Divya Om Prakash Bharti (25 February 1974 – 5 April 1993) was an Indian film actress who starred in a number of commercially successful Hindi and Telugu films in the early 1990s.
Bharti began a career as an actress in Telugu films with the film Bobbili Raja in 1990. She progressed to Hindi films in 1992 with Vishwatma. Bharti went on to have commercial success with films like Shola Aur Shabnam and Deewana that same year, for which she garnered a Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut. She acted in over 14 Hindi films between 1992 and early 1993 which is to date an unbroken record for a newcomer in Bollywood.
Bharti died on 5 April 1993 at the age of 19 after falling from the balcony of her five-story apartment in Versova. Her cause of death was never officially confirmed.
Divya Bharti was born in Bombay, India, to Om Prakash Bharti, an insurance officer, and his wife, Meeta Bharti. She had a younger brother named Kunal and two half siblings who were the result of her father’s first marriage. She spoke Hindi, English, and Marathi fluently. In her early years, Bharti was known for her bubbly personality and love of life, as well as for her doll-like looks. She is the second cousin of actress Kainaat Arora.
Bharti studied at Maneckji Cooper High School in Juhu, Mumbai. She was an average student and completed IXth standard before pursuing an acting career.
In 1988, Bharti was discovered by filmmaker Nandu Tolani. Upon seeing her, Tolani insisted on signing her for one of his films. At that time, Bharti was in the ninth standard. She was originally scheduled to make her screen debut in Gunahon Ka Devta in 1988, but her role was cancelled. Kirti Kumar noticed Bharti at a video library and thus was eager to sign her for his project Radha Ka Sangam opposite Govinda, as he was searching for a new face. Weeks later, Kumar met with Dilip Shankar and managed to release Bharti from her contract. After taking dancing and acting lessons for months to prepare for her role, Bharti was eventually dropped and replaced by Juhi Chawla. Though the reasons remain unclear, it was speculated that Kumar’s possessiveness over Bharti and her childish nature was the cause of her replacement. She continued to sign a variety of Bollywood-films before dropping out and getting replaced by other actresses, such as Tabu.
Bharti’s career was stalled until D. Ramanaidu, one of the biggest producers of Telugu films, offered her Bobbili Raja opposite his son Daggubati Venkatesh. Without hoping for success after experiencing a lot of failures in Bollywood, she commenced shooting for her screen debut in South India. The film was released in the summer of 1990 and became a colossal hit. Bobbili Raja remains to this day one of the most popular Telugu movies.
Bharti acted in only one Tamil film, Nila Penne opposite Anand. The film was critically and financially unsuccessful.
With more hits in the Telugu cinema, Bharti established herself as one of the most popular actresses down south. In box-office ratings, she figured next to Vijayshanti. Due to her popularity, a temple was build in her honor. In 1991, Bharti had back-to-back hits, including Rowdy Alludu and Assembly Rowdy opposite actors Chiranjeevi and Mohan Babu.
Later that year, Bharti began filming A. Kodandarami Reddy’s action romance Dharma Kshetram under Sri Rajeev Productions. Bharti got to work for Telugu film actor Nandamuri Balakrishna.
While Bharti celebrated her success in South India, Bollywood’s top directors were eager to sign the Telugu superstar for their upcoming films. Bharti’s first Bollywood film was Vishwatma opposite Sunny Deol, directed by Rajiv Rai, and released 2 January 1992. The film was an average grosser at the box office and gained Bharti wider recognition from the public as well as film critics. Notably, the music of the film was very successful, especially the song “Saat Samundar” which became a favorite and put Bharti in the limelight of Bollywood.
A week later, Bharti’s next film, Lawrence D’Souza’s romantic drama Dil Ka Kya Kasoor, alongside Prithvi, failed at the box office, though it was recognized for its outstanding music. After Bharti’s flops, she was quoted as saying, “I wanted to prove myself. But I’ve fallen flat on my face. Now, I have to begin my climb all over again. Yet, I’m positive that one day, success will be mine.” (Stardust, March 1992).
