She was blockbuster material from the word go. Spontaneous and unwittingly sexy. Baby-faced Divya rocked the floor with her track Saat samundar paar main tere peeche in Vishwatma. Shot at the Bubbles discotheque in Nairobi, it made the 17-year-old debutante an instant heartthrob.
She could shed the widow-in-white melancholy and match Shah Rukh Khan’s madness in Deewana in a shift of the frame. With musicals Dil Ka Kya Kasoor and Shola Aur Shabnam, the dramatic Dil Aashna Hai, the potboiler Balwan… the cherubic Divya walked away with the Filmfare Award for Lux New Face of the Year. Barely 19, her stocks rose to an incredible high... and suddenly it all crashed on April 5, 1993.
Reportedly, after a few drinks, Divya, fell off the window ledge of her apartment in Versova leaving behind a tragic trail. Soon the narrative changed into a whodunit. Substance abuse or suicide? Alcohol-triggered accident or homicide? Speculations flew thick and fast given Divya’s reputation of living on-the-edge.
Hyper-sensitive and mercurial, she was said to be ‘self-destructive’ and battling depression.
But with time the dust settled and the tears dried. Husband and filmmaker Sajid Nadiadwala and Divya’s parents, Om Prakash Bharti and Mita Bharti have only drawn closer, bonded by the common loss… both cherishing her meteoric memories…
Yet a stray comment can be a poignant reminder of the unfairness of it all. “Even after so many years, people ask me, ‘What exactly happened that night? For them it’s curiosity but it gives me pain… I sink into a depression... I tell them I know as much as you do. The rest only Divya and God know,” said mother Mita in a throwback Filmfare interview.
SUPERSTAR AT 18
So sweet-looking was Divya as a child that she was once mistaken for a doll. As a student, Divya was more interested in mimicking Sridevi’s Ta thaiya ta thaiya ho (Himmatwala) than her books.
She was first roped in for producer Kirti Kumar (Govinda’s brother) Radha Ka Sangam (1992). She lost the film because Kirti apparently wanted his heroine to be under wraps while carefree Divya loved to go around with her friends. But D Rama Naidu’s Bobbili Raja (1990) made her a star down South. She followed it up with Nila Pennae (1990), Naa Ille Naa Swargam (1991) and Rowdy Alludu (1991).
Rajiv Rai signed Divya for his potboiler Vishwatma (1992). As signing amount all she asked was a Rs 500 Gandhiji note. The track Saat samundar got audience’s grooving to her charm. A week later, Lawrence D’Souza’s musical Dil Ka Kya Kasoor, won her further notice. In the same year, David Dhawan’s Shola Aur Shabnam, Raj Kanwar’s Deewana, Dil Aashna Hai and Deepak Anand’s Balwan hailed her as the brightest star on the horizon.
Her last film during her lifetime was Kshatriya (released on 26 March 1993), where she co-starred with Sunny Deol. Rang and Shatranj released after her demise in 1993.
Success didn’t change Divya’s bindaas nature. At her birthday party at China Garden, onlookers were surprised to see her dance on the bonnet of the car. Despite her star status, she was happy to stay in an ordinary hotel and had no qualms about sleeping under her hairdresser’s bed. She’d talk in her inimitable style, ‘Chalna yaar, jane de na yaar… hansti rehti thi…’ shared mother Bharti.
Fun-loving, she was known to pull pranks on her co-stars. 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 that to scare her. She’s a bachhi (child)’,” shared Mita.
“She’d tell David (Dhawan, director), ‘Tujhe to akal nahin hai (you have no sense). She’d call choreographer Saroj Khan moti (fat) in jest,” shared father Om Prakash Bharti in a past interview.
Divya met filmmaker Sajid Nadiadwala on the set of Shola Aur Shabnam. Reportedly, they got married on 10 May 1992 in a private ceremony.
About Sajid, Divya was quoted saying, “The advantage is that Sajid is mature... Whenever I behave childishly or sulk then Sajid explains things to me… I trust his judgement he is never wrong. Honestly, Sajid has been very patient with me.”
Divya was not overtly ambitious, her aim in life being to marry and have children. She’d joke with her mother saying, ‘I’ll throw my kids in your lap and go to work!”
