“If you’re a woman in India – be scared. Our country would rather label you a murderer, social climber, gold digger, witch, drug dealer, maneater and a liar, than admit that a man can suffer from mental health issues.” – Meghna Pant
Rekha has reached the pinnacle of stardom during her run in the movie business. Almost paradoxically, she’s managed to retain the tag of being one of the most elusive stars in an industry that demands unreasonable access into one’s personal life, in return for fortune and fame, of course.
While time wreaks havoc on the rest of our faces, the mysterious Rekha seems to be frozen forever, in a youthful and elegant state of being. As far as our memory goes, the 65-year-old has looked exactly the same – not a wrinkle, not a strand of grey in sight. Perfectly set, jet black locks, crimson red lips, and a smile so charming, it plays the perfect foil for the deep-set sadness in her eyes… waiting to be acknowledged, perhaps.
While a million aspects of Rekha’s life still remains a mystery, her relationship with Mukesh Aggarwal was fated to become a well-known tale. Rekha met Mukesh in Delhi, where the two fell in love and decided to tie the knot shortly after. After a series of failed relationships, it seemed like the actress had finally found happiness. That, however, was about to change. In October 1990, just seven months after their wedding, Aggarwal committed suicide by hanging himself from the fan, allegedly using Rekha’s dupatta. The star was in the US for a stage show when she was informed about the incident over the phone. The news began to spread like wildfire and within the blink of an eye, Rekha found herself in the midst of a new storm — one that was out to destroy her completely.
Subhash Ghai and Anupam Kher’s quotes, circa 1990 on Rekha if reported verbatim, is how some men are made.
It is unbelievable how Rekha survived and thrived. pic.twitter.com/GWlSUt3Zzh
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) September 13, 2020
With not a hint of empathy, India was on a witch hunt, convinced that Rekha was the villain who finished Aggarwal off. Her in-law’s believed it too; triggering the nation further, his angst-filled mother said, “Woh daayan mere bete ko kha gayi.” Anil Gupta, Rekha’s brother-in-law added, “My brother loved Rekha truly. For him love was a do or die attempt. He could not tolerate what Rekha was doing to him. Now what does she want, does she want our money?”
When a grieving Rekha returned to the country, she was engulfed by a wave of hate. Headlines like The Black Widow and The Macabre Truth Behind Mukesh’s Suicide ruled the papers. Even the posters of her film Sheshnaag were ripped apart. Her costar Anupam Kher had told the media, “She’s become the national vamp. Professionally and personally, I think it’s curtains for her. I mean I don’t know how I will react to her if I come face to face with her.” Subhash Ghai wrote her off saying, “It’s going to be tough even professionally for her. No conscientious director will work with her ever again. How will the audience accept her as Bharat ki nari or insaf ki devi?”
According to an excerpt from Rekha:The Untold Story, Aggarwal was allegedly suffering from chronic depression that ran in his family — something Rekha learnt about only after their marriage. Mukesh displayed erratic behaviour that often strained his relationship with the actress. Rekha was soon unable to tolerate his dysfunctional ways and decided to step back from the relationship. She moved away and stopped all contact with him. This move was a huge blow to Aggarwal, who was even more miserable after she left. The pressure of a failing business only led to his health deteriorating even more.
In a report published by India Times, Neeraj, a friend of Aggarwal’s, had recalled an incident wherein the industrialist showed signs of being suicidal. Once, while he was on the phone with him, Aggarwal had said, “Neeraj, I’m going to jump off!” He claimed he was unable to find meaning in life and wanted to end it.” Yet, Rekha was being held accountable.
Rekha refused to comment. For months, she maintained stoic silence and continued to focus on whatever projects that came her way, with whoever dared to work with Indian’s most wanted. She made a comeback with a bang with Phool Bane Angaray, as a fierce cop, which was interestingly received well. This gave her the courage to keep going. Eventually, even though her roles became lesser, the actress managed to shed her negative image, ultimately being known for having the spirit of a fighter.