Divya Bharti to Madhubala: Remembering the Stars Who Went Too Soon

Written by Omair Alavi

Read about the 10 Bollywood stars who made it big in their lifetime, before it was cut short for one reason or another.

By Omair Alavi Created: 25 February 2020

On February 25th, fans of Bollywood actress Divya Bharti would be celebrating what would have been her 46th Birthday. But the Deewana actress wouldn’t be around to witness the celebration for she was just 19 years old when she left the world in a mysterious manner. She wasn’t the first one to die young in Bollywood, and neither the last and joins the unlucky company of those who went too soon, without reaching their full potential, fulfilling their dreams and before reaching their 50th birthday. Read about the 10 Bollywood stars who made it big in their lifetime, before it was cut short for one reason or another.

Guru Dutt (1925 – 1964)

For someone who acted and directed some of the best films in the 1950s and the 1960s (Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, and Chaudhvin Ka Chand) and who was married to one of the most successful playback singers of the era (Geeta Dutt), Guru Dutt’s depression came as a shock to many. Prior to his death, he tried to commit suicide on a multiple of occasions and a failed affair with top actress Waheeda Rehman further damaged his marital life. When he died, he was living alone and a mixture of alcohol and sleeping pills resulted in a fatal overdose. According to his son, Guru Dutt’s death at 39 wasn’t a suicide but accidental as he had a few meetings lined up for the next day with Raj Kapoor and others. Whatever it was, it will go down in history as the biggest Bollywood mystery of all times, off-screen.

Geeta Bali (1930 – 1965)

Geeta Bali’s career began as a heroine began in 1950 and she was considered as one of the brightest stars in Bollywood in the 1950s. Her marriage to Shammi Kapoor didn’t stop her from acting, and she broke the Kapoor tradition long before Karisma Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor. She worked with all the big names of her times including Prithviraj Kapoor (her future father-in-law), Raj Kapoor (her future brother-in-law), Dev Anand, Pran, Suraiya, Rehman and Madhubala. Her death at the age of 34 was a huge blow to both her family and fans. She contracted smallpox during the shooting of Rajinder Singh Bedi’s film, Rano, based on his novel Eik Chadar Maili Si, of which she was the producer as well. In her autobiography, actress Asha Parekh who went onto work with Shammi Kapoor in multiple films including Teesri Manzil disclosed that Geeta Bali wanted to adopt her while she was working with Shammi ji, and her untimely death devastated the Kashmir Ki Kali actor.

Madhubala (1933 – 1969)

If a list of the most beautiful actresses in the world was ever compiled, Madhubala would rank at the top, because she was a goddess among humans. She had an illustrious career onscreen but a short one because as soon as she attained her peak, she was diagnosed with a condition that would go on to take her life. With films like Mahal, Mr. and Mrs. 55, Kala Pani, Howrah Bridge, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and others to her name, the Mughal-e-Azam actress was riding high when a ventricular septal defect was detected in her heart. Back then, there was no open-heart surgery possible in India and that’s why the hole in her heart first weakened her and later took her life at the age of 36.

Meena Kumari (1933 – 1972)

Not many actresses have graduated from being Baby (child star) to becoming legends in their own lifetime; Meena Kumari was one of the very few. In a career that spanned over 3 decades, she acted in nearly 100 films but always upstaged her co-stars be it Dilip Kumar, Guru Dutt or Raj Kumar. Most of the current generation know her for Pakeezah but she was a much bigger actress than just one film. A recipient of four Filmfare Awards at a time when they meant something, Meena Kumari was just 38 when she passed away. The Tragedy Queen’s life was cut short due to liver cirrhosis which was caused by her addiction to alcohol. After getting treatment from the United Kingdom, she quit drinking but by then it was too late.