Mita till today regrets not being around Divya on April 5, 1993, the day her daughter fell to her death. She didn’t know that Divya had returned to Mumbai from Madras. Mita had been to her brother’s house and from there for a card session. “Maut khinch laati hai (death pulls you),” mused Mita. That day Divya finalised a huge apartment in Bandra along with her father and brother Kunal. On being told she’d get the keys after she returned from her shoot in Mauritius, she was ecstatic and began dancing.
She spent the evening with her former neighbours in Pali Hill when Sajid reportedly called her saying that costume designer Neeta Lulla, along with her psychiatrist husband Shyam Lulla, had come home to discuss her costumes.
Kunal dropped Divya at Sajid’s house in Tulsi Apartments, Versova. Sajid left for a meeting to discuss the dates of his film Andolan (1995). Kunal had just reached home when he received a call informing him that Divya had fallen from the 5th floor.
“Divya, who had already gulped a few drinks... went into the kitchen, fixed herself a glass of white rum and sauntered back in the hall. There she switched on her T. V. set and climbed over her balcony to sit on the parapet below, her favourite place where she would often sit, relax and nurse her drinks. But, unfortunately on that fateful day she slipped and succumbed to her destiny,” wrote Stardust in 1993.
Divya was rushed to R.N. Cooper hospital and was declared dead on arrival. Father Om Bharti was uncontrollable. “Burn down everything. I don’t want anything, just give me back Divya,” he reportedly cried.
Divya’s brother Kunal was shattered too. “I shouldn’t have left my loving sister behind. I was with her till ten minutes before she could jump down. She was very depressed... But I didn’t know she’d such a thing… I want my sister back. She was just 19. Is that the age to die?’” Stardust thus quoted Kunal.
Divya’s mother came around 3:45 am. Shocked beyond words, she ‘lifted the veil that covered Divya’s face, placed her head on Divya’s chest and left the hospital’. Sajid was devastated. Reportedly, he fell on the ground with foam oozing out of his mouth. He was shifted to the l.C. C.U. He kept telling doctors, “Please do something… bring her back to life.”
The funeral took place on 7 April. Divya was dressed like a bride with sindoor . Sajid performed the last rites as husband. The pyre was lit by Divya’s brother Kunal. After a few days when Om was in a better state, Mita took him to the place where Divya had fallen and where she was cremated.
Several theories floated around her sudden death. Of her alleged conflict with Sajid. Of her being high on substance abuse and alcohol. Even of her allegedly being pushed to death. “There was no question of suicide or murder… 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,” clarified father Om in a throwback Filmfare interview.
“Yes, Divya had taken a bit of Mauritian rum…. She had a self-destructive streak. A few months before her death, she'd 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,” said Mita to Filmfare adding, “I don’t blame anyone, it was destiny.”
Maid Amrita, who’d been with Divya since her birth, was grief-stricken. Unable to bear the loss, she died of a heart attack within a month of the misfortune. Eventually, Divya’s death was ruled as an accident and the file closed.
SAJID & WARDA...
Time, indeed, is the best healer. Sajid married journalist Warda Khan on 18 November 2000. The two have maintained close ties with the Bharti family. “I’ve found my Divya in Sajid’s wife Warda. She introduces me as her ‘father’. So does Sajid… whenever I visit his office, everyone stands up saying, ‘Daddy aaye, (Daddy’s here). Sajid even keeps a trial show of his films for me,” said an emotional Om in an interview.
For Mita, the healing was gradual. She became a pale shadow of herself, having lost around 25 kilos. “I went into heavy depression,” confided Mita who took to exercise and meditation. It was the birth of Kunal’s daughter Alika, which gave meaning to her life. “I see Divya in my granddaughter Alika. Divya loved Siddhi Vinayak modaks. My granddaughter also loves them,” said Mita, who visits the much-revered temple daily.
While Sajid, purchased the rights of the song Saat samundar and paid a tribute to his late wife in his directional venture Kick (2014), Warda too has helped in keeping Divya’s memories alive. Her sons, Subhan and Sufyan, regard Divya as ‘Badi Mummy’ and enjoy watching her movies. Just as Divya’s countless fans still do across the world.