Amid the glitter and dazzle of Bollywood, it’s easy to lose sight of the grime and the grim; of the scores of films that are shot but fade away without a trace; of ambitious stars and starlets seeking to climb the ladder of success at any cost; of talented directors and writers who surrender to the lowest common denominator to survive.
By Geeta Singh
Is it any surprise then that film celebrities commit suicide? Some do so unable to accept they lack talent and connections to rise in the film industry; others succumb to the frustration of ambitions left unfulfilled, of having to return to the family nest empty handed; still others who found the make believe of films was mirrored in their empty personal lives.
The names are many and distinguished: Guru Dutt, Meena Kumari, Parveen Babi, Divya Bharati, Priya Rajvansh, all Bollywood divas of yesteryear.
Guru Dutt died in October 1964, apparently of an overdose of sleeping pills. Was it deliberate? His brother in an interview to DNA said it was an accident. But there had been speculation about Dutt’s failed marriage to Geeta, they had been living apart; of his love for Waheeda Rehman.
More than 50 years have passed, but the mystery surrounding the death of the man who created such timeless classics as Pyaasa, Kagaz ke Phool, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, still endures.
Celebrity suicides have become so commonplace that it no longer shocks or surprises. Such suicides seem to be driven by a combination of work and financial pressures, loneliness, or betrayal in love
Meena Kumari did not commit suicide but failed relationships, separation and divorce from husband Kamal Amrohi, led her to seek solace in alcohol. She developed cirrhosis of the liver which treatment in Switzerland and other places did not cure. She passed away in 1972 and according to reports at that time, her debts barely paid for her burial expenses.
Divya Bharati was another case, her fall from a fifth floor apartment in suburban Versova described in the coroner’s file as death due to “unnatural causes”.
The file was closed by the police who questioned a number of people including her husband Sajid Nadiadwala, two guests who were at her home the night she died, and her household help Amrita (incidentally she also died a month later, apparently unable to accept Divya’s death).
Nothing incriminating turned up and the suspicion is Divya, after consuming too much alcohol, climbed onto the window ledge, unbalanced and fell to her death. Today, 23 years later, her parents, her brother remain baffled and numbed by what happened.
Her husband has (of course) moved on, remarried and last reported to be doing reasonably well.When one looks back at these tragedies, the death of Pratyusha Bannerjee, all of 23 years old who scored on the small screen at the age of 17 with the serial Balika Vadhu, should come as no shocker.
She was apparently physically assaulted by her live-in partner Rahul Raj Singh, a small time television actor-producer. Was it the physical assault that destroyed her, or was it something else? The rumour mills suggest she was on a limb, not able to get the kind of roles she was looking for; other stories hinted at a serious financial situation.
Then there was actress Jiah Khan, who had made a mark in films like Nishabd, Ghajini and Housefull. She was found hanging from the ceiling of her flat in upmarket Juhu.
Her boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi was held on charges of abetment to suicide after police recovered a letter written by Jiah. Her mother rejected reports that her daughter’s suicide was work-related. “Reports that my daughter was depressed because of work is all rubbish.
She was fine, she was sincere, pure and not manipulative. She could not stand lies, deception and lies from the only one she loved the most. I am not being revengeful. She fell for the wrong guy.”
It’s important to note that such suicides are not the preserve of Bollywood. They happen even in regional cinema and television where similar pressures take their toll and drive divas to their deaths. Be they models or actors, whether from Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu, or Malayalam backgrounds, they have taken their lives in sometimes tragic circumstances. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Silk Smitha, although from Andhra Pradesh, was one of the most popular of Tamil film actresses. A sex siren with over 200 films to her credit, she spawned a rash of poor imitators like Nylex Nalini, none of whom however, had her charisma or talent.
Smitha made her mark in the film Vandichakram and never looked back. But she was a deeply troubled woman. She wanted to turn producer, according to some sources, but that did not work out. There were financial issues, she was reportedly disappointed in love and sunk into depression. A familiar, tragic story.
