After 25 Years, Divya Bharti’s Death Still Remains a Mystery
Disappointment in love, mounting debts and an altercation with three policemen who had allegedly barged into her apartment were cited as the motives last week behind the suicide of TV star Pratyusha Bannerjee.
Yet what was that final impulse which drove a young woman, all of 24 years old, to the brink of despair? To end it all? That will remain a conundrum.
Indeed, the end of Divya Bharti exactly 25 years ago today, also remains a mystery: an unsolved case hovering between an accidental fall and a death wish. Some had even suspected a conspiracy theory involving the hand of the underworld.
The names of usual suspects, from the mafioso, were bandied about. If there was any kind of motive or foul play vis-à-vis the ganglords, that didn’t go beyond the realm of hushed whispers.
From all accounts, it is believed that no one killed Divya Bharti. None of the conjectures in the death of the fast-rising 19-year-old Bollywood actress have been able to reach evidence-supported conclusions.
Inspector J G Jadhav of Versova police station was the investigating officer. Dr Tripathy, Chief Medical Officer of the nearby Cooper Hospital had signed the death certificates. The pronouncement was that the death was by ‘unnatural causes.’
It was on the night of April 5, 1993, that the sprightly actress – who had featured in a series of Hindi and Telugu box office-smashers – had fallen from the fifth-storey window ledge of Tulsi Apartments in Mumbai’s Versova, Andheri, a neighbourhood which continues to be the hub of the city’s show business.
Quite obviously, the news was a shocker across the nation. Now the name of Divya does arouse curiosity, but it ends there. At most a few blog sites have persisted in doing follow-up reports, inevitably ending with the lament that the case has been closed, and there are no new clues (or explanations) in sight.
A joint interview of the actress’ parents, Meeta and Om Prakash Bharti (an insurance officer), attracts a sizeable number of hits on YouTube, escalating considerably on the death anniversary. Their emotionally-charged statements display bafflement as well as the gradual acceptance of the tragedy. What exactly happened on the paanchvi manzil that night has all the elements of a roman a clef.
Reconstruction of Events
- The fifth-floor apartment didn’t belong to Divya Bharti. It was in the name of ‘someone else’. Reports of the time don’t say who this ‘someone’ is. It could have been rented by her or by her husband, film producer Sajid Nadiadwala. They were married at an undisclosed ceremony eight months before the incident. Divya had adopted the name Sana Nadiadwala.
- She had sustained a minor injury, her foot was bandaged. Earlier, along with her brother Kunal, she had finalised a four-bedroom apartment in a swishier address, Bandra, on ownership basis. The actress saw this as a house she had earned for her family, and couldn’t contain her excitement.
- Divya had returned from a shoot in Chennai and was scheduled to leave for another shoot the next morning. However, she wished to postpone her departure by a day. Somewhere along the line, she received a phone call that fashion designer Neeta Lulla would visit her that evening to discuss costumes for her film in the works, Andolan, being produced by Sajid Nadiadwala.
- At the time of the fatal fall, designer Neeta and her husband, psychiatrist Shyam Lulla, were at the Tulsi Apartments home. Bottles of Black Label scotch and a Mauritian brand of rum were in the apartment’s drawing room table. Divya had drunk rum and was in high spirits. The housemaid, Amrita, was rustling up fried snacks to go with the drinks and talking out loud to Divya from the kitchen.
- Divya clambered out of the apartment’s window to stand on a 12-inch ledge, turned around to face the drawing room, lost her balance, fell and landed on her back, sustaining grievous injuries. She was alive when the ambulance arrived, succumbing to the injuries at the nearby hospital.
- The police interrogated Dr Shyam and Neeta Lulla, Amrita, Meeta and Om Prakash Bharti, Kunal Bharti and Sajid Nadiadwala.
- Housemaid Amrita, who had brought up Divya ever since she was an infant, sank into severe depression. Amrita died following a heart seizure, within a month.
Scene in the Newsroom
At the news desk, every morsel of information had to be gathered before the daily edition went to bed. The police mostly revealed what was already known. The Lullas were unavailable for comment and to date, haven’t offered any clear perspective about the incident to the media. Sajid Nadiadwala, similarly, didn’t offer any hard copy to the reporters. Subsequently, he remarried.
Divya’s family have consistently spoken well about him and his second wife, Wardha Khan, a former journalist. After a guessing game whether Divya would be cremated or buried, the paparazzi, film journalists and crime reporters finally rushed to the cremation site. The turn-out of Bollywood stars at the last rites took precedence over the actual reportage of the tragic incident.
Divya Bharti’s parents were sought out for their views. They were as flummoxed as the reporters were, but did assent later to a video interview, presumably to squelch the welter of rumours.
For Those Who’ve Come in Late...
Divya Bharti, a restless student at the Maneckji Cooper High School, dropped out when she was in the ninth standard. Bollywood offers had already started pouring in for the teenager who had a faint resemblance to Sridevi and was uninhibited before the camera. She could be unpredictable though, initially leading to her rejection from topline projects.
She made an impact with Bobilli Raja, a Telugu film featuring Venkatesh as the hero. Among her most successful Bollywood films count, Vishwatma with Sunny Deol, Shola aur Shabnam with Govinda,and Deewana with Rishi Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan. She was teamed with the Khan again in Hema Malini’s debut as a director, Dil Aashna Hai.
A Strange Encounter or Two
Founded or unfounded, there were stories that Divya had attempted to commit suicide twice before, impulsively. Would she agree to do a story on Filmfare on that? “No way,” she had snorted, and banged down the receiver.
Divya, riding high on the popularity wave, was invited to light the inaugural lamp at the International Film Festival of India in New Delhi by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Before the ceremony, she was to speak to the Doordarshan channel in her suite at the Ashoka Hotel. I was asked to interview her.
Around noon, the crew was getting restless, their deadline was ticking away. I called her on the intercom from the lobby, shesaid, “Oh yes, I have to do the interview. It’ll be my pleasure. But there’s a problem. I’ve just woken up. You’ll have to wait.”
“Okay, for how long?” I inquired politely.
Her tone changed dramatically, “Don’t ask me silly questions. As long as it takes.”
And she disconnected the line.
Which is why, today, I wonder what catalysed the teenage star’s compulsions and mood swings?
Maybe, as the saying goes, there’s too high a price tobe paid for stardom.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Divya Bharti’s death anniversary.)
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