Rekha is one of our film legends yet her rise to fame has been painful and with great many personal hurdles. From media witch hunts to blatant sexual harassment, her story is a reminder of the sheer toxicity of the Bollywood’s sexism.
She was the illegitimate daughter of Gemini Ganesan and was harassed for it from a very young age, especially in school. Called ‘lotta’, which is Tamil for bastard, she would suffer such abuse for years to come.
2. A Thankless Job
She was pushed into acting from her early teens and was even beaten by her brother for refusal to do so. As if that wasn’t enough, her professional life also came at a terrifying personal cost. She was the sole earner in the family and thus had to often give into the sexual demands of lecherous producers and directors.
3. The #MeToo moment
While shooting for Do Shikari, the actor, director and producer forced Rekha into a kissing scene. Biswajeet, the lead actor, grabbed Rekha and forced himself upon her. The camera rolled for five long minutes before the director finally called ‘cut’. What’s worse is that the director was celebrated for his ‘bold move’ when in reality, he had orchestrated an intimate scene with Rekha without her consent!
4. Body Shaming from Bollywood
Raaj Kumar passed a racist remark about Rekha’s skin, Shashi Kapoor, who would later become good friends with her, called her ‘dark, plump and gauche’. She even had to go through demeaning body-painting that made her look fairer – something that she said ‘deeply hurt’ her. Such instances may have broken many women, but it only strengthened her resolve to make it big.
5. A Pioneer in Feminism
Rekha’s frankness is unprecedented in her time and some of her statements are shocking even to a modern audience. “You can’t come close, really close, to a man without making love”, “It is sheer fluke that I have never got pregnant so far” and “Premarital sex is very natural. And all those prudes who say that a single woman should have sex only on her suhaag raat are talking bull” were some of the controversial things she said . She never pretended to be anyone other than who she was – and instead of celebrating her bravery, the media and public ridiculed her for it. She was called everything from a “threat” to the happiness of married couples in Bollywood to a “nymphomaniac”.
6. A Tragedy Unlike Any Other
In what seems to be the incident that finally broke her spirit and forced her to become the media recluse, Mukesh Agarwal, her husband, hanged himself just a few months after marrying her. Instead of giving her space and time to grieve,his family and the media now amplified their abuse of her. She was branded a vamp, a ‘daayan’, a man eater who drove her own husband to suicide. Even Subhash Ghai and Anupam Kher seem to have joined the mob and commented on her prospects and respectability. Her film , Sheshnaag, was boycotted, and vandals blackened her face on its posters