By Sharada Iyer
Indeed, the strains and pressures of being in showbiz are best understood only by those deeply immersed in it. Being public figures in the world of glamour does not mean their personal lives are perfect. They have their own share of weaknesses and handling the pressures of public scrutiny and heart-breaks can take its toll…
Recently when Deepika Padukone went public with her own struggles and battle with depression, it sent a shock wave in the industry as well as among her countless fans. It was difficult to imagine how such a beautiful actress with all top banners, endorsements, plum roles, hit films and numerous awards have depressing thoughts!!!
If we look back, the 100-year history of this great industry is dotted with tragic deaths of many artistes who after tasting enormous success became victims of depression and sorrow and turned to alcohol or drugs for succour. Some attempted suicide while some preferred to become a recluse in their twilight years opting for a life of obscurity and died lonely deaths. There are stories of those who blew away all their money in gambling and alcohol and died in penury and some like music director Vasant Desai died a brutal death at the hands of fate.
Sometimes the other side of glamour can be pain and tragedy…
Perhaps the most well-known of all tragedies in our industry is that of actress Meena Kumari. A failed marriage, absence of children, and any will to further her career made her an alcoholic and eventually she died of cirrhosis of liver at the young age of 39 years. Exploited by her father from the time she started her career as a child artiste, and later by her husband, the love and understanding that she yearned for kept eluding her till the end. At the time of her death, there was no money to pay her hospital bills or for her cremation.
The great actor-director Guru Dutt who is remembered for classics like Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam cut short his own life by taking an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills. His cameraman V K Murthy stated in an interview that he had earlier made two attempts at suicide. Who would have thought that such a genius director married to a sensational singer Geeta Dutt had such deep disturbing personal and professional problems which made him resort to this drastic step! Towards the end, his wife had left him and walked out with their kids and he was living alone in a rented flat.
The dulcet voice of singer Geeta Dutt gave so much meaning to the music of the Golden Era of Hindi films. When she married Guru Dutt everybody felt it was a wonderful ‘Jodi’ of talents coming together. Unfortunately their happiness was short-lived. She did not take kindly to her husband’s rumoured affair with his muse Waheeda Rehman and after Guru Dutt’s suicide she turned to alcohol resulting in her death at the age of 42.
This song from Kaagaz Ke Phool best sums up their relationship…
Nalini Jaywant was an important leading actress through mid-fifties known for some classic films like Sangram, Anokha pyar, Kaala Paani, Munimji, Shikast, Hum Sab Chor Hain, etc. There was a time when a Filmfare cameraman’s poll voted her the most photogenic Indian actress ever. In the end, her long years of film stardom did not matter and no one seemed to care. She died of heart attack at the age of 84, alone and forgotten in a small bungalow in Mumbai’s Chembur suburb, where she had been living in seclusion for more than two decades. She was taken to the hospital in a municipal ambulance summoned by neighbours. Someone claiming to be her distant relative had her cremated.
In 1950, she wore a swimsuit for a song in Sangram opposite Ashok Kumar and the song created a sensation at that time…
The name Bhagwan immediately brings to mind the short and stocky comic actor and his famous dancing steps which is said to have inspired later actors including superstar Amitabh Bachchan. He courted sensational success with ‘Albela,’ owned bungalows, cars, race horses but was surrounded by sychophants who ate and drank at his expense. During his peak time, Bhagwan Dada had a lavish lifestyle. However, the films after ‘Albela’ were not that successful and with money running out and roles becoming scarce, he had to sell off all his luxuries. He lived in a chawl in Dadar, Mumbai, during his last days
Cuckoo is considered by many as the first of the well-known dancing queens of Indian Cinema and it was with her that “cabaret” became an important aspect of Hindi cinema. When she made her debut in 1944, her seductive and graceful screen presence became an instant hit and in the space of just the next five years, she had appeared in an incredible 49 films. It was she who introduced Helen into films. She lived ostentatiously, spent extravagantly but when she died on September 30, 1981 at the age of 53, she was penniless, homeless and uncared for in a municipal hospital with no one to claim her body.
