Bollywood Actor Jiah Khan’s Death: A Suicide or a Murder?

How did the Bollywood actress go from planning to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ at home to hanging from her ceiling?

Published21 Mar 2018, 06:22 AM IST
Explainers
15 min read
Snapshot

Nearly five years after 25-year-old British Bollywood actor Jiah Khan was found hanging from her ceiling fan in her Juhu apartment in Mumbai, a Special Women’s Court will finally start the trial on 21 March 2018, to determine whether she ended her life due to the “wilful conduct” of her former boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi.

The charge against him is abetment of suicide (Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code), while Jiah’s mother is determined to add rape, murder and illegal termination of pregnancy to the list. The case history is long and fraught with petitions, rejections of those petitions, contradictory forensic reports, missing messages, clothes and in general, a media frenzy. What has really transpired until this point? We put it all together in one place for you.

Bollywood Actor Jiah Khan’s Death: A Suicide or a Murder?

  1. 1. Who Was Jiah Khan?

    Jiah Khan was born as Nafisa Rizvi Khan on 20 February 1988 in New York City to Muslim parents Rabiya Amin (a Bollywood actress in the 1980s) and Ali Rizvi Khan, an Indian-American businessman. She was, however, raised in London, with her two younger sisters, Karishma and Kavita; her father deserted the family when she was only two years old. She completed her higher education in the United Kingdom before moving to Mumbai to pursue her acting dreams, inspired at the age of six by Urmila Matondkar’s performance in Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela.

    She formally studied film and theatre in Manhattan, New York, but quit when her first movie offer presented itself.

    Jiah Khan was all of 25 when she ended her own life. 
    Jiah Khan was all of 25 when she ended her own life. 
    (Photo Courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

    Jiah changed her name before making her film debut in Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd in 2007, where she acted opposite megastar Amitabh Bachchan, as a free-spirited 18-year-old who falls for a 60-year-old man. When it released in 2007, the film garnered mixed reviews but Jiah was singled out for her sex appeal and confidence. She was even nominated for the Filmfare Best Debutant Award for her performance in the movie.

    The following year, she acted alongside Aamir Khan in AR Murugadoss's Ghajini, the Hindi remake of the director's own Tamil namesake film, and in 2010, she starred as a supporting actor in Sajid Khan's multi-starrer comedy film Housefull. This was her last film. By then, she had entered Bollywood’s ‘100 Crore Club’ with top-grossing films like Ghajini and Housefull.

    In 2012, she changed her name back to Nafisa Khan but had already made her mark as Jiah Khan in the public eye.

    Jiah’s promising life and career came to an abrupt end on 3 June 2013; she was only 25 years old. That evening, she had planned to spend time alone at her home in Juhu, Mumbai. Her youngest sister, Kavita, was to arrive later that night at 3 am from London and Jiah wanted to receive her. According to a report, the two sisters were texting continuously before Kavita had to board the flight and turn her phone off.

    We bombarded each other with emojis. We couldn’t wait to see each other.
    Kavita, Jiah Khan’s youngest sister to The Guardian

    Rabiya Khan, Jiah’s mother who had moved from London very recently to come live with her daughter, left the latter alone at around 9 pm that night to have dinner with friends. At 9:37 pm, she spoke to Jiah. “I said the typical mummy-ish things about how she mustn’t forget to eat. She needed to gain weight for a film role. We laughed about how she could have any food she wanted. She sounded relaxed and happy”, claims Rabiya.

    Less than two hours later, Rabiya returned home to find her daughter dead; her body was still warm. She tried to support Jiah’s weight by lifting her ankles, but it was too late. When Kavita finally landed in Mumbai, her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. She finally heard a voicemail from a friend offering her condolences and then “everything around [her] went black”.

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  2. 2. Who Is Sooraj Pancholi?

    Sooraj Pancholi, born in 1990, is the son of veteran Bollywood actor Aditya Pancholi and actor Zarina Wahab, a well-known family in Bollywood which enjoys the support of superstars like Salman Khan. In fact, Salman launched Sooraj in his acting debut, Hero (2015) in a film he produced. The film was a dud at the box office, but Sooraj managed to bag the Filmfare Best Debut (Male) award that year.

    Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty strike a pose for <i>Hero.</i>
    Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty strike a pose for Hero.

    At the age of only 22, Suraj was arrested by the Juhu Police after his former girlfriend Jiah Khan was found dead in her home in Mumbai. He had met her through Facebook in 2012, and had been dating her on-and-off for nine months. They were practically in a live-in relationship, with both staying close to each other and living at each other’s homes often.

    Five years since and only one movie later, the case is still dragging on, while the newbie actor continues to remain wary of dating, is a gym-addict and an Instagram celebrity. He may soon be on his way to be a real celebrity with reports suggesting that two movies starring him may soon go on the floors: a Prabhudeva flick with Kiara Advani and a dance-based movie with Isabella, Katrina Kaif’s younger sister.

