Rekha: Memorable roles of a magical movie icon




LEGENDARY actress Rekha turns a year older this month and celebrates her 66th birthday on October 10.

Having started her career at the age of four in 1958 Telugu film Inti Guttu, she has been connected to acting for over 60 years and become an Indian cinema icon. She battled through challenges, including having to learn Hindi, a rollercoaster personal life and a male dominated domain, to make a permanent mark in films. To celebrate the timeless star turning a year older, Eastern Eye looked back through her huge body of work to select 12 magical performances.

Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D 999 (1969): After working in Telugu cinema as a child actor, Rekha made her debut as a leading lady in this Kannada language spy-thriller, inspired by James Bond. It was the third part of a trilogy and its success led to a fourth instalment. Despite being just 15 years old, Rekha showed remarkable screen presence and started her journey as a star.

Sawan Bhadon (1970): Rekha made her Bollywood debut in this big success and despite being just a teenager, took on the challenging role of a feisty village girl. She starred opposite fellow debutante Navin Nischol in a movie that helped put her on the radar of many Bollywood producers, which would result in her averaging at least 10 movies a year in the decade that followed.

Ghar (1978): The in-demand actress appeared in a wide array of movies during the seventies, including commercial blockbusters like Dharmatma (1975) and Khoon Pasina (1977), but earned her first Filmfare Best Actress award nomination with this harrowing drama. She delivers a powerhouse performance in the story of a couple dealing with the aftermath of a brutal gang rape.

Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978): The strikingly beautiful actress made the courtesan character her own in a string of successful films, which includes this highest grossing Bollywood release of 1978. She plays a key-role inspired by classic literary character Chandramukhi (from Devdas) and earned a Filmfare Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Judaai (1980): Rekha plays a multilayered character in this emotion-filled drama opposite Jeetendra and is once again the trigger point in the plot. She would earn a Filmfare Best Actress award nomination, but was beaten in the same year by herself for her performance in another film Khoobsoorat.

Khubsoorat (1981): The comedy-drama won a Filmfare Best Film award and also earned Rekha her first Filmfare Best Actress trophy. She plays a spirited young woman who melts a cold uptight family and has a positive effect on them. The Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed film would successfully be remade in 2014 with Sonam Kapoor, but she couldn’t match Rekha’s flair.

Silsila (1981): Rekha had starred in a string of successful films opposite Amitabh Bachchan, including Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Mr Natwarlal (1979), Suhaag (1979) and Ram Balram (1980). Their final film together was this iconic love triangle, which mirrored real life and raised eyebrows when it released. She holds her own in a challenging film with powerful characters.

Umrao Jaan (1981): The career-defining role for Rekha saw her play Indian literature’s greatest courtesan and in the process won a well-deserved National Award. After playing a courtesan previously in films, she took the role to a whole new level and the result is a timeless classic seen as an all-time great film regularly ranked in Bollywood’s top 100.

Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye (1983): The greatness of Rekha was perhaps that she could carry a film as a lead or could add another dimension in a supporting role, as she did in this taboo-busting drama. She plays a lawyer trying to get a woman justice and breathes fire into each of her scenes. Rekha would get another Filmfare Best Supporting Actress award nomination for this film.

Khoon Bhari Maang (1988): While other screen sirens from the seventies retired, Rekha continued to power on into the 1980s with lead roles in major movies and in many like this one, she was the hero. The Indian adaptation of Australian mini-series Return To Eden saw her play a widow who remarries, is almost killed by her second husband and sets out for revenge. She goes through a physical and emotional transformation in the hit movie, which earned her a Filmfare Best Actress award.

Phool Bane Angaray (1991): One of Rekha’s last great roles as a leading lady was another powerful story with her at the heart of the action. The action-drama saw her play a courageous woman who joins the police force to avenge her husband’s death, who was a crusading cop. She delivers another impactful performance, which once again saw her go on a transformative journey.

Koi Mil Gaya (2003): During the 1990s, Rekha transitioned with ease into more character-driven roles and then in the early 2000s started playing the mother. By far her best was in this sci-fi drama where she plays a devoted single mother to a mentally disabled son, whose life is transformed when he meets an alien. Although the game-changing film is about an alien and has an incredible performance from Hrithik Roshan, Rekha adds weight to the movie, like she did for so many before.

We at Eastern Eye raise a glass to the 66-year-old siren and thank her for  all the great memories.