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Mapping Divya Bharti's career before her tragic fall — Birth anniversary special

At just 14 Bharti was flooded with offers of lead roles in big-ticket films that just didn’t come through, leaving her depressed.

Mayur Lookhar

She came, she saw, she conquered, she passed on. That, in short, was the shocking story of Divya Bharti, who died at the tender age of 19.

At the time of her death, Bharti had a dozen films lined up. She had already set a record by becoming the first actress to sign 14 films in a year. Though most of her early films did not set the box office on fire, she was commanding a fee that was on a par with the fees charged by top actresses of the day like Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi.

Dimple Kapadia was just 13 when Raj Kapoor promised to launch her in an RK film, albeit a few years down the line. Like Kapadia, Bharti too was a schoolgirl when she caught the attention of top filmmakers, largely because of her resemblance to Sridevi, the reigning queen of Hindi cinema. Initially, Bharti’s parents were opposed to her joining films. But in 1988, they relented and Bharti stepped into tinsel town with Nandu Tolani’s Gunahon Ka Devta.

At that time, the 14-year-old heard that director Dalip Shankar was looking to cast a newcomer opposite Aamir Khan in Aatank Hi Aatank and Rudra Avtaar. Khna had just made a smashing debut with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. He was 23, to Bharti’s 14. It spoke volumes for her talent. She signed for both the films.

Once Bharti was signed up opposite Khan, the buzz around her became stronger and more filmmakers began chasing her. Kirti Kumar was keen to rope in Bharti opposite his brother Govinda for Radha Ka Sangam. After some persuasion, Bharti signed up for the film. Govinda was a decade older than her. Kumar grew fond of the girl and even changed her name from Divya to Radha.

Things turned topsy-turvy, however, when it was reported that Juhi Chawla had replaced Bharti in Radha Ka Sangam. Rumour had it that Bharti’s proximity to Govinda had irked Kumar. Lawrence D’Souza, who was to direct the film, also backed out. Then stories about Bharti’s immaturity and childish behaviour began circulating.

Bharti had also performed screen tests for directors like Subhash Ghai, Shekhar Kapur and Mahesh Bhatt. But the bad publicity from Radha Ka Sangam cost her all these films. Boney Kapoor signed her for his son’s debut film Prem. Bharti shot for the film for eight days, but was then replaced by another debutant, Tabu. Subhash Ghai had agreed to sign both Khan and Divya Bharti for Saudagar, but 20 days later, both were replaced by Vivek Mushran and Manisha Koirala. By then Bharti had turned 16 and given up her studies as Ghai was very optimistic about Saudagar.

The snubs came one after the other and the rejection was hard to take for one so young. Bharti suffered mentally and physically.

With Bollywood selling her a dummy, Bharti headed South where she made her debut with Telugu superstar Venkatesh. Bobbili Raja was a smash hit and Bharti became a sensation overnight. She went on to do films with superstars like Chiranjeevi and Mohan Babu.

Her success in the South caught the eye of Rajiv Rai who launched Bharti with Vishwatma, which released in 1992. Deewana and Dil Aashna Hai followed and the pendulum swung in Bharti’s favour again as Hindi film producers started queuing up to sign her on.

The fame was becoming too much to handle, and Bharti felt that “settling down” would end the gossip around her personal life. At 18, she had a hush-hush marriage with producer Sajid Nadiadwala. Sadly, her world came to an end a year later when she fell off her five-storey apartment building.

There was a lot of speculation that Bharti may have been under the influence of drugs when she fell from the window. Many speculated that the initial setbacks and the inability to handle fame had pushed her to substance abuse. Till date the teenager’s death remains a mystery. What isn’t a mystery, however, is how much she went through in such a short life.