Her capacity as a fashion icon is often overlooked.
Bhanurekha Ganesan, better known as Rekha, has been a Bollywood icon and fashion inspiration for many since the early 80s.
From the 80s onwards, Rekha’s fame began to grow, and her looks and acting work were highly praised.
The Indian actress, philanthropist, and fashionista is now well-known globally, with a significant and growing fanbase.
DESIblitz looks at Rekha’s impact across the Bollywood industry and how she has become a fashion icon to many.
Rekha has been considered one of the greatest and most formidable actresses in Bollywood and Indian cinema.
The actress’ career in Bollywood cinema spans over five decades where she has starred in over 180 films.
She has played numerous different characters including housewives, courtesans, working women, and mothers, highlighting her versatility as an actress.
Some of her most notable films include Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), Khubsoorat (1980), and Ijaazat (1987).
She has also starred in many Indian films that have been considered classics of Bollywood cinema including Silsila (1981), Umrao Jaan (1981), and Ghar (1978).
Though she started her acting career in the 1960s, it was her role in the film Sawon Bhadon (1970) that earnt her recognition as a leading actress in the industry.
She then became one of the most sought-after actresses in the 1970s and well into the 80s and 90s.
Throughout her career, she has been praised for her performances and received numerous awards.
Some of her awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Film Award, multiple Filmfare awards, and several International Indian Film Academy Awards.
Despite not attending many award shows, Rekha has continuously expressed her gratitude for the recognition and honours she has received over the years.
These awards are a testament to her hard work in the Bollywood film industry as an actress and important icon.
She is now considered one of the most influential and iconic actresses in Bollywood cinema with a legacy as a Bollywood legend.
Though many people will only see Rekha as a film star, her capacity as a fashion icon is often overlooked.
Rekha’s fashion choices and styling have often been considered ahead of their time.
Her looks have inspired generations of women who have sought to break boundaries as she has.
Her style has also been praised for its unique blend of traditional Indian wear mixed with experimental, modern pieces.
She is known for her love of traditional saris and is often seen rocking red carpet and film events wearing this traditional Indian garment with heavy jewellery and a unique draping style.
Rekha often wears Kanjivaram-style saris which are known for their rich texture, heaviness, and vibrancy.
This style of sari is usually uniquely draped and accessorised with traditional jewellery by Rekha which adds to the regal quality of her look.
Whilst this style of sari and jewellery has often been seen as outdated, Rekha’s adaptation of them has popularised them amongst younger generations and proved they don’t go out of style.
Her androgynous fashion style has also made her an icon as she has been breaking gender boundaries with this fashion style since the 1990s.
Older photoshoots and magazine covers often feature Rekha wearing a mixture of traditional clothing as well as men’s outfit pieces including blazers, shirts, and men’s accessories.
This androgynous fashion style and unconventional beauty have also been sources of inspiration for the LGBTQ community.
She has appeared on several magazine covers including Femina, Harper’s Bazaar, and Filmfare sporting androgynous looks.
One look of Rekha’s which is loved by millennials features the actress wearing a baggy opened suit and tie whilst holding a cigarette in one hand and sporting some vintage frames.
This look is considered Pinterest famous and shows how Rekha unapologetically challenges traditional beauty norms and bends ideas around gendered clothing.
She has never shied away from fashion looks that are gender-neutral or movie roles that challenge gender stereotypes.
Iconic Red Lip
Her bold makeup is another fashion and beauty choice she has made that has inspired generations who are in awe of her looks.
The film star is known for her dramatic looks which feature bold lipstick and heavy eyeliner that project a sultriness as well as exude confidence.
An iconic red lip is something that never goes out of style, and Rekha has certainly proved this time and time again.
The bold red lip is a beauty staple that Rekha has been rocking since the early 80s and has been used as something people know the actress for.
The actress is never seen on the red carpet without this bold lip colour and often pairs it with brightly coloured saris and traditional outfits.
The bold red lip is a timeless look that has inspired generations of women to become more confident, bold, and glamorous.
In India, the colour red is said to have deep cultural significance as an auspicious colour that symbolises power and strength.
The red lip is certainly a mainstay for Rekha and adds to the allure and mystery of the actress.
Female Role Model
Rekha has been an exemplary role model for many women, as her dedication to empowering women has been profound.
She has paved the way for many Indian actresses to have varied roles through her versatility as an actress and the resilience she has shown in the industry.
She has also played many strong female roles that have become powerful forms of representation for women across the world.
For instance, her powerful role in the film Lajja (2001) reflected her tireless efforts against misogyny and female oppression.
Lajja told the story of women who unite and fight for their rights in a male-dominated society.
This movie reflected many real-life issues and using her celebrity status, Rekha has brought the fight and feminism from this movie to life.
She has used her voice to speak out against the patriarchy that clouds the Indian film industry and enacted change and championed other female actresses in the industry.
She even praised younger actresses in the industry like Alia Bhatt who she believes is the ‘beginning of future legends’ in the Bollywood movie industry.
Rekha has spoken openly about accepting the LGBTQIA+ community and has challenged heteronormative views in interviews.
For instance, in an interview with Sima Garewal, Rekha challenges Sima’s idea that she needs to marry a man.
In the interview, a conversation ensues where Sima asks Rekha if she would consider getting married again.
When the line of questioning then debates whether Rekha would marry a woman, the actress says: “Why not?”
This statement still has netizens in awe of Rekha’s nonchalant reply and hailed her as a queer icon following this interview.
Rekha remains a trailblazer across the fashion industry and her legacy is set in stone.
Without the strides made by women like Rekha, there may not be as many strong female characters as we see on our screens today or rocking the red carpet.
Not only are Rekha’s looks Pinterest-worthy inspiration but her attitude towards life and her resilient mentality are something to be admired.