actress’s career to put his narrative in perspective.
I was more fortunate. One of the last “exclusives” Rekha gave before declaring every journalist persona non grata was to me. Years ago. I met her at the Taj Land’s End in Mumbai where she religiously worked out every evening. “Sundays included,” she told me over a cup of herbal tea in the break she took between her gym routine. I was having the same. The tea was mud. But Rekha was on her second cup. I dared not complain. For whatever her age (and the Bollywood press notoriously likes to debate Rekha’s actual age and her screen age), from reaching out and touching distance, the diva still looked like the proverbial million dollars. Even in baggy tracks and a sweaty tee. Perhaps it was the workout. I didn’t want to spoil her mood.
“I’m not into heavy duty stuff. I listen to me in everything I do,” she said. “No weights but freehand exercises. I do yoga and also cardio. And in between, I dance, stretch myself, there’s no set rules. That applies to my life as well. It’s important to utilize every bit of your being. Not on a daily basis. I try to do that on a second to second basis. But time doesn’t exist in my life. When you savour and relish every moment, then you learn the art of preserving yourself. I don’t over-abuse myself, I don’t do drugs, I eat simple vegetarian food, my mind is not polluted, my mother’s values are embedded in me. I’m a perceptive person. I know what’s good and I don’t venture into what’s not good. I’ve discovered my own khazana. Everybody should. Before you realize it, life goes by. For me, every day is a rebirth.”
I had gone not to talk about films, because Rekha wasn’t active in Bollywood anymore, but to find out how she survived. And kept the world’s interest in her alive. Was she lonely? Did she miss the fame of the screen? Wasn’t she afraid of old age, illness? Yes, she often claimed to be God’s chosen one. But even God’s chosen one had bills to pay and a lifestyle to maintain.
“Survive?” she said imperiously. “I’m not a survivor. I live life to the fullest. But I’m a loner. I don’t network or meet people. It’s tacky for a person to talk about herself. For me, luxury is all about my privilege… to meet who I want, where I want, when I want. And how much do you really need? Life is high maintenance the more you acquire. I’m happy with little things that I can take care of, value, and put to use. I rarely do films. In fact, I’ve got to remind myself that I’m an actor. Time was when I was zero in the bank. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve saved for a rainy day. All the jewellery I have is my Amma’s stuff. It’s been around 40 years. Just a few sets. But I’m very creative. I wear it differently. Clothes, I mix and match. Twenty years ago I collected a lot of designer wear. Now it’s absurdly expensive. Depending on who’s wearing it, it’s entirely possible to match a tee bought off the road in Europe with something from D&G. I don’t go on dates, I don’t attend parties or visit exotic spas, so what do I have to dress up for? My ultimate dressing is for ghar se airporttak… that’s my biggest catwalk. Sounds pathetic? But that’s my secret!”
I’m living life. Not surviving. Or fighting it… I don’t use a cell phone because for me luxury is not being on a leash.Rekha
The secrets were tumbling out. This was Rekha unplugged. And, maybe on an OD of adrenaline from her workout, but she was talking uninhibitedly and from the heart, grateful to be in the moment. I was grateful, too.
Of course, she is offered films, ads, reality shows, her own TV show, she’s invited to dance at weddings for cash. All of which everybody in Bollywood is doing. “I know what I want to say and when I do it – I’ll do it, but I don’t know when,” she said about a TV show. “I never thought I’d last four decades in the film industry and do the things I’m doing now. Whatever is in store for me will happen. God chose to make me a woman. I’m privileged. Women have a lot more interesting experiences than men. Good, bad and ugly… but certainly more in-depth and intense, because as women we take it all too much to heart. I chose to be single. Everything is my choice. But I’m far too evolved for my liking. Reality is not what is shown on TV. Life is what happens in between when you’re planning what you want to do. What is scripted is not reality. Old age and illness don’t scare me. What is there to be afraid of? Don’t waste a single second worrying about what is not in your hands. Just as you didn’t know when you were in the embryo stage, you won’t know when you’re dying. So, you see, I’m living life. Not surviving. Or fighting it. I never read newspapers but don’t miss a thing about what’s happening in Bollywood. I don’t use a cell phone because for me luxury is not being on a leash. I enjoy gardening though I don’t have a green thumb. I write poetry, paint, do charcoal sketches… anything else you want to know?”
I did. And commending my soul to God, I dared to ask her, the great and elusive Rekha, “What would you like to read on your tombstone?”
“…That she made me smile,” Rekha said without missing a beat.
And she smiled, finally, getting up to go back to the gym and her workout, picking up my half-finished cup of herbal tea and taking it with her.