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  3. 3. What Has Happened in the Investigation & Trial So Far?

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  4. 4. What Does Jiah Khan’s 'Final Letter' Allege?

    When Jiah Khan was found hanging on 3 June 2013, no suicide letter was recovered by the police. However, four days later, her sister Kavita found a six-page hand-written note by Jiah in her bedroom. Rabiya released the letter to the media through Jiah’s publicists. Though it was undated and not addressed to anyone, the contents revealed the letter was written to her boyfriend at the time, Sooraj. In the letter, Jiah had accused Sooraj of physical abuse, rape, threatening her and cheating.

    Once the letter was verified, Sooraj was arrested and then subsequently acquitted of all charges within a month of Jiah’s death. However, Rabiya, convinced that he had a role to play in the ‘homicide’, petitioned the court to order a CBI probe into the matter, which materialised in July 2014. On 9 December 2015, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Sooraj for abetting Jiah’s suicide, and attached this very letter to the report as proof of his “wilful conduct” leading to her death.

    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found four days after she passed away. 
    (Photo: The Quint
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
    (Photo: The Quint
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
    (Photo: The Quint
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
    (Photo: The Quint
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
    An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
    (Photo: The Quint

    However, even today, this letter remains contentious. Rabiya insists that it was never written as a final, suicide note but written over a period of time as a farewell letter to Sooraj before her planned return to London to pursue interior designing, since her Bollywood career wasn’t panning out as planned. The timing – that it wasn’t written before committing suicide but over a period – was confirmed by the Juhu Police, but the intention behind it is anyone’s guess.

    It is their word against ours. The letters which were found in Jiah’s house are not addressed to Sooraj. There is no date and no time on the letter. We are going to fight this in court.
    Aditya Pancholi, Sooraj’s father, to NDTV
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  5. 5. What Charges Have the CBI Put on Sooraj Pancholi?

    In the chargesheet the CBI filed against Sooraj Pancholi in December 2015, the agency said: “Investigation revealed that, the note written by the deceased Jiah Khan establishes that the accused Sooraj Pancholi ruined her life... The wilful conduct of the accused drove the deceased to commit suicide. Hence the accused is liable for his actions to be punished for the wilful conduct and abetment to suicide”.

    Sooraj Pancholi, son of actor Aditya Pancholi, being produced at a court in Mumbai concerning the Jiah Khan death case in 2013.&nbsp;
    Sooraj Pancholi, son of actor Aditya Pancholi, being produced at a court in Mumbai concerning the Jiah Khan death case in 2013. 
    (Photo: PTI)

    It reconstructs the last few hours leading to Jiah’s death, taking into account messages exchanged between her and Sooraj, her mother and her sister, along with CCTV footage and eye-witness testimonies, finally echoing Mumbai Police’s charge of abetment of suicide against Sooraj, and not homicide.

    It attaches letters exchanged between the couple (the final one and others previously written) and pointedly says that one of the reasons for Jiah’s spiralling into depression was a messy home-abortion.

    Suraj Pancholi called Dr Kumar (name changed to protect identity) and told him that he helped her to pull out the remaining stuff (i.e. foetus).
    An excerpt from the chargesheet

    It also alleges mental and physical abuse by Sooraj, corroborated by third persons like Deva, a domestic help at the Pancholi household’s along with several other witnesses including friends of Jiah, who have said they had seen the couple fight often and her with bruises, especially on the neck and legs. The report further said Jiah used to clean Sooraj's room, iron his clothes and stack them in his cupboard. She also bought decorative articles for Sooraj's flat and presented gifts to him regularly, despite her declining mental health.

    Notably, the chargesheet mentioned that Jiah was under the influence of at least 300 ml of ethyl alcohol at the time of committing suicide.

    Though the [final] note is not signed by Jiah or addressed to Sooraj, evidences on hand suggested that this incriminates Sooraj only.
    An excerpt from the chargesheet

    Additionally, according to the CBI, Sooraj had “hidden facts and fabricated information” during questioning about his alleged role in the incident where he was “unwilling to disclose relevant facts” about his last communication with Jiah on 3 June. Intentionally or unintentionally, he had also disposed of vital evidence by deleting Jiah’s contact from his Blackberry messenger account that very evening, deleting all messages between them from both their phones.

    The CBI claimed that he had also refused to undergo both polygraph and brain-mapping tests which the agency wanted to conduct as a part of routine investigation. No unknown or suspicious person was captured on CCTV footage obtained from Jiah’s building on the day of the incident, the report added, including no significant finding from examining Sooraj and father, Aditya Pancholi’s call records.

