(We thank Areej Warsi for her generosity & courtesy to provide us this article.)
No one killed Divya
Close to 20 years after Divya Bharti met her tragic end, parents Mita and Om Prakash Bharti take a dispassionate view of their daughter's demise. Farhana Farook senses the abiding grief.
Very much like Hollywood superstar Marilyn Monroe, rising star Divya Bharti's death had all the ingredients of a dark crime thriller. Substance abuse of suicidal depression? Murder or just alcohol-triggered accident? Extremely tragic as both deaths were, they invited wild speculations, only to grow hazy with time. And while Marilyn was 30 at the time of her death, Divya was just 19.
At 15, Divya had given up school books to listen to story narrations. At 16, the super-hit Bobbili Raja made her a superstar of Telugu cinema. At 18, in 1992, as the Saat samundar girl in Vishwatma and the cancer-stricken protagonist in Dil Ka Kya Kasoor, both flops, she had audiences warming to her innocent vibe. Pehlaj Nihalani’s hit Shola Aur Shabnam (all the above released on three consecutive Fridays, the first for an actress) followed the two. Raj Kanwar’s Deewana (who can forget her exuberance in Aisi deewangi or her torment as a widow) and Hema Malini’s Dil Aashna Hai, were catalysts in her bagging the Filmfare Best Face of the Year Award. A dozen projects made her the highest paid actress…and then she fell to her death on April 5, 1993.
It’s with great trepidation that I call up Divya’s parents. Om Prakash and Mita Bharti, fearing that I’d be treading on a painful premise. The meeting leaves me both shocked and surprised. Shocked that the once robust Mita Bharti is today a shadow of her former self (she’s lost 25 kilos). And surprised at the warmth and respect the Bhartis have for Divya’s producer-husband Sajid Nadiadwala and his second wife Wardha, contrary to the cloud that hung over him after Divya’s death.
The suburban apartment is free of flamboyant frames eulogizing Divya. “I don’t believe in natak (drama),” is Om’s stale response. Mother Mita is however more fluid in her emotions. “People worship the rising sun but you’ve cared to remember an extinguished lamp,” she says. “Even after 20 years, people ask me, ‘What exactly happened that night? Was it an accident or murder? For them it’s curiosity but it takes me back 20 years. I sink into a depression once again. I tell them, ‘I know as much as you do. The rest only Divya and God know’,” she says moist-eyed.
DIVYA - THE DOLL
Divya was a loving child says Mita. “Whenever I bought her a new dress or toy, she’d insist that I get them for her cousins, my brother’s girls. She’d address her younger brother Kunal (Bharti) as bhaiyya,” she says. “She was a lovely child. One day, I made Divya sit in the front seat of my car, while I was putting things in the dickey. On spotting her, a man asked, ‘Where did you get this doll?’ I said she’s not a doll. He even opened the car door to check.” Mita continues, “She wasn’t fond of studying. Out of 10 subjects, she’d fail in nine. Once she told me, ‘Please read out my lessons’, I began reading only to find that she was standing in front of the mirror and mimicking Sridevi’s Ta thaiya ta thaiya ta (Himmatwala)!”
MISS AND HIT
“When she was in the ninth standard she was approached by Kirti Kumar (Govinda’s producer brother) for Radha Ka Sangam. She stopped going to school as she had to learn dance, acting, and classical singing.” Divya was fun-loving and enjoyed going for long drives and hanging around with friends. This upset Kirti who wanted to keep his heroine under wraps says Mita. “They had a tiff and suddenly we got to know that they’d signed Juhi Chawla.” But soon Boney Kapoor was scouting for a new face for Prem and showed interest in Divya. However, she was replaced by Tabu. The third time round it was Subhash Ghai who wanted her for Saudagar but the role went to Manisha Koirala. The hat-trick of rejections upset young Divya and Mita took her for a holiday to Kashmir.
But the mother-daughter had to cut abort their vacation as well-known South producer D. Rama Naidu had come to Mumbai for a narration. “Divya, who was by now quite disinterested in films, kept dozing through the story session. Rama Naidu asked us if we could leave with him to Hyderabad that evening. Divya agreed just for a lark,” recalls Mita. The film was the super hit Bobbili Raja (1990).
Back home Rajiv Rai wanted to sign Divya for Vishwatma. Says the mother, “As signing amount Divya just wanted a ‘Rs. 500 Gandhiji note’. Rajiv was taken up with her innocence.” The film gave her the chartbuster Saat samundar. “While Ayesha Jhulka and Pooja Bhatt came in with her, she reached the top league of Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit. While she resembled Sridevi, she never copied her. After pack-up she’d happily slip in T-shirt and jeans. She didn’t care for glamour.”
