Bhanurekha Ganesan, better known by her stage name Rekha, is an Indian actress who appears predominantly in Hindi films. Acknowledged as one of the finest actresses in Indian cinema, she has starred in more than 180 films and is the recipient of several accolades, including one National Film Award and three Filmfare Awards. She has often played strong and complicated female characters—from fictional to literary—in both mainstream and independent films. Though her career has gone through certain periods of decline, Rekha has gained a reputation for reinventing herself numerous times and has been credited for her ability to sustain her status. In 2010, the Government of India honoured her with Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian honour. The daughter of actors Pushpavalli and Gemini Ganesan, Rekha started her career as a child actress in Telugu films Inti Guttu (1958) and Rangula Ratnam (1966). Her first film as a lead happened with the Kannada movie Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D 999 (1969). Her Hindi debut with Sawan Bhadon (1970) established her as a rising star, but despite the success of several of her early films, she was often panned in the press for her looks and weight. Motivated by criticism, she started working on her appearance and put effort into improving her acting technique and command of the Hindi language, resulting in a well-publicised transformation. Early recognition in 1978 for her performances in Ghar and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar marked the beginning of the most successful period of her career, and she was one of Hindi cinema's leading stars through most of the 1980s and early 1990s. For her performance in the comedy Khubsoorat (1980), Rekha received her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress. She followed it with roles in Baseraa (1981), Ek Hi Bhool (1981), Jeevan Dhaara (1982) and Agar Tum Na Hote (1983). While mostly prolific in popular Hindi cinema, during this time she ventured into parallel cinema, a movement of neo-realist arthouse films. These films included dramas such as Kalyug (1981), Vijeta (1982) and Utsav (1984), and her portrayal of a classical courtesan in Umrao Jaan (1981) won her the National Film Award for Best Actress. After a short setback in the mid 1980s, she was among the actresses who led a new trend of women-centred revenge films, starting with Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), for which she won a second Best Actress award at Filmfare. Her work was much less prolific in subsequent decades. Her roles in early 1990s mostly met with lukewarm reviews. In 1996, she played against type in the role of an underworld don in the action thriller Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996), for which she won a third Filmfare Award in the Best Supporting Actress category, and further appeared in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996) and Aastha: In the Prison of Spring (1997) to critical acclaim but some public scrutiny. During the 2000s, she was praised for her supporting roles in the 2001 dramas Zubeidaa and Lajja, and started playing mother roles, among which was her role in the science fiction Koi... Mil Gaya (2003) and its superhero sequel Krrish (2006), both commercial successes. The lattermost emerged as her highest-grossing release. Apart from acting, Rekha has served as a member for the Rajya Sabha since 2012. Her private life and public image have been the subject of frequent media interest and discussion. Her pairing opposite Amitabh Bachchan starting in the 1970s in a number of successful films was accompanied by speculation about a love affair between the two, culminating in their starring film Silsila (1981), which was reflective of media projections. Her only marriage to the Delhi-based industrialist and television manufacturer Mukesh Agarwal in March 1990 ended seven months later when he died by suicide. Her public image has often been tied to her perceived sex appeal. Rekha is reluctant to give interviews or discuss her life, which resulted in her being labelled a recluse.
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