One of the finest actors in Indian cinema, Rekha has delivered some of the best performances in her longstanding showbiz career. She has not only romanced the most dapper heroes on-screen but has also set the bar so high with her versatile roles that she is someone many look up to and take inspiration from. Holding more than 180 films to her credit, she has received a National Award as well as three Filmfare Awards for her stellar contribution to the craft. On the occasion of the Bollywood diva’s 66th birthday, we have compiled a list of her 10 best characters in blockbusters that will always remain in our hearts.
Do Anjaane (1976)
All of Rekha’s best performances came in the second phase of her career after the miraculous makeover. The first among them was Do Anjaane. In this Dulal Guha-directed drama, she dared to play grey. As an over-ambitious Bengali housewife who connives with her husband’s (AB) best friend (Prem Chopra) to murder him, Rekha was namkeen and naughty. And her character’s ambitions were incredibly misguided.
As a housewife who is a rape survivor nurtured back to normal life by her supportive husband, Rekha could have gone easy on the immaculate makeup. But she managed to convey her character’s trauma and pain. She had some of Lata Mangeshkar’s most memorable melodies like Tere bina jiya jaye na and Aaj kal paaon zameer par for company.
Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978)
During the same year as Ghar Rekha’s interpretation of the emotions of a tawaif who silently loves the modern-day Devdas Amitabh Bachchan to death gained immense popularity through that one song Salaam-e-Ishq. Along with her Umrao Jaan dances, Salaam-e-Ishq is the signature-step of Rekha’s career. Incidentally Rekha had an equally melodious number Wafaa jo kiya to jafaa bhi na kijiye sung rather badly by Hemalata, hence the melody went unnoticed.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee loved Rekha to death. Even at a time when she was not being taken seriously as an actress Hrishida gave Rekha deglamorized roles in Namak Haraan and Alaap. In Khubsoorat Hrishida wrote the role of the incorrigible do-gooder who takes on her sister’s disciplinarian mother-in-law (Dina Pathak) specially for Rekha. Pig-tailed and precocious Rekha swept all the awards for best actress. This was the second turning-point in her career after Ghar.
Exuding an erotic splendour, open-haired and impeccably styled Rekha was a pitch-perfect portrait of the Other Woman in this extra-marital love triangle. In her confrontation scene with Jaya, Rekha held her own imbuing her rejected character with a silken husky veneer of tragedy.
Umrao Jaan (1981)
Regarded as the Mother India of Rekha’s career, the character of the Lucknowi courtesan whose adventurous life is defined and defiled by the various men she encounters, Rekha was pure dynamite on the big screen. Director Muzaffar Ali has gone on-record to say she would often disappear from location. But who cares! Rekha wowed audiences with her interpretation of Asha Bhosle’s timeless item numbers.
Jeevan Dhara (1982)
Unlike other sacrificial heroines who silently and happily give up their own happiness for the sake of the family, Rekha’s character in this film never ceases to remind her no-good family about how much she has given up for them. This martyr was a cribber. The role was meaty and Rekha sank her teeth with hefty hunger.
The thing about Rekha in her heydays is that she looked so eye catching that the calibre of her performance often got eclipsed by the arresting accessories. Playing a 5th century courtesan Vasantsena, Rekha blew the screen apart. Who can forget Shekhar Suman pouring milk on her body?
Khoon Bhari Maang (1988)
Rakesh Roshan gave us two Rekhas at the price of one. The first was a Plain Jane who returns from the near-dead as a smouldering seductress to take revenge on her husband. The performance was predominantly about prosthetics and makeup. But Rekha managed to look like a million dollars and suffuse the makeover from ugly duckling to femme fatale with momentum.
The only film that Rekha did for director Gulzar featured her as a wife who allows her husband Naseeruddin Shah the freedom to return to his first love. A very unusual triangle with Rekha at her restrained best.