There were others from the south whose tragedies caught up with them. Telugu actor Uday Kiran committed suicide by hanging in his Hyderabad flat. He had delivered consecutive hits, had got married and appeared well settled. So what happened? Word is that the Telugu film industry dominated by castes like Kapus and Kammas, worked to deny the Brahmin Uday further roles. This theory has been discounted but many believe it.
Popular Tamil TV actor Sai Prashanth committed suicide at his residence in Chennai, leaving a suicide note which said no one must be blamed for his death. He apparently mixed poison in his drink. Another Tamil TV actress and radio jockey Vaishnavi hanged herself in her home after a fight with actor Dev Anand, her married co-star with whom she was having a relationship.
The case of Bengali actress Disha Ganguly is curious to say the least. Her fiancée, TV actor Vivaan Ghosh found her hanging from the ceiling fan in her Kolkata home. As he later told police, there was nothing to suggest anything was wrong.
They had gone for a cricket match at Eden Gardens, visited Ghosh’s mother, he had dropped her off, all seemed well. It was when she did not respond to his phone calls that he went to her home. There was speculation she was gay, was in love with another woman who had in fact lived with her, and suicide was the only way to get out of a marriage her parents were insisting upon.
Even the modelling world has not escaped. Viveka Babajee, daughter of a Maharashtrian mother and Mauritian father, began with ramp shows in Manila before moving base to Mumbai.
Within a few years she was rated among the most professional, and therefore, sought after models (remember the Kama Sutra ads). But as is the case with all models, time and age take their toll and gradually the contracts began to taper off, so she started to work as a fashion coordinator.
Her introvert nature made it difficult for her to make friends or get into relationships. Which is why the break up with boyfriend Gautam was probably devasting. Hours before committing suicide, she called up her mother in Mauritius telling her, ‘Í’m going far away’.
Viveka’s death brings to mind the painful suicide at the age of 25, of a former Miss India Nafisa Joseph. She won the crown at the age of 19, was a successful model, and VJ for an international music channel. She had all the right connections: related to Saif and Soha Ali Khan through her mother who was cousin to Sharmila Tagore.
A multi-faceted personality, Nafisa was a singer, played the piano and guitar and even planned a career in international law before she was spotted by Prasad Bidappa, who launched her into modelling. Things began to go wrong when businessman Gautam Khanduja came into her life. The relationship broke up after two years when she found out he was married.
There were other pressures. As she said in an interview a year before her death: “After the party’s over, we become totally alone once again and this loneliness becomes quite scary at times. But what can I do? I chose this life for myself. In this glittering world of showbiz, there is an uncertainty of work and models like me who come from other cities to Mumbai don’t get any family support in their daily lives. Life is a little tougher for us.”
Within a year of her death, Nafisa’s close friend and model Kuljeet Randhawa also hanged herself at the age of 29. A graduate in psychology, Randhawa had acted in the serial “Cats”, and was seen in the serial “Kohinoor”.
Kuljeet was so shaken up by her best friend’s failed relationships (with Sameer Soni and Gautam Randhawa) that she found it difficult to trust anyone. So six month after Nafisa’s death, Kuljeet killed herself leaving a suicide note, which said: “I can’t bear life’s pressures anymore”.Bipasha Basu, who started her modeling career with Nafisa Joseph, says, “success can alienate anyone.
That is why such people stay away from forging new friendships with strangers. I still have the same friends who were with me during my days of struggle.” To ward of loneliness that came with success, Bipasha requested her parents to shift with her to Mumbai.
Bigg Boss participant and model Aditi Govitrikar believes that more than loneliness, career insecurities and the struggle to stay successful ultimately take their toll.
She says, “Modeling is a career with a very short shelf life. Under such circumstance, we want to fit in as much work as we can in that short span of time. And for those who come to Mumbai from other places, the situation is all the more tough.”
Fashion coordinator Sunil Menon agrees, saying, “The competition in the world of glamour borders on dangerous. New faces come here every day while the older ones are trying everything they can to stay at the top.” A struggling model reveals, “Casting couch is also a big reason to throw these people into depression.”