Actress Rekha&’s biography, which was released recently, has revealed many intimate details of her life, providing a glimpse into the troubled life she has lived. Rekha: The Untold Story, written by Yasser Usman, paints a private picture that is as disturbing and tumultuous as her public image.
Though tragic, Rekha&’s life story mirrors that of many other actresses in the industry from her time and even before, some of whom battled depression, abuse and alcoholism.
Madhubala: One of the most beautiful and talented actresses of Indian cinema, Madhubala started working in films from the age of nine to support her family. Often called the Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood, she worked with the most popular actors and directors of her time, and even caught the eye of Hollywood direct Frank Capra, who wanted to cast her in his film. However, her dominating father, who had a say in the roles she took up and even whom she met, did not allow her to take up Capra&’s offer.
While many of her leading actors were deeply in love with her, after a broken relationship with Dilip Kumar that her father opposed, Madhubala went on to marry Kishore Kumar. She, however, was diagnosed with ventricular septal defect (hole in her heart). Her illness came to light in 1954, when she started to vomit blood on the sets of Bahut Din Hue after which the industry became hesitant to cast her. Though her career saw a revival in the late 50s, the gruelling schedule for the shooting of Mughal-E-Azam took a toll on the actress. She was bedridden for nine years, and died on 23 February 1969 at the age of 36.
Meena Kumari: Born Mahjabeen Bano, and known as the “Tragedy Queen” of Indian cinema, actress and poet Meena Kumari is among the greatest actresses of all time. She starred in cult films such as Baiju Bawra, Pakeezah and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam and met director Kamal Amrohi on the sets of Tamasha. They fell in love when Kumari was hospitalised after an accident while returning from Mahabaleshwar and Amrohi would regularly visit her. Though he was much older to her and already married with three children, the duo had a secret nikah in February 1952 — a fact that was initially kept hidden from family and friends. It was only in 1954 that her marriage became public. However, Amrohi turned out to be a highly possessive husband who was jealous of his wife&’s success and would not allow any other man to meet her. Unable to stand his high-handed behaviour, Kumari separated from him. A patient of chronic insomnia, she started to take a peg of brandy to help her sleep as prescribed by her physician but that became a habit and she slowly turned into an alcoholic. In 1968, the actress was diagnosed with a damaged liver. Kumari died in March 1972, at the age of 39 from liver cirrhosis.
Zeenat Aman: The actress, who has been quite open about her relationships, suffered two abusive ones. When she was in a relationship with actor Sanjay Khan, Aman was hit so badly at a party once that she was left with a bloodied face and a permanent scar on her eye. She also suffered violence at the hands of her former husband, Mazhar Khan. But Aman remained married to him till his death in 1998.
Parveen Babi: The glamorous actress and fashion icon, blazed the screen with her bold avatars in many blockbuster hits such as Deewar, Namak Halal and Amar Akbar Anthony during the 1970s and 80s. Babi however, led a troubled and lonely life. She quit the industry in 1983, at the peak of her career, left India, and travelled to various countries in a spiritual quest, with her guru UG Krishnamurthi. She came back in 1989 and was rumoured to have been diagonised with paranoid schizophrenia. The actress, however, denied the rumours, and said that it was an attempt by the industry to malign her reputation.
She had a number of failed relationships with people like Mahesh Bhatt, Kabir Bedi, Danny Denzongpa and a rumoured one with Amitabh Bachchan, whom she later accused of plotting to murder her. She also accused a number of other foreign dignitaries, including Prince Charles, Al Gore, Robert Redford, the CIA, KGB and the Mossad of trying to kill her. As her mental condition deteriorated, she started to recede into a cocoon, and stopped meeting people. Babi was found dead in her apartment in 2005 and very few from the industry attended her funeral.
Reena Roy: She is said to have come from a broken home and entered Bollywood in her early teens to support her family, something that she denies. Roy started her acting career in B and C-grade films, until Sunil Dutt and Jeetendra brought her into mainstream cinema.
While Roy had been in a relationship with many of her co-stars, from Jeetendra to Ranjeet, it was her relationship with her co-star Shatrugan Sinha from films like Milaap and Kalicharan, which became her undoing. With Roy was blindly in love with Sinha, he eventually went on to marry Poonam. Roy&’s movies took a back seat as few other actors wanted to be associated with Sinha&’s heroine. Heartbroken, Roy went on to marry Pakistani cricketer Mohsin Khan, which did not last long. While Roy remained in Bombay, Khan stayed in London, and took custody of their daughter, Sanam. This is said to have affected the actress deeply leaving her depressed.
Raakhee: The actress, who was often compared to Meena Kumari for her tragic roles, suffered two unsuccessful marriages — the first to journalist-turned-Bengali filmmaker, Ajay Biswas, while still a teenager and the second to poet Gulzar. Raakhee&’s marriage with Gulzar also was a short lived one — they separated just a year into the birth of their daughter, Meghna. The reason for that was said to be Gulzar&’s possessive behaviour and Raakhee&’s ambition. He did not want her to work in films after marriage, and while Raakhee was alright with that, she hoped that he would sign her in his films. Gulzar did not but she was approached by many other directors. When she decided to sign Yash Chopra&’s Kabhie Kabhie, Gulzar walked out of the marriage. Fighting depression, Raakhee took to alcohol for a period of time.
Rati Agnihotri: In March 2015, actress Rati Agnihotri ended her 30-year-long marriage with husband Anil Virwani. She accused her architect husband of abuse and physical torture, which she had endured down the years in the hope that he would change. It was when her husband battered her badly one day that she decided to take the step of reporting the matter to the police. She has, however, reportedly patched up with her husband and moved back to her marital home.