Rekha, Mother of Bollywood Queer Icons

The Hindi film industry painted the actor as a vamp and the other woman. Yet she emerged as a flag-bearer for self-love and queer self-expression.

Rekha in white scarf

Mehr Singh


June 6, 2023


10 min

In 2004, Bollywood veteran Rekha appeared on the tell-all celebrity talk show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal for the second time. The episode was a particularly scandalous one, and the network televised it in three parts. After a drawn-out segment on Rekha’s relationship with Amitabh Bachchan, Garewal asked Rekha whether she would ever get married again. 

“To a man?” Rekha asks earnestly. “Well, not with a woman, obviously!” Garewal responds in horror, her eyes wide. Without skipping a beat, Rekha exclaims, “Why not!” followed by a charming grin. Even two decades later, Rekha’s message — and unbridled sass — continues to resonate. “That ‘why not’ has its own fan base,” wrote an Instagram user in 2022. “She’s the queer icon we always needed but never knew we had,” wrote another. 

Rekha, the dark-haired and deep-voiced actor, is known for bringing a plethora of diverse characters to life: be it the titular, commanding courtesan in Umrao Jaan (1981), or the quirky girl-next-door Manju in Khoobsurat (1980). During her career, she was equally famed for her on-screen talent as for speaking her mind. So how did Rekha come to be anointed as “mother,” a coveted title within the queer community, when the Bollywood rumor mill worked overtime to portray her as a man-eating vixen, devoid of any maternal instincts?

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