Metamorphosis of the glamour girl
IN A CAREER SPANNING three decades and 150 films, Rekha’s screen portrayals though a magnificent success, leave much to be desired in social relevance. Restricted to five different phases, she started as the glamour girl, rebelled as the married woman, drifted as the outsider, reigned as the courtesan and bargained to settle for a single status. Whether “Saawan Bhadon”
(‘70), “Elaan” (‘71) or “Gaon Hamara Shaher Tumhara” (‘72), she entertained as the glamour doll. “Gora Aur Kala” (‘72) starring Rajendra Kumar in a double-role and Rekha cast opposite the handicapped, was her maiden protest against injustice. The first instance when her presence held significance.
In the next couple of roles, she reappeared in a romantic rhythm. Sometimes, she wooing the hero and sometimes, the hero wooing her. In “Rampur Ka Lakshman” (‘72), she is the affluent dropping her defences to admit attraction to a village bumpkin, Randhir Kapoor. In “Dharam Karam’ (‘75), Randhir Kapoor is the poor-rich-boy drawn to her rustic innocence. In “Imaan Dharam” (‘77), she is the ordinary millworker and Shashi Kapoor, smitten by her, the millowner. Her romance was seldom catastrophic and most often circumstantial. “Namak Haram” (‘73) and “Mr. Narwarlal” (‘77), out of propinquity. In this case, both imposters, the coming together of the rural and the urban. In “Suhaag” (‘79), it was the coming together of the expelled. She, the prostitute and he, a wastrel. In contrast, “Ram Balram” (‘80), a bonding of responsible civilians. Rekha is the middle-class girl robbed of her gold bangles and Amitabh, the cop, helping her to trace the culprit. The three roles where she got caught in the crossfire as a beloved were Feroze Khan’s “Dharmatma” (‘75), playing the second lady helping her man to recover his first love; in Anil Ganguly’s “Aanchal” (‘80), when she emerges the victim, the passive recipient of a family scandal involving Rajesh Khanna and his sister-in-aw, Raakhee; and in “Raaste Pyaar Ke” (‘82), where she sacrifices her love for friendship.
Domesticity was bestowed upon her earlier than she anticipated. “Ek Bechara” (‘71) was taming of the shrew. In "Kashmakash" (‘73), she is preoccupied with her maiden family, unsuspecting of her husband’s involvement in a crime. Self-denying in “Alaap” (‘77), self-respecting in “Khoon Pasina” (‘77), she is self-reliant, yet oppressed in “Agar Tum Na Hote” (‘83). To her credit, it must be said that she was always believable and whether virtuous or immoral, unfailingly acceptable. She was aware of her prowess and unafraid to reveal her ambitions. Material gains in “Do Anjaane” (‘76), a good lifestyle in “Aap Ki Khatir” (‘77), she gave in to her temptations right upto the end in Basu Bhattacharya’s “Aastha” (‘97). Older and wiser now and better equipped to camouflage her failure with overpowering guilt. Challenging the gender equation in “Agreement” (‘80), she screens candidates for a trial marriage, succumbing to the same gimmick, four years later, when Vinod
Mehra purchases her as a namesake wife in “Bindiya Chamkegi” (‘84). Hiring a lookalike father for her orphaned children in “Jhoota Sach” (‘84), she is strong to fight her battle single-handedly in “Khoon Bhari Maang” (‘88).
Intolerant to infidelity, she protests every time she is betrayed in a marriage. In “Judaai” (‘80), she walks out on her husband despite being pregnant and in “Ek Hi Bhool” (‘81), is condemning of her partner for defending his lapse, as a one-night stand. When she is the betrayer though, she proves a coward. She does not confess until caught in “Silsila” (‘81) and evades confrontation as long as she can. In Shyam Benegal’s “Kalyug” (‘81), where wielding power over her younger brother-in-law, she deceives her husband and sister-in-law. The three exceptions when she displays rare courage are “char” (‘78), about a rape victim. Humiliated by the ugly encounter she tries escaping, but discovers that happiness lies with her husband. Ramesh Talwar’s “Basera” (‘80), where she is the pawn, married to her brother-in-law, a reluctant rival to her sister. The script lacked spine in providing a moral solution to the problem. The elder sister sacrificing her home for the younger, left the audience with a heavy heart. And “Ijaazat” (‘88), when the wife accepts defeat and surrenders to her husband’s obsession, the other woman. Her dignity dissuades her to put up a fight and so she withdraws, to find an equal partner in Shashi Kapoor.
