Luck isn’t always a lady. Sometimes she will build you up, show you the heights that are only to bring you crashing down, and leave you with only the memories of what once was. Here are some celebs who tasted fame and fortune and had it totally snatched away from them:
One of the most iconic celebrities of Bollywood, Meena Kumari (born Mehajabee Bano) made her first appearance in films at the age of 4. She went to become the ‘Tragedy Queen’ of Indian cinema not only due to the roles she portrayed on screen but her personal life as well. Her marriage to writer-director Kamal Amrohi soured when Dharmendra made an appearance in her life. Meena Kumari is credited with helping Dharmendra make a career in Bollywood. Unfortunately, it ended her marriage. Kumari became an alcoholic and damaged her liver. Towards the end of her life, she and Amrohi took up the stalled ‘Pakeezah’ project (replacing Dharmendra with Raj Kumar). Despite her failing health, Meena Kumari gave the performance her all. She died all alone three weeks after the movie released with no money left to pay her hospital bills.
Ruby Myers was one of the Baghdadi Jews of India and could speak no Hindi; yet she was a Hindi cinema star popularly known as Sulochana. As a silent movie star, she was one of the highest paid actors of her day. She was such a crowd-puller that one short film of Mahatma Gandhi inaugurating a khadi exhibition had Sulcohana’s dance number added in. She was rumored to have a higher salary than the Governor of Bombay. With the coming of talkies, Myers had to learn to speak in Hindi. She had a few hits after that but steadily, the offers dried up. She started her own production house, Ruby Pics, in 1930. She won the Dada Saheb Phalke award in 1973. In 1983, she was found dead in her flat, having spent her days lonely and forgotten.
Chandra Mohan was born in Narsinghpur in Madhya Pradesh in 1905. He was a celebrated actor during the 1930s and 1940s. Known for his large grey eyes and voice modulation, Mohan made an appearance in around 20 movies of the time. His debut film, ‘Amrit Manthan’, opened with focus on his eyes and turned out to be a huge hit in both Marathi and Hindi. Chandra Mohan then went on to become a noted villainous actor of his time. His last movie was ‘Rambaan’ in 1948, in which he played the part of the demon king Ravana. He was to play the lead role in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ and shot about 10 reels for the film before his untimely death at the age of 44. Due to his addiction to both gambling and drinking, he died penniless in 1949.
Nalini Jayawant was born into a family associated with films and theatre in 1926; she was Nutan and Tanuja’s aunt. She came to public attention with her role in ‘Bahen’ in 1941, a movie about a brother’s obsessive (almost incestuous) love for his sister. She later on appeared in several well-received films, many of which were opposite Ashok Kumar. In December 2010, she died in isolation in her house in Chembur. Apparently, Jayawant had been dead three days before anyone knew about it. Her body had been claimed by some man before anyone knew about her death. Her dogs had been left on the streets and were fed by a few neighbors who found them. Even the actress’ family in the industry hadn’t bothered to keep in touch with her during her last days.
Cukoo, sometimes written as Cuckoo, was an Anglo-Indian dancer who appeared in many Hindi cinema movies. She was the one who helped a penniless Helen make a break in Bollywood. Later, as Helen’s fame spread, Cukoo found that her offers dried up. The woman who once had three cars (one of which was kept for taking her dogs for a drive) and charged Rs 6,000 per dance (a hefty fee those days) died broke and penniless at the age of 52 due to cancer. It is said that in her last days, she could barely afford painkillers to ease her pain. Of her, protégé Helen said that even when she was down and out, she never cried for herself but would crack jokes about her situation.
Bharat Bhushan became an established actor along with Meena Kumari after their movie, ‘Baiju Bawra’, became a golden jubilee hit. Before that, he had struggled for around 10 years to make his presence felt on the big screen. His most popular roles featured him as a sensitive soul trying to face a cruel world. In real life too, Bhushan faced many cruel odds; his mother died when he was two, his daughter suffered from polio-related complications, and his wife died during childbirth. With the coming of color films, Bhushan’s film career was also on the wane. He tried to play older roles but was unsuccessful. Towards the end of his life, he had to sell his cars and even his prized libraries of rare book collections. Bhushan worked hard to end his financial crisis and died shortly after becoming more solvent.
Vimi was only in her thirties when she passed away broke and alone. She had debuted in BR Chopra’s ‘Hamraaz’ in 1967 and had gained popularity almost instantly despite being married and mother of two children. Despite her own parents and her in-laws distancing themselves from Vimi after her acting career took off, her husband, Shiv Agarwal, supported her. However, her marriage was soon on the rocks and the couple decided to separate. After that, her life was on a downward spiral. She did not get good offers and was soon forgotten. She had to sell her business, Vimi Textiles, to pay off her debts.In August, 1977, she was admitted to the general ward of Nanavati Hospital for liver complications due to alcohol addiction. Her body was taken to the cremation grounds on a tea vendor’s thela.
Avtar Kishan Hangal was born in February 1914; from 1929 to 1947, he was a freedom fighter for the Indian Independence movement. After that, he worked as a tailor and came to know actors like Balraj Sahni and Kaifi Azmi, who encouraged him to enter the film industry at the age of 50. Hangal had been associated with the leftist movement all his life; he believed that the state should look after its senior citizens. The outspoken Hangal didn’t shy away from expressing his anger at the delays that big stars like Raj Kapoor caused. He appeared in over 225 films before slowly retiring from movies. In 2012 he passed away at the age of 97 in a hospital without money to pay for his treatment. His cremation was not well-attended but Hangal was, most likely, not the sort who’d care about that.
The son of a textile mill worker who had to give up education after class 4 to work odd jobs, Bhagwan Dada found his escape in movies and dreamed of being a hero. He got a break in ‘Bewafa Aashiq’ (based on ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) but was without work after that because people thought he was a real hunchback. Bhagwan Dada was not the conventional hero – he was portly, plain-looking and with bulging eyes but he found success as writer, director and actor. Unfortunately, after a string of flops, he had to sell his 25-bedroom Juhu house, his fleet of 7 cars, and move to a chawl with his family. His vast circle of friends disappeared except for a few like Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Om Prakash and Johnny Lever, who continued to visit him. He died in 2002 at the age of 89, virtually forgotten.
Achala Sachdev was born in Peshawar in 1920; she started her film career as a child artist though she will most probably be remembered for her mother and grandmother roles. One of the most popular Bollywood songs, ‘O Meri Zohrajabi’, was shot on her. Sachdev acted in over 130 films. After her divorce, she married Cifford Douglas Peters, who was a widower and became a resident of Pune. She was very philanthropic in nature and had even gifted her house to Janseva Foundation. However, when she fell and broke her femur and became paralyzed, she was left in a hospital without attendants. Her son from her first marriage, Jyotin, who lived in the US, rarely visited her, while her daughter in Mumbai had no contact with her.