The Black Tulip

Exclusive slices from a new biography of a woman who never ceases to interest and forever eludes grasp — the enigmatic Rekha

  • Published 11.09.16


Who is she?

Who is the real Rekha? Is she the mysterious and elusive woman of the years after her doomed marriage? Or the carefree and loudmouthed teenager who never shied away from speaking her mind? Is she the product of her association with Amitabh Bachchan? Is there more to the story of Bollywood’s eternal other woman’?

The birth of a diva

After the 1990 suicide of her husband, Mukesh Agarwal, the tone of Rekha’s interviews changed considerably. Unlike her previous blithe and straightforward answers, she became reserved. I can’t imagine she would have said anything substantially different from what she’s already said in her more recent measured and guarded manner… Rekha seems to have consciously decided to cultivate an image of a reclusive “diva”. Her interviews have become philosophical and abstract.

Mukesh on his stallion

[Former Delhi police commissioner] Neeraj Kumar remembers Mukesh as a “very nice guy, very kind, but he had a complex. The complex was that he wanted to show that he has arrived. He did not believe in keeping a low profile.”… Neeraj Kumar said, “He bought a horse and he had a farmhouse in Mehrauli. When he was expecting a guest, he would mount the horse and sit there waiting!” This was no ordinary horse; it was, in fact, an enormous stallion. Perhaps his gimmicks worked because, in Neeraj Kumar’s words, “He had befriended a whole lot of Bollywood actors and actresses…”

What Hema Malini told Rekha on Mukesh

“Don’t tell me you married this guy!” Hema Malini remarked softly in Tamil. “Yes, of course,” replied Rekha. “Is he very rich?” was the next question. Rekha did not answer that time.


Mother effect

“Our love for our mother was almost like an obsession, the reason being that she was never in the house. Most of the time she was away for shooting. The day she stayed at home was like a festival. All of us wanted to sit on her lap. I resented her for the overpowering effect she had on us and for not being around when we needed her. But I was in awe of her all the same.”

From Madras to Bombay

“Bombay was like a jungle, and I had walked in unarmed. It was one of the most frightening phases of my life... I was totally ignorant of the ways of this new world. Guys did try and take advantage of my vulnerability. I did feel ‘What am I doing? I should be in school, having an ice-cream, fun with my friends, why am I even forced to work, deprived of normal things that a child should be doing at my age?’ Every single day I cried, because I had to eat what I didn’t like, wear crazy clothes with sequins and stuff poking into my body. Costume jewellery would give me an absolute terrible allergy. Hair spray wouldn’t go off for days even despite all my washing. I was pushed, literally dragged from one studio to another. A terrible thing to do to a 13-year-old child.”

Dark skin, white wash

“I was called the ‘Ugly Duckling’ of Hindi films because of my dark complexion and south Indian features. I used to feel deeply hurt when people compared me with the leading heroines of the time and said I was no match for them. I was determined to make it big.”…

“I was standing for an hour while someone body-painted me from head to toe. Because in those days, heroines were required to be fair. In the north they have this fairness hang-up. They painted all the junior artists white in all of D. Ramanaidu films.”

Sex and the single girl

“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.”

Jaya, the sister

“There was a time when I looked on Jaya as a sister… I used to think she was genuine, because she often spoke very seriously and gave me lots of loving advice. But now I realise that Jaya is a ‘general advisor’ to every Tom, Dick and Harry. All she wants to do is to dominate people and that too, for only as long as it suits her.”

Jaya gets married

“In spite of all her affectionate show of friendship and all that, she didn’t even bother to invite me for her marriage — and my house was in the same building.”

Him (Amitabh Bachchan, who else?)

“I’ve never met anyone like him. How can so many good qualities be bestowed on one person? I’m not a fool, I’m intelligent or so I’d like to believe. When I see a good thing, I can recognise it.

“The fact that he was a married man doesn’t make any kind of a difference. A rose is a rose is a rose. A human being is interesting, period. I want to have the honour of being associated with this person so what is stopping me? I’m not here to ‘break’ his home, so to speak. I’m here to be one of the lesser mortals who can just have a whiff of him and feel happy.
“It is the strongest influence in my adult life, just like my mother was in my adolescence. From him I learnt punctuality, silence, discipline, dedication, concentration and professionalism. He influenced my behaviour and lifestyle. I became a vegetarian and stopped living dangerously.”

Love, sweat...

“When I am in love, I’m in it completely — every minute of every hour I’m thinking about HIM. Twenty-four hours it’s him, him, him in my thoughts. If he has promised to call at a particular time, and he doesn’t, I bring the roof down. After all, if he couldn’t make it, he shouldn’t have promised at all, should he?”

…And tears

“Once I was looking at the whole [Bachchan] family through the projection room when they came to see the trial show of Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. Jaya was sitting in the front row and he and his parents were in the row behind her. They couldn’t see her as clearly as I could. And during our love scenes, I could see tears pouring down her face.”

Have, have not

“People say the wife is always one-up because she has the man. I say the ‘other woman’ is ten-up because the man wants her in spite of having a wife. It is not a question of what does Jaya have that I don’t have. What does Jaya have that I have?’’

Chalk and cheese

“How can anybody compare Jayaji and me when it comes to glamour? It is like Mehmood trying to be Dilip Kumar. How can you even think of it?”


Home, sweet home

“If the man is having an affair, but is not breaking his marriage, though he says he is miserable, because his wife is so bad (and it’s always the same story)… and yet, there is his home, strong and solid, and his children are doing very well, and… the family is prospering in life, everything is comfortable, he goes back home at a decent hour. Can’t you rationalise for yourself, isn’t it too obvious?”

Thumb rule

“When you don’t have the man’s name and are not legally accepted in any decent company, what are you getting out of this relationship?... Does she really believe that the man comes home and twiddles his thumbs?... Oh come on! It doesn’t happen like that. And if the other woman believes that, I am sorry but she’s a fool…”

Excerpted from Rekha: The Untold Story by Yasser Usman; Published by Juggernaut Books