Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rekha- ' An Eternal Fighter': Yasser Usman

Rekha, the Bollywood Diva of 1970s and 1980s intrigued many when she fearlessly made public appearances with her forehead smeared with sindoor, even a decade before her one official marriage! This stunning and ageless diva who was once termed as bold and loudmouthed, secluded herself from the starry world of Bollywood after her husband- Mukesh Aggarwal's death in 1991.

Yasser Usman, a television journalist and the recipient of the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism in the Film & Television (Broadcast) category brought out the real face of Rekha lost in the pages of film magazines of those times through this biography- 'Rekha: The Untold Story'. Yasser Usman has also penned down the biography on Rajesh Khanna.

When asked, why these actors fascinated him, he said, “The grand contradiction or dichotomy of being the most loved and yet being the loneliest intrigued me in both the stories (Rajesh Khanna and Rekha). These are the superstars adored by millions, yet you’ll be shocked to discover the kind of loneliness and isolation they have to go through. This is an emotional story where she appears very human.”

1. In many of the interviews, you claimed that you were not a huge fan of Rekha. Hence, what motivated you to pen down the biography on the reclusive Bollywood diva?

Yasser Usman: Rekha for my generation is a ‘diva’ and any discussion about her is always accompanied by her association with Amitabh Bachchan.  This narrative continues even during the award functions when the camera cuts to Rekha at the mention of Amitabh Bachchan and vice versa. We conveniently forget the real story of Rekha. The story of her childhood, her exploitation in the Hindi film industry, body-shaming and her tragic marriage to a Delhi businessman who committed suicide. It was a story to be told. Yes, I am not a fan of Rekha and Rajesh Khanna (my previous book was about him). This is a rule I try to follow and it really helps me to keep a balanced perspective. I feel I can write more objectively. 

2. According to you, which is the best part of Rekha's biography that will leave readers completely stunned and emotionally moved at the same time?

Yasser Usman: The chapters about her marriage are fascinating and shocking. Her sudden marriage to Mukesh Agrawal. Rekha became a ‘Dilli ki Bahu’ and wanted to lead a peaceful family life. But it was not to be. The husband committed suicide using her dupatta and then a witch hunt started blaming Rekha for his death. These chapters document the most shocking and tragic events of her life.

Author: Yasser Usman
3. Rekha denied the interview. The biography is written based on the previous interviews of Rekha. Describe your experience of researching her previous interviews and then giving it a story tone.

Yasser Usman: The interviews used are from the time when Rekha used to give bold interviews and openly talked about all the events of her life including her relationships and childhood. There are some rare interviews in the book where she mentions her relationship with Amitabh Bachchan in detail.She even talks about her mother and her struggle.  Now she is herself talking about the most personal aspects of her life. It is actually Rekha’s voice in the book taking the story forward and giving it a novelistic feel. 

4. From those who agreed for the interviews, which interview was the most interesting one that helped you to portray Rekha in a more realistic manner?

Yasser Usman: I think the interviews of Gulzar and Muzaffar Ali (director of Umrao Jaan) gave superb insights. The anecdotes about Rekha the actress and a human being as narrated by these filmmakers were full of warmth. Muzaffar Ali fondly narrated her transformation from a Tamil speaking Chennai girl to Urdu speaking Lakhnavi courtesan Umrao Jaan. Gulzar and Shyam Benagal also told interesting stories that will surprise you.  

5. As an author, did you undergo any kind of transformation as an individual after the completion of this biography? If yes, please share with our readers, what sort of transformation is it?

Yasser Usman: When you write a biography, you are constantly thinking about your subject during the course of research and writing (more than one year in this case). You try to dissect every important event of her life. It affects you at a certain level. The book changed the complete narrative about Rekha in my mind. I’ve started respecting her more. She has gone through hell and is an eternal survivor. Very inspiring. 

6. How is 'Eurekha' – a biography on Rekha by Mohan Deep different from yours?

Yasser Usman: I couldn’t get a copy of his  book. It’s out of print.  I just have the photocopies of a few chapters. What I understood from those few chapters was that the focus was only the love life and affairs of Rekha. But his research was very good. In fact, he allowed me to use an interview from his research. I am thankful for his help. My book focuses on the major events- personal and professional. So I talk about her important films as well as the events in her personal life. The childhood, entry into films, her disturbed relationship with her father, Ghar, Umrao Jaan, Khoobsurat and of course Amitabh Bachchan.

Interview taken by Himali Doshi. Himali Doshi is a Content Writer working with Infibeam. Writer by profession, she adores foreign languages, cuisines and books on mythologies. She is a feminist but an unbiased one!