Sanjeev Kumar (1938 – 1985)

Would you believe that Sanjeev Kumar was not even 40 when he played the role of Thakur in Sholay or that despite being just 4 years older than Amitabh Bachchan he still played his father in Trishul? That was the beauty of Sanjeev Kumar who preferred character acting over lead roles, despite romancing with nearly all the heroines of his day. He was not just a good leading man but had no equal when it was comedy, drama, thrill or even playing a supporting role. That’s why when he died at the age of 47 due to a congenital heart condition, it left a vacuum in Bollywood that is yet to be filled. His legacy includes films like Khilona, Mausam, Aandhi, Koshish, Khuddar, Vidhaata and Hero besides Sholay, which speaks volumes about his talent as an actor who can play any kind of character, at any time.

Smita Patel was undoubtedly one of the most versatile actresses to be a part of Bollywood; she acted in both commercial and parallel cinema, and fit into both due to her ability to adapt to all kinds of roles. Those who had seen her in Mirch Masala had to think twice before recognizing her in Shakti and same goes for those who still don’t believe that the actress who played the filmstar in Arth is the same person who appeared in Waaris. She married fellow actor Raj Babbar and had his child Prateik but died two weeks after giving birth. Her death at the age of 31 dealt a huge blow to Indians films and more than a dozen of her films were released posthumously including Waaris in which actress Rekha had to dub Smita Patel’s lines.

Vinod Mehra (1945 – 1990)

At a time when Amitabh Bachchan was riding high on the success of his Angry Young Man persona, many actors came and went without making an impression. However, Vinod Mehra stood his ground and even acted in a few films with Big B. He started his career as a child artist and gradually became a successful actor but his career had more multi starrers than solo hits. Rumors suggested that he and Rekha got married when in reality he eloped with another co-star Bindiya Goswami after his first marriage and a heart attack soon after. Another heart attack proved to be fatal and he lost his life at the age of 45, while he was working on his directorial debut Gurudev. He left behind a legacy of 100 films and two children – Soniya Mehra, Rohan Mehra – who went onto become actors, but didn’t achieve the kind of success their father did.

Divya Bharti (1974 – 1993)

She came, she acted and she won everyone over with her beauty, grace and elegance. Divya Bharti achieved a lot in two years in Bollywood that others haven’t achieved in their entire careers. For someone who did 14 films in less than two years, who was the first choice heroine of every other producer and who reached the peak of her career in her teens, she went way too soon. She reportedly fell from her apartment’s balcony in Mumbai and died on her way to the hospital. Some say she was pushed while others believe that she was under the influence of alcohol when she took her own life allegedly. Whatever the reason, Bollywood lost one of the most sought out divas who was labelled as the next Sridevi or the next Madhuri barely one year after her debut.

Nirmal Pandey (1962 – 2010)

People come into films to become leading men and leading ladies but Nirmal Pandey entered films to become a character actor. From Bandit Queen to Shikari, from Godmother to Hadh Kardi Aap Ne, Nirmal always stood out with his exceptional acting. He could also sing but it was acting that made him a Bollywood A-lister in no time. However, just before the release of his final film Lahore, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 47. He had a lot to offer, yet life didn’t provide him the chance.

Jiah Khan (1988 – 2013)

Jiah Khan was touted as the next big thing after her debut in Nishabd opposite Amitabh Bachchan. The 25-year-old then went onto star in Aamir Khan starrer Ghajini and Housefull that did extremely well at the box office. She was destined for big things when suddenly, she shocked the world by committing suicide. She left behind a six-page suicide note that pointed the finger at her abusive boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi, who was arrested for triggering the suicide. However, it was later revealed that Jiah didn’t have many offers and the failed relationship made her take her own life.

Omair Alavi is a senior film critic from Pakistan who loves Hollywood, Bollywood and Pakistani films in that order. His love for music and books is only trounced by his passion for Sports and he remains a lifelong fan of Jahangir Khan, Shahbaz Ahmed and Rahul Dravid (in that order, again)

About the author

Omair Alavi

Omair Alavi is a highly regarded journalist, critic, and commentator, specializing in news, sports, showbiz, film, blogs, articles, drama, reviews, and PTV drama. With extensive experience and a keen eye for storytelling, he captivates audiences with his insightful analysis and compelling presentations. His expertise and contributions have made him a prominent figure in the media and entertainment industry.