Stardom, he says, is unexplainable. And the fact that she metamorphosed into an actor from a reclusive little girl forced to be in films, has little to do with her popularity among the masses.
"There have been several superstars in her time - Hema Malini, Sridevi - but Rekha has always managed to have that edge, thanks to her personal life. From a brash woman who spoke about her sexuality and relationship with Amitabh Bachchan 20 years back to a recluse, who now sticks to talking about abstract love and seldom gives interviews, it has been an interesting journey for those who have loved and hated her," says Yasser Usman, whose book Rekha: The Untold Story, published by Juggernaut, has gone to press for the fourth time in a month.
This, he says, is precisely the reason why even in her introvert avatar, the spotlight seldom moves away from the star. The news never leaves her. And yes, why are the best actor and best actress trophies at popular film functions still given by Rekha?
"Well, if Amitabh Bachchan is in the audience, cameramen are always expected to play a ping-pong game," smiles the 37-year-old author, speaking on the sidelines of the Kumaon Literary Festival being held in Uttrakhand.
Usman, who has also written Rajesh Khanna: The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar, admits he never imagined that the book on Rekha would be received so well. "Frankly, it was easier to write on Rajesh Khanna. I could relate to the ego of a man."
Stressing that he has never been a Rekha "fan", the writer, who researched for a year before writing the book - visiting the National Film Archives in Pune, going through her old interviews and talking to producers she worked with ("many of them used unprintable words for her") - admits that he admires her growth as an actor.
“I have watched all her films. You know, when I was talking to Gulzar about Rekha, he insisted that over the years she learnt to wear the character she was portraying on the screen as a piece of cloth on her body. That has been her biggest achievement. Why Muzaffar Ali signed her for Umrao Jaan, choosing to let go Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi? He saw a picture of her in a newspaper. Rekha’s eyes were sad. They were of a woman who understood the true essence of the word 'tragedy'," he says. Ali told the author that during the shooting of the film, she became Umrao Jaan, the one loved by all, accepted by none.
The book has 26 chapters. There is no interaction with the person he has written about.
"I tried. All the messages left on her answering machine translated into a phone call from her long-time secretary who wanted to ascertain if it was a cheap book. I assured her that it would be an objective account," he explains.
|Rekha: The Untold Story, by Yasser Usman; Juggernaut; Rs 499.|
And the criticism by some quarters that there is gossip in those pages?
"Yes, some people are alleging that. But how can that be true? I have sourced everything. And no, nothing has been attributed to sources," he insists.
Usman says he has done his best to unravel the different layers of the woman who was far beyond her time. The 14-year-old girl pushed in front of the camera, abused and who did some very forgettable films. "But importantly, I wanted to bring forth a character that went beyond her association with Amitabh Bachchan. No matter what people say, leave alone the fact that Bachchan never even once admitted to their relationship."
For the author, who may write his next book on a politician, Rekha and her story is a Greek tragedy that happened in the heart of Bombay.
"Despite her star power, despite the love people showered, she was proposed only by the Delhi-based businessman Mukesh Aggarwal. It was morning when he asked her to marry him. She insisted that they must… by the evening. Maybe she was scared that even he would go away. And he committed suicide just a few months after marriage, hanging himself with her dupatta. We know about the witch-hunt. About how she was blamed for his death despite the fact that he was a depression patient."
Rajesh Khanna, now Rekha. What is it about stars past their prime that calls you?
"Maybe the fact that they are very lonely. And maybe, I am very lonely," he says.