Bollywood’s Gone Girl: Remembering the Talented Jiah Khan

The talented Jiah Khan deserved more than what she got.

4 min read
Jiah Khan was all of 25 when she ended her own life. 

Six years ago, on June 3, it was a black, drizzly Monday. Jiah Khan, still striving to find a firm foothold in the star firmament, had ended her life.

Suicide, ran the instant verdict. She had hung herself from the ceiling fan in her Juhu apartment. To this day, though, there hasn’t been a closure on the Jiah Khan case. Her mother Rabiya Amin Khan – who had once featured in the movie Dulha Bikta Hai (1982) – has suspected foul play. The CBI was brought in to investigate the case.

In 2015, a hand-written letter by Jiah was presented as evidence, in which the 25-year-old actress, among other heart-rending recriminations, is alleged to have written to her boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi,

Your life was about partying and women. Mine was you and your work… I aborted my baby when it hurt me deeply. You destroyed my Christmas and my birthday dinner… you chose to be away from me on Valentine’s Day. You promised me once we made it to one year we would get married…
Jiah Khan in a letter to Sooraj Pancholi
Jiah in a still from <i>Nishabd.</i>
Jiah in a still from Nishabd.

Sooraj Pancholi, who made his debut with the Salman Khan backed film Hero, has been charged with abetment to suicide.

In Mumbai, Jiah Khan is but a lingering shadow. Disappointed in love, disappointed in her career at the age of 25, hers is the kind of portentous story which Bollywood celebrities forget as quickly as their incipient days of struggle.

Jiah Khan, I can claim to have known quite well or at least to the extent that a journalist can know a film personality. On the eve of the release of Nishabd, her PR had fixed up an interview at the Gallops restaurant which nestles within the Mahalaxmi racecourse. She was bang on time, 6 pm, emerging from a black sedan. Omigawd, how beautiful is she, was my response: glowing cocoa brown skin, challenging eyes, cascading hair and a confident gait.

After a spontaneous hug and something like a ‘mwaaah’, she had laughed, “I’ve been warned. You might make me say things I shouldn’t.” I didn’t because she said those unspeakable things herself. Her mother Rabiya, and Jiah at the age of two, had been abandoned by her father, NRI Ali Rizvi Khan, in New York. Tough city.
Jiah had a dream debut with Amitabh Bachchan in <i>Nishabd.</i>
Jiah had a dream debut with Amitabh Bachchan in Nishabd.

They moved to London, life proceeded with its hiccups.

“A man who doesn’t care a damn about his child,” Jiah had said, “must be hanged in public.”

That quote became the headline of the lead story of the entertainment supplement which I edited then. Ironically, the ‘hanging’ metaphor came true. Only it wasn’t the father. Instead it was his child who had hung herself.

The mother will never be the same again, a thought which perhaps Jiah could have considered but didn’t. But then, who’s to come to facile deductions on why someone takes the last step? Or why a candle in the wind snuffs itself out?

Soon after Jiah’s end, a film project adapted from the tragedy was announced by an unheard of director. Fortuitously, it didn’t reach the finishing line. And believe it or not, Jiah became a ‘verb’. Meaning when an upcoming actress was dealing with her boyfriend, agitated after a row of flops, she groused, “Last evening he almost did a ‘Jiah’ on me.”

For Jiah’s obituary, I’d written about the wistful poems she would attempt, about her fund-raising documentary on children for the UN, about her fascination with Bruce Chatwin’s book Anatomy of Restlessness,  besides her  option of a singing career. Trained in opera at the age of 16, Jiah had met agents in New York. There was hope yet of recording an album of electronica pop songs. “Woohoo,” she had exulted. “They want to present me as Asia’s Beyonce Knowles.”

Jiah Khan with Khalid Mohamed.&nbsp;
Jiah Khan with Khalid Mohamed. 
(Photo courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

That was not to be. She’d fly in and out of London, believing she could still make a mark as a heroine after Ghajini and Housefull.

“I’ve been liked,” Jiah would rationalise. “I’ve acted with Mr Amitabh Bachchan, also Aamir Khan. So why don’t I get any more work? The ones I’m offered are yuck. And I still don’t have the foggiest idea why Shahid Kapoor had me dropped from Chance Pe Dance. Maybe he just didn’t like my face. Still, I’ll stick around. Try karne mein kya jaata hai?”

As it happened, try karne mein jaan bhi jaa sakti hai. When I put up a post on Facebook, flashbacking to my conversations with Jiah, an otherwise sensitive FB friend, remarked, “Why is so much attention being given to a Bollywood actress?”

Actually, she should have been given much more attention.

In my book, June 3 will always be the day when I lost Jiah Khan, an affectionate, thoughtful and creative child to the camera born – only to be denied deserved opportunities.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)

(This tribute piece is from The Quint’s archive and was first published on June 3, 2016. The story is being republished in her memory on the late actor’s birth anniversary.)

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