The top billed star was bindaas. “Once they had a birthday party for her at China Garden. After the party she stood on the bonnet and started dancing . Sajid asked her to step down wondering what people would say. But Govinda said, “This is what enjoying life means,” Mita adds. “She’d talk in her inimitable style, ‘Chalna yaar, jane de na yaar…hansti rehti thi (she was friendly to all and laughed a lot)’.” There were several stories about her pranks on the sets. “One day she scratched Shah Rukh Khan on the sets of Dil Aashna Hai. His secretary called up to say that Shah Rukh wouldn’t work with her. But later Shah Rukh said, ‘I said this just to scare her. She’s a bachhi (child)’.”Mita reveals that Divya hurt easily too. “Once she refused to wear a dress for a film. Soon after I saw a film where Sridevi had worn a similar outfit, I remarked, ‘I wish Sridevi was my daughter. She never says no to what her mother asks her to do.’ That disturbed Divya and she confided in her secretary Jatin about this incident.”
LOVE & MARRIAGE
In keeping with her emotional nature Divya fell in love young. Her marriage to Sajid (1992) was fraught with conjectures. “I knew she was married. Youth is like behta paani (flowing water). I’d never have been able to stop her. I supported her so that she’d continue confiding in me and wouldn’t head in another direction,” reveals Mita. “They must have had normal tiffs. Sajid and Divya were only together for eight months. Where did they have the time to enjoy life?” Mita insists her daughter was conventional at heart. “She was not ambitious. Her aim in life was to marry and have children. She’d joke, ‘I’ll throw my kids in your lap and go to work’.”
TRYST WITH TRAGEDY
Mita regrets she wasn’t around Divya on April 5, 1993, the day she died. “I had been to my brother’s house and from there had gone to play cards. I didn’t know Divya had returned to Mumbai from Madras. They say maut khinch laeti hai (death pulls you).” She scrolls through Divya’s last day. “That day she got a beauty treatment done and then went to see an apartment with my husband Omji and son Kunal in Bandra. She was told, ‘After you return from Mauritius, you’ll get the keys’. She started dancing on the street. She wanted the house for get-togethers. She spent the evening with our former neighbors in Pali Hill when Sajid called her saying that Neeta Lulla (costume designer) had come home to discuss costumes. Kunal dropped Divya at Sajid’s house in Tulsi Apartments, Versova.” Kunal had just reached home when the family received a call that Divya had fallen from the 5th floor.
Several theories floated around her sudden death. Of her strained relations with Sajid over his alleged connection with gangster Dawood Ibrahim. Of her being high on substance abuse and alcohol. Of Divya being pushed to death. “Yes, Divya had taken a bit of Mauritian Rum. But I can bet that she never took drugs. I used to be with her all the time. Had she been taking drugs, it would’ve shown in her work. But yes, she had a self-destructive streak. A few months before her death, she had gone to America. There she got upset about something and burnt herself with cigarette stubs. Those marks were there even when she died. Also, during the Radha Ka Sangam phase, she was disturbed about something and slashed her wrists. She’d harm herself in anger.”
Mita continues. “I never asked Neeta and Shyam Lulla (Neeta’s psychiatrist husband who was present with her in Divya’s home) what happened that night. It would pain me all the more. What’s gone is gone. Reportedly, Neeta said she and Shyam were watching TV when Divya went to the balcony. She must have sat on the ledge, lost her balance, and fallen. Our maid Amrita (she had been with Divya since her birth) was in the kitchen then. I don’t blame anyone, it was destiny.” Incidentally, Amrita, unable to bear the loss, died of a heart attack within a month.
Mita had to muster courage to face the after effects. “Omji had hysterical fits. He was tied to a cot in the hospital. The dilemma then was whether she should be cremated or buried. Sajid was not in his senses and had frequent fainting spells. Then some senior persons of the industry advised that she be cremated. Divya died on April 5. She was cremated on April 7.” Mita continues, “After a few days when Omji overcame the shock, I took him to the place where Divya had fallen from and where she was cremated.”
Mita, who had internalized her pain, underwent the 10 ‘worst years’ of her life after that. “I went into heavy depression. It was in 2003 when her son Kunal got married that he pleaded, “Don’t I mean anything to you? Hamare liye wapas aajao (return for our sake)”. So after many years I wore a piece of jewellery for his wedding.” She says with resolve, “I keep myself busy. I swim, I walk, I meditate. I see Divya in my granddaughter Alika. Divya loved Siddhi Vinayak modaks. My granddaughter also loves them. Every morning I go to Siddhi Vinayak Temple. I take a bus to the temple though I can go in a car.”