In March 1992, David Dhawan’s Shola Aur Shabnam was released. It was popular with critics and was a box office hit in India, reviving Bharti’s career once again. She received a Lux Face of the Year title. It also gave a big boost to Govinda and launched David Dhawan as an established director. Shortly after, Bharti achieved further success in Raj Kanwar’s Filmfare-award winning love story Deewana starred veteran actor Rishi Kapoor and newcomer Shahrukh Khan, which is regarded as one of the biggest blockbuster hits of 1992. Her performance in Deewana was highly appreciated. Critics reported that Bharti belonged to a new breed of Hindi film actors who broke away from character stereotypes. Bharti and Shahrukh Khan won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut and Filmfare Award for Best Male Debut respectively. By July 1992, Bharti’s work in Deewana was said to have earned her more recognition.
She had several other releases that year, among them Jaan Se Pyaara which featured Bharti alongside Govinda once again, Geet opposite Avinash Wadhawan, Dushman Zamana alongside Armaan Kohli and Balwaan which marked the debut of newcomer Sunil Shetty. The latter being a low budget film, achieved moderate success due to Bharti’s popularity and opened doors to Shetty who pursued a career in action oriented films henceforth. In October, she starred in Hema Malini’s Dil Aashna Hai, again opposite Shahrukh Khan. The film garnered negative reviews and poor box office returns.
As far as the Telugu film industry is concerned, Bharti decided to film one movie per year in order to not disappoint her South Indian audience. Thus, Chittamma Mogudu was released at the end of 1992, starring once again the popular couple of Bharti and Mohan Babu.
The ensemble film Kshatriya in which she co-starred alongside Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt and Raveena Tandon, released 10 days before her sudden death on 5 April 1993. It was the last movie release during Bharti’s lifetime.
Divya was also finalised as the female lead in the 1993 hit movie Darr but because of her problem with Aamir Khan (who was the first choice for Shah Rukh Khan’s role in the film), the role went to Juhi Chawla. Divya was in the list of doing the next big project of Yash Raj Films which was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge since Juhi had done Darr. Aditya Chopra had written the story of DDLJ keeping Divya in mind for the role of Simran, but unfortunately after her death the role went to Kajol.
Divya loved to swim and engage in other activities at the Juhu Vile Parle Gymkhana Club in Mumbai along with her brother Kunal. Her parents noticed her interest in acting at a young age since Bharti used to skip studies in order to imitate the dance moves of the most recent Bollywood films at that time, such as the 1983 hit film Himmatwala, starring Sridevi and one of Divya’s most favourite actors, Jeetendra. She occasionally visited the Siddhivinayak Temple and loved to eat their Modaks.
Bharti met Sajid Nadiadwala through Govinda at the shooting of Shola Aur Shabnam. Soon both Bharti and Nadiadwala fell in love with each other. Bharti converted to Islam and adopted the name Sana, and married to Sajid Nadiadwala on 10 May 1992 at Mumbai in an Islamic wedding ceremony.
Around 11:45 PM of 5 April 1993, Bharti fell to her death from her five-story Tulsi apartment building in Versova, Mumbai. There was much speculation by the media regarding Bharti’s sudden demise, including the possibility of accidental death, conspiracy or even murder. Bombay Police failed to find sufficient evidences to charge Sajid with murder and hence closed the investigation and labelled it as accidental death in 1998. Police leads led to theories that involved her husband Sajid Nadiadwala, while other theories suggested Mafia association with Sajid and his complicity. Her body was released to her family, who arranged a cremation ceremony two days after her demise. A large number of (more than 500) film personalities, including Amrish Puri, Govinda, Hema Malini, Babita, Karisma Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Sangeeta Bijlani, Sridevi, Manisha Koirala, Asha Parekh, offered condolences to bereaved family members at their residence.
Two of Bharti’s completed films Rang and Shatranj were released several months after her death and dedicated to her memory. At the time of her death, she had completed 80% of the filming of Laadla, and Sridevi was recast in her role. Footage of Divya’s performance in Laadla was seen in a television program in 1994. She was replaced in several other films she had signed such as Mohra, Vijaypath and Andolan. Her incomplete Telugu film Tholi Muddhu was partly completed by South Indian actress Rambha, who slightly resembled Bharti and hence completed a few scenes of the movie for her.