Interestingly, she is always the responsible daughter-in-law and the confiding parent. When the cadet son returns home, leaving his training mid-way in Govind Nihalani’s “Vijeta”, it is she who irons out his anxieties and instills confidence. The father, Shashi Kapoor, is too nervous to take charge. In “Sada Suhagan” (‘86) again, it is for her that the children drop their grievances and return to the nest. While “Biwi Ho To Aisi” (‘88) and “Bahurani” (‘90) were stereotypes, the daughter-in- law of “Sansaar” (‘81) is disapproving of her selfish husband, unsupportive of the joint family. She sets about to teach him a lesson in a round about way questioning tradition. The women call the shots and remain united amidst tension. The mother-in-law (Seema Deo) and daughter-in-law (Rekha) share a unique bond where the older woman is ready to forsake her marriage to cross the border (a Lakshmanrekha drawn across the house) to aid her daughter-in-law. In the end, when the storm abates, It is the daughter-in-law’s decision that they live separately. Not because it is difficult to forgive and forget, but it is the only way to sustain love!
Love remained an obsession, but sadly most of the time it eluded her. When married, she took it for granted and was therefore, let down. When single, she was taken for granted and therefore lost out. If not to destiny, then another woman (in this case the wife) and finally to her conscience. ‘Will I always wear only necklaces? she hints to Jeetendra, who at the end of one more summer, evades tying the mangalsutra in “Maang Bharo Sajna” (‘80). In “Asha Jyoti” (84), though confined to isolation,she is magnanimous to leave her love child for Rajesh Khanna. In “Prem Tapasya”
(‘83), she fakes an affair to provoke Reena Roy into leaving her husband dying of cancer. In “Mera Pati Sirf Mera Ham” (‘90), she does it to straighten Radhika, an over suspicious and nagging wife of Jeetendra. “Zameen Aasmaan” and “Souten Ki Beti” (‘90) were the ultimate tribute to the other woman, where the wife rears her rival’s child as her own, facing social stigma!
Out of all the other woman portrayals, the only ones without conflict in ideology were Yash Chopra’s “Faasle,” profiling a long and steady relationship between an affluent businessman and his beau. The other, Saawan Kumar Tak’s “Mother ‘98” (unreleased), where she extracts alimony out of three boyfriends, unsure which out of the three is the father of her daughter. The other facet being the courtesan, which in time to come turned bigger than the persona. Tantalising and open exploited, Zohrabai of Muqaddar Ka Sikander” (‘78) was the beginning, “Umrao Jaan” (‘81), the blossoming, “Utsav” (‘85) and "Kamasutra” (‘97) the celebration of sensuality.
Charisma and competence were her recurring qualities and her aura cast a spell over the most compelling circumstances. There was a quest for self-sufficiency and she pursued it with a sincerity that was moving. Whether the young widow spewing venom in “Barkha Bahar” (‘73) Leo Tolstoy’s adaptation of “Resurrection”, or the spirited rebel redefining rules at her sister’s Inlaws, “Khubsoorat” (‘80). The scorned daughter determined to expose her mother in “Saajan Ki Saheli”
(‘81) she is exploited in “Ghazab” (‘82) and misunderstood in "Jhooti" (‘86). Cracking the whip and asserting her status, she is aching for matrimony in “Jeevan Dhara” (‘82). A lawyer in “Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye” (‘83), a cop in “Insaaf Ki Awaaz” (‘86), a journalist exposing a scam in “Bhrashtachar”
(‘89), settling scores in “Phool Bane Angaarey” (‘91), addressing dowry death in “Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi” (‘91), she is a judge giving verdict on a rape victim in “Insaaf Ki Devi” (‘92).
It was sometime in the ‘80s that gradually independence turned to power. The vulnerable catalyst, unsure of her goals, in her caution not to be trampled, hardened and after tentative confessions, turned sinister. It was the eclipse hour. “Geetanjali” (‘93), about twin sisters, one good, the other evil, followed by “Aurat Aurat Aurat” and the manipulative don In “Madame X” cold-blooded and controlling in “Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi” (‘97). From the docile lass to the heartless don... the conscience, temporarily, was buried!
Editor, ‘g’ Magazine