Earlier, says Mita, she often saw Divya in her dreams. “On days when I had to wake up early Divya would appear in my dream and wake me up.” She adds, “Wardha (Sajid Nadiadwala’s second wife) says Divya often appeared in her dreams. She’d see Divya on one side of Sajid while she was on the other. But after about six years of their marriage, Divya stopped appearing.” She adds, “Wardha respects Divya a lot. She calls me ‘Mummy’ and Omji ‘Daddy’. She decorated Kunal’s room for his wedding, just as Divya would have. When our granddaughter was born, she got her everything from napkins to the cradle.”
Sajid and his mother Saba observe Divya’s death barsi (anniversary) every year. “Sajid’s mother is a lovely and chatpati (lively) personality. Divya loved her very much. On Saba’s birthday she’d put cake all over her face and lick it.”
Mita has no regrets about Divya joining showbiz. “She lived as much as she was destined to. She gave us all she could. Perhaps she repaid a debt. Once she randomly said, ‘Daddy, give all that I have to bhaiyya.’. We don’t want to cry and give her pain. When tears well up in my eyes, I control myself.”
A FATHER REMEMBERS
Om Prakash Bhari reminisces about daughter and late actor Divya Bharti.
“Divya was our first born. Every girl somewhere desires to be an actress and so did Divya. When she was in school she did print ads for sarees. Divya did almost 10 Telugu movies and around 12 Hindi movies between 1992-94. She was a top paid star but she remained the same simple girl. A bar of chocolate could make her shoot for the entire day. She was happy to stay in an ordinary hotel and had no qualms about sleeping under her hairdresser’s bed.
Once she handed me a signing amount saying she had given 5000 rupees from it to someone who needed it. She’d take children to Manish market and buy gifts for them and ask the shopkeepers to collect the money from Sajid. She never carried money. While shooting some scenes for Mohra (Raveena Tandon replaced her after her demise) in a jail, even the prisoners became her fans. While shooting for Dil Aashna Hai, the Maharani of Jodhpur grew very fond of her.
“As an actor, she’d never forget her dialogue, she hardly gave retakes. She’d be laughing one moment and shoot a sad scene the next. She was like a child and would tell David (Dhawan, director), ‘Tujhe to akal nahin hai’ (you have no sense). She’d call choreographer Saroj Khan ‘moti’ (fat) in jest. Then there was a top South director who had heard stories about Divya and wouldn’t come on the sets when she was around. One day she pulled his hair from behind and said, ‘I’m told you are afraid of me’. From then on they became friends. Once she hit Mithun Chakraborty in fun. He was naturally upset. But he said, ‘I like her’ and signed a film with her.
“The day she died she was roaming around with a bandage on her foot (to avoid going to Hyderabad for a shoot). We went to Bandra to see a flat. We also spent time with our neighbors at Pali Hill. She told then she’d come back the next day for a special rice dish. It was past 10 pm, when she got a call from Sajid saying designer Neeta Lulla was waiting for her. We left. In the lift she met Sajid who was to fly to Mauritius the next day. There were four of them - Neeta, her husband Sunil Lulla, our maid Amrita, and Divya at home…when she fell.
“There was no question of suicide or murder. Yes, she did drink a bit but how much can you drink in half an hour? And she was not depressed. She was the kind to give you depression! It was an accident. She sat on the ledge, lost her balance, and fell. Sadly, all flats had grills except hers. Cars would always be parked below but that night there was not a single one. She fell directly on the ground. I was shocked and lost my senses. But eventually you have to face the truth.
“I don’t know when she married Sajid, perhaps it was in Ajmer. But she was happy. All accusations against Sajid and his alleged connection with Dawood Ibrahim are rubbish.
“I have found my Divya in Sajid’s wife Wardha. She introduces me as her ‘father’. So does Sajid. I don’t like to disturb him but whenever I do visit him, everyone in his office stands up saying ‘Daddy aaye‘, (Daddy’s here). Sajid even keeps a trial show of his films for me.
“Just this Diwali, Sajid and Wardha came home with their children Subhaan and Sufiyan. Wardha brought so many gifts for the family. Even Sajid’s mother Saba is a wonderful lady. Till date she cries for Divya.
“I don’t believe in making a show of my feelings by printing a ‘Shraddhanjali’ in the papers. What’s gone is gone. But it remains in the heart.”