    Shedding more light on Jiah’s mental health, in the chargesheet, the CBI corroborates the Juhu Police’s finding about a previous suicide attempt by Jiah in November 2012, which she informed Sooraj about. He arranged a Dr Raj (name changed) for her treatment who “confirmed that this injury was a self inflicted one by Jiah”. The document also said another Dr Kumar (name changed) treated Jiah for mental stress: “On 2 December 2012, she was treated (again) by Dr Kumar for the same problem but this time she did not disclose anybody's name for her stress and depression".

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  6. 6. What Transpired During Jiah Khan's Last Hours?

    This series of events has been put together in the two chargesheets filed in the case, first by the Mumbai Police in 2014 and the second, by the CBI in December 2015.

    1 June 2013, Saturday

    Two days before the fateful day. Saturday morning.

    Jiah flew to Hyderabad for an audition where she was told she was underweight for the role, and was rejected. Around 7 pm, she returned to Mumbai, upset, and reportedly confided in her mother that she felt as if her career in Bollywood was going nowhere. Around 9 pm, she left for Sooraj’s house, also in Juhu to stay over for the night and the following day.

    2 June 2013, Sunday

    Around 9 pm that night, the couple had dinner at a hotel, after which Sooraj dropped her back to her own place.

    3 June 2013, Monday

    Sooraj and Jiah exchanged a series of calls and texts through the day. In the early evening, around 7 pm, she informed him that she had bagged roles in three movies following which Sooraj sent a bouquet of flowers to her residence. He then left to have dinner with a friend at a suburban five-star restaurant, even though Jiah wanted to meet him to celebrate the good news. He told her he would meet her the next day, instead.

    Around 9 pm that night, the same time her mother Rabiya stepped out for dinner, Jiah tried to reach out to Sooraj via text after he did not receive her repeated phone calls. She was insistent on meeting him that evening. She messaged him asking “Why are you so cold?” to which he replied that he was busy with some work.

    At 10:04 pm, he called Jiah and told her he was at a hotel, meeting a woman called ‘Nita’, reportedly the family jeweller. At this point, Jiah either spiralled into paranoia or discovered the truth of her boyfriend’s fidelity, when she called up the woman and found out that Sooraj and she were scheduled to meet the following morning. Livid, she texted Sooraj back accusing him of cheating on her, which he emphatically denied as a “misunderstanding”. Sooraj then requested Nita to call Jiah up to clear the misunderstanding, however the latter’s phone was busy.

    Even Jiah’s calls and messages to Sooraj went unanswered until he called her at 10:22 pm. After this heated exchange, Jiah reportedly went down to her watchman, asked him to throw away the flowers Sooraj had sent earlier that evening and then left for his house. At his place, when she found his phone switched off, she enquired with his domestic help, who, at Sooraj’s behest, lied to her that Sooraj was currently busy with his father. However, he informed Sooraj that Jiah is outside his house.

    By the time Sooraj sent someone to get her inside, she had left. He asked her to call, which she did at 10:45 pm. This heated conversation was heard by eyewitnesses who helped the CBI reconstruct the minutes before Jiah’s death. Dejected, Jiah headed home at around 10:48 pm, as seen in the CCTV footage.

    At 10:53 pm, Jiah spoke to Sooraj for a few minutes on the phone. This was the last time anyone spoke to her. Between then and 11:22 pm, Sooraj messaged ten times asking her to respond or call him back, but to no avail. The next minute, at 11:23 pm, Rabiya returned home from dinner to find her daughter hanging from a ceiling fan in the house.

    Bollywood Actor Jiah Khan’s Death: A Suicide or a Murder?
    (Photo: The Quint
    Bollywood Actor Jiah Khan’s Death: A Suicide or a Murder?
    (Photo: The Quint
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  7. 7. Did Jiah Khan Have an Abortion?

    Strictly according to the CBI investigation and following chargesheet, the facts of the much-hyped abortion are as follows:

    In January 2013, Sooraj and Jiah went to a hospital after she complained of a stomach ache. She underwent some tests which confirmed she was pregnant. "In the same month Jiah and Sooraj contacted Dr Kumar (name changed) to take advice for aborting the pregnancy. Dr Kumar prescribed some tablets and after consuming it, she started bleeding continuously", the chargesheet said.

    Dr Kumar later referred her to Dr Das (name changed) who executed a patient agreement form for a medical abortion.

    After two days (around 19 January 2013), Dr Kumar received a call from Sooraj, saying Jiah was sitting on the pot and half the ‘stuff’ [foetus] was stuck inside. Dr Kumar advised him to take her to the nearby hospital.
    An excerpt from the CBI chargesheet

    However, later, Sooraj called Dr Kumar back and said he helped her pull out the foetus. Whether he did this as a knee-jerk reaction, or as an emergency response, or in order to save his name and reputation, is only known to him and sadly, Jiah, who isn’t here to tell her side of the story.

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  8. 8. What is Jiah Khan’s Family Claiming?

    No one from Jiah’s family – her mother Rabiya, her two sisters Karishma and Kavita, or her German stepfather