HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Rekha

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Anshu Khanna

Why she matters: Behold the epitome of grace and glamour, the regal icon who requires no introduction. With her enigmatic aura and a reign that endures, the show simply does not start till Rekha graces the scene.

She’s remained relevant for more than four decades in the ephemeral, whimsical world of celluloid. Legends around her beauty intrigue the glossies, and critiques on her acting prowess fill the review pages. Her aura is eternal and her beauty, unreal. Rekha, born Bhanurekha Ganesan, is possibly the most enigmatic charmer of Indian cinema.

Recipient of a Padma Shri (one of the highest civilian honours) and winner of over a dozen awards for her acting, Rekha’s mystique remains unparalleled. Her cloak keeps the real Rekha safely tucked away from prying paparazzi eyes, while she enthrals the world with the cameo of a stunning apsara, dressed in a gilded Kanjeevaram and temple jewellery, her lips lined perfectly, her smile intact, and her doe eyes playing truant with the world.

A diva divine, she made heads turn at the recently held Dior show in India amid globally acclaimed beauties. The cameras went berserk, capturing her in her trademark sari. Known to wear two-toned, hand-woven Kanjeevarams that have a golden hue and a bold border, Rekha has steadfastly kept the imagery of a South Indian glitterati alive, an image that went viral the world over when she got styled by Manish Malhotra in her sultry siren avatar for a Middle Eastern luxury magazine.

Hers, in fact, was a classic story of a duck turning into a swan. Debuting in Hindi cinema as a sultry complexioned, pleasantly plump actor, she stumped the industry when, voilà! Overnight, she turned into a beauty. As Khalid Mohamed was quoted saying, “The audience was floored when there was a swift change in her screen personality, as well as her style of acting.”

Her role as the tawaif with a golden heart in Umrao Jaan was possibly Rekha at her prettiest best as the lead performer. Set in the Lucknow of the 1800s and directed by Muzaffar Ali, the film was an adaptation of Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel. Rekha aced the role of the nawab’s jilted lover, palmed off to a kotha as a stroke of bad luck in her childhood.

She was hilarious in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Khoobsoorat. And as the teacher and seductress in Utsav, she made love-making look legit. Rekha has delivered many such powerful acts that throw light on woman power, including Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Silsila and Mr. Natwarlal. But her true strength remains in the enigmatic character she plays in real life…

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!