Fourteen year old to a Diva: Yasser Usman on the Rekha story
Bollywood stars can come and go, but Rekha remains an enigmatic diva… till this day. SheThePeople.TV speaks to journalist and author Yasser Usman, who’s recently authored a book on the icon. Usman tells us more about what drove him to write this book, Rekha: The Untold Story, including the sexist undertones of the movie industry that made her a star, also revealing that the actor and even other associates refused to speak to him for his book.
“Whoever I called, be it co-stars or film-makers, refused to talk to me about Rekha. Even after I made it clear that I was not interested in gossip, but anecdotes from her work that would help me understand her better”, says Yasser Usman.
Earlier this month, Usman released his book Rekha: The Untold Story, that has already bagged the Best-Seller title. “The response from the people is absolutely insane”, says the well known journalist, TV producer and a documentarian. He’s no stranger to Bollywood biographies, having written his first book on Rajesh Khanna, The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar (2014).
We ask the author why he chose Rekha to be his next subject and he responds, “Since my childhood, Rekha has fascinated me. She was abused, exploited, body shamed and still managed to work in nearly 200 films. That’s not a small feat for an actress.”
Rekha entered the movie industry as a 14 year old child, and braved it for twenty-five hard years. Especially during the last few years of her career as an actress, she was virtually playing the role of a hero of her films like Khoon Bhari Maang, and other 90s hits.
Yasser says, “I wanted to show people the other side of the story to the public.”
Our favourite celebrities lead a famous, glamorous lifestyle but some of them are the loneliest people. There is an other side to what we see on camera, and Yasser has tried to narrate that story.
“I never actually got a chance to speak to her for an interview. I had to go back to the archives and old publications where she openly talked about her life. I used to leave messages on her number but never got a call back”, says Yasser.
That in itself is a trajectory — here is someone who used to speak openly before, but has now completely cut herself off from the media and its barrage of questions.
One of the chapters that is close to Yasser’s heart is the one featuring Rekha and her husband Mukesh Aggarwal, who seem to have fallen in love too soon, not realising they wanted completely different things from life.
After Aggarwal’s suicide post their much-publicised failed marriage, nobody in the movie industry wanted to work with her. The irony? The tragedy had nothing to do with Bollywood and yet Rekha was criticised. “Big, important people have refused to talk about her and have in fact passed sexist remarks”, says Yasser.
Finally, it was Gulzar sahab and Shyam Benegal who provided the author an insight into Rekha’s work life. He says he really didn’t want gossip, but just wanted to know anecdotes that would help him understand his subject better.
“I’ve used old interviews and quotes from magazines to give the narrative Rekha’s voice. Like she is the one telling her story.”
We asked him if after the success of the book, he’s got a phone call from her and he says, “I wish, but I haven’t. I would have loved to add to or edit the narrative if I had gotten a chance to speak to her. My narrative would probably not change much, but maybe the style of writing would differ.”
It sounds like a movie script in itself — the story of a mysterious actress, who intrigued not just the unfamiliar public but even the familiar people of Bollywood. Was she exploited by a sexist, patriarchal industry? At the very least, we know she was challenged at practically every step of the way, on her journey to becoming one of India’s first divas.
Feature Image Credit: bollywoodcat.com