Her glamorous persona still has men gawking. Bollywood actress Rekha, who turns 55 Saturday, metamorphosed into a diva from the overweight young actress she once was and inspires the current league of actresses.
"She is a dreamer... she lives in her own world. She imagines a lot of things that suit her psyche as an actor. She is a very genuine, warm and a very sensitive person... And no denying the fact a very good learner. It has been an amazing experience to work with her; she is a perfect actress," Muzaffar Ali said.
"Post-'Umrao Jaan', she has kind of withdrawn herself... perhaps because that role was a very cerebral, cultural and classical one that raised her to a pedestal that cannot be surpassed ever... not by her or by anyone else," he added.
Daughter of southern star Gemini Ganesan, Rekha bagged overnight success with her debut vehicle "Sawan Bhadon" (1970) and gradually became India's sex symbol. What catapulted her to the Bollywood zenith was Muzaffar Ali's period drama "Umrao Jaan" (1981) that even won her a National Award.
Having acted in more than 150 films, she made her presence felt with her versatility and different avatars in films like "Do Anjaane" (1976), "Ghar" (1978), "Muqaddar Ka Sikander" (1978), "Khubsoorat" (1980), "Silsila" (1981), "Baseraa" (1981), "Utsav" (1984), "Khoon Bhari Maang" (1988), "Ijaazat" (1988), "Kama Sutra" (1996) and "Zubeidaa" (2001) to name a few.
Last seen in a cameo for Shah Rukh Khan-starrer "Om Shanti Om" (2007), industry insiders have often spoken of Rekha as a "capable, disciplined actress with immense range, ability and mastery of precise detail".
"Rekha is nearest to the parallel of Swedish actress Greta Garbo... they both came from poor backgrounds and climbed great heights... As an artist she was first noticed in 'Ghar' and after that she was no more termed as only a voluptuous artist in Hindi cinema because then came films like 'Khubsoorat' and 'Umrao Jaan' that set her apart," said noted film historian Gautam Kaul.
"She is enigmatic... because she is hard to get. She only moves in a small circle of senior film people and she shuns the media. That's also because she is a tragic figure with failed relationships... none of which succeeded, so she has withdrawn into herself. The only place she is now noticed is award functions, which are also picked and chosen. But she still doesn't give any interviews," he added.
All said and done, Rekha is also known for her lifestyle and glossy image.
"Rekha is a diva... In fact, the term diva (in India) was coined for Rekha. The way she has metamorphosed herself from what she was when she came into the industry is mind blowing... She has worked on her language, body, diction, everything and apart from that she's a fantastic actress," said renowned film critic Omar Qureshi.
"There was a special 'Rekha Diet' compiled by Chunky Pande's mother, Dr. Snehlata Pandey. Her looks and style are copied throughout India and she even has her book (on yoga and exercises) called 'Rekha's Mind and Body Temple' (1983). She has remained a mystery and what keeps her a legend is that how she has kept it intact so beautifully. She is a complete Jane Fonda," he added.
She still inspires the current league of actresses.
"She is a very good actress... I enjoy seeing her movies. She is very humane and caring. I wish her blessings and good wishes for her birthday," said Gul Panag.
Item girl Rakhi Sawant feels that Rekha's wax statue should also be made.
"There is no one in the industry to compare with Rekhaji as a beauty and as a performer... she is so good. For me, she is the perfect style icon. 'Jitna chamak unke face par hai, kisi ke chehre par nahin' (the glow on her face is incomparable).
"She has a perfect nose, pretty eyes and the best part is that she does her make-up on her own. She is in perfect shape. I just love her and adore her. I think she should have a wax statue at Madame Tussaud's. I wish her a very Happy Birthday," Rakhi said.
Mugdha Godse: "I admire her and she is the one actress I look up to. I love her unforgettable films like 'Khoobsurat'. She's a living legend. I wish her many more happy birthdays and wish to see her more often on the silver screen."
Rekha is also rumoured to be penning her autobiography and is also tentatively to appear in the sequel to "Krrissh".