Master Nissar, star of the silent era as well as early talkies who acted in hit films like Shakuntala, Laila Majnu, Shirin Farhad and Indrasabha was a product of the Madan Theatres, Calcutta. His ability to speak fluent Urdu and sing songs contributed to his instant success. However, in the wake of the Saigal wave of the mid-thirties, Nissar switched to character roles. It is said that there was a time when the Viceroy of British India had to change his route when thousands of Nissar’s fans ran out to greet him.…And yet this star of our industry, became a pauper and died near Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai, begging.
Considered to be one of the most natural actors to have entered the industry, Motilal is said to have struck a perfect balance between theatrical acting and loud dialogue delivery and paved the path for natural acting. He made his debut in1934 and is remembered for his roles in Mr Sampat, Taqdeer, Paigham, Anari, Parakh, etc. Though he was very suave and polished, and moved in high society, towards the end of his life he was in financial difficulty. He enjoyed gambling and races, and died almost penniless in 1965.
The first superstar of Hindi cinema Kundan Lal Saigal who is credited with bringing Hindi film music into every home unfortunately ended his glorious innings by becoming addicted to alcohol. He is believed to have recorded every song only after taking a few drinks and died at he age of 44 leaving behind a vast repertoire of mindblowing songs.
Even seven decades after its release this Saigal song from My Sister remains evergreen…
Khan Mastana was an eminent playback singer of the industry in the forties and also composed some songs as music director for a few films. He sang many hit numbers including evergreen songs like ‘Door Hato Ae Duniya Waalon Hindustan Hamara Hai…’ with Amirbai Karnataki in the 1942 super-hit Kismet and the brilliant patriotic number ‘Watan ki Raah Mein Watan Ke Naujawan Shaheed Ho…’ with Mohd Rafi in the 1948 blockbuster Shaheed. Sadly when work started dwindling, he fell in bad times and finally died begging at the Mahim Dargah, Mumbai.
This brilliant actor Chandramohan famous for his big fiery eyes and great dialogue delivery left a great impression as Emperor Jahangir in Sohrab Modi’s Pukar. His confrontation scenes with Dilip Kumar in Shaheed (1948) formed a major highlight of the film. He had been the original choice of Salim in K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam but his untimely death led to a complete change in the cast of this film. The first actor to charge Rs one lakh in 1940, he spent all his earnings in alcohol and gambling and is said to have died almost penniless at the age of 44.
B S Shinde was the editor of more than 100 films including Ramesh Sippy’s historic blockbuster Sholay. In fact, at the 23rd Filmfare Awards held on March 30, 1976, Sholay could win just one award out of nine nominations which was for ‘Best Editing’ and it went to B S Shinde.…And yet, towards the end, he lived in a chawl. His house came crashing down and he had no money to pay his hospital bills. No one from the industry came to help and only cinesanstha of MNS collected Rupees 51,000/- and gave him.
Bharat Bhushan remains evergreen in public memory because of films like Baiju Bawra and Barsaat Ki Raat. He even wrote screenplay for the latter film which despite its excellent music did not do too well at the box office. He had loads of money but he lost all of it to gambling. Finally he sold off his bungalow and his wonderful collection of books to clear his debt and lived in a chawl during the last days of his life.
Vimi who attained instant stardom with her very first film as the heroine in BR Film’s ‘Humraaz’, was also seen in films like Vachan, Aabroo, Patanga etc. and had lovely songs picturised on her. However in the absence of any great talent, not many roles came her way. Added to that was the grief of separation from her husband which made her turn to alcohol. She spent her final days alone in the general ward of Nanavati Hospital and died broken hearted and penniless.
The young and bubbly 19 year old Divya Bharti achieved stardom in her short career of three years and delivered hits in Telugu and Tamil industry before her entry in Hindi films. She made her Bollywood debut with Vishwatma in 1992 and appeared in more than 14 Hindi films within a year which remains a record till date for any actor let alone a newcomer. She was SRK’s co-star in his debut film Deewana. The Industry was shocked when she fell to her mysterious death from her 5th floor apartment building in Mumbai. It was never made clear whether it was accidental death, suicide under influence of alcohol or murder where her own husband Sajid Nadiadwala was suspected.
Writer director Manmohan Desai who gave us stupendous hits like Amar Akbar Anthony, Sachcha Jhoota, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Dharamveer, Chacha Bhatija, Bluffmaster, Coolie, etc., also died under mysterious circumstances when he fell off from the balcony of his house. Though reports claimed it was because the railing gave way, suicide could not be ruled out. At the time of his death, he was suffering from acute back pain and his last three films had been major disasters at the box-office. After giving 15 super-hits in his career spanning 29 years, he probably could not take his failure which might have led to his suicide.
Vasant Desai, the music maestro who gave us gems like ‘Ae Maalik tere Bande Hum…, ‘Bole Re Papi Hara..’, ‘Yeh Kahaani Hai Diye Ki Aur Toofan Ki…’, ‘Akhiyan bhool Gayi Hai Sona…’, ‘Nain So Nain…’, ‘Ek Tha Bachpan..’, started off his career in silent films as a hero in Khooni Khanjar in 1930. He also started singing his own songs but in 1939, when he did not get the hero’s role, he gave up acting and started learning music. He got his big break with V Shantaram’s Shakuntala and thereafter he became a permanent fixture in this director’s films. On the fateful day of 22nd December 1975, after a full day recording of a special musical programme at HMV Studios in praise of Indira Gandhi, when he stepped into the elevator of his own apartment building, unfortunately he was unaware of the technical problem with the lift and when it began to move he was tragically crushed to death.
The pretty actress who made her debut with the 1963 war film Haqeeqat, and went on to star only in her mentor Chetan Anand’s films Heer-Ranjha, Kudrat, Hanste Zakhm, etc., became involved with him personally also. Though she was 20 years younger to him they became very close and when he died he left her some property. Her gruesome end came in 2000, when she was found murdered in her house in Chembur, Mumbai. Sadly it was Chetan Anand’s own sons Ketan and Vivek along with her maid and another accomplice who had murdered her and all four accused were sentenced to life imprisonment.
A K Hangal was a freedom fighter who became a stage actor and much later entered the industry when he was almost 50 years old. A natural actor who played every role with a rare conviction and added life to all his characters like Sholay, Baawarchi, Avatar, Shaukeen, Namak Haraam, etc. Towards the end of his life he was found living in penury. Though he was amongst the lucky few whose condition caught the attention of the industry and soon contributions poured in from all quarters to support him, yet when this veteran died at the age of 98, there were hardly any stars of the industry who came to pay their last respects.
Raj Kiran,the handsome star of Arth, Karz, etc.,had gone missing with no clue of his whereabouts but a couple of years back, was spotted in a mental home in USA.
Parveen Babi is remembered for her glamorous roles alongside top heroes of the 1970s and early 1980s in blockbusters like Deewar, Namak Halaal, Amar Akbar Anthony and Shaan. Along with Zeenat Aman she was responsible for the westernization of the Hindi film heroine. However her mental state had become so fragile in the 90’s that the once beautiful star with a svelte body turned puffy and unrecognizable towards the end. Some attributed it to depression, others insisted she was schizophrenic. Eventually abandoned by all she battled her mental demons on her own without any emotional support systems to fall back on and died alone, locked inside her apartment in Juhu. Her body was found three days after her death.
Currently Bipasha Basu is in that phase when there are no good roles coming her way. She is desperately trying to cling on to the tag of ‘sexy actress’ and is signing weird horror movies opposite much younger heroes. Preity Zinta has no films and has turned to judging a reality show. These actresses refuse to accept their age and move on to mature roles. They need to step back and introspect before it is too late. Hrithik Roshan underwent a personal trauma of separation from his wife and kids. He may be the dream man for many of his fans but in real life things turned awry and there were reports of him turning to alcohol and becoming a chain smoker. But he managed to quit before things got out of hand.
Fans will always associate these dream merchants with their screen images and larger than life roles they play often forgetting that under the facade of glamour and stardom, there beats a human heart craving for love and affection..