Rekha. The name never fails to evoke the words sensual. Enigmatic. Reclusive.

Rekha, the person, is all that and more.

One of the industry's ugly-duckling-turned-into-swan stories, the actress has worked hard, very hard, to reach the top. Apparently, her first costar Naveen Nischol (Sawan Bhadon, 1970) was shocked to see his leading lady. At the film's premiere, Shashi Kapoor is said to have claimed, 'How is this dark, plump and gauche actress ever going to make it?'

Rekha did make it.

Daughter of filmstars Gemini Ganesan and Pushpavalli, Rekha made her debut as a child artiste in the Tamil film, Rangula Ratnam (1966). Baby Bhanurekha, as she was known then, returned as an actress in 1970, when she was only 16 years old.

Rekha underwent a dramatic image transformation. Hits soon followed: Muqaddar Ka Sikander, Namak Haram, Dharma, Kahani Kismet Ki, Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye, Khoobsurat, Judaai, Maang Bharo Sajna, Ek Hi Bhool and Basera.

She also had superlative performances in films like Umrao Jaan and Silsila. She won her first National Award for one of her best ever performances in Umrao Jaan.

Rekha's steamy affair with Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan often made headlines. Her long association with the actor started with Dulal Guha's Do Anjaane (1976). She went on to do nine films with him, the last being Silsila.

Rekha retreated to the shadows but soon returned in another Bollywood innings: Shyam Benegal's Zubeidaa, Rajkumar Santoshi's Lajja, Kundan Shah's Dil Hai Tumhara, Ram Gopal Varma's Bhoot and now, Rakesh Roshan Koi… Mil Gaya.

rediff.com takes a look at the actress' wondrous career.

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Text: Ronjita Kulkarni

Also read:
The enigma called Rekha
'Today there is a lot of finesse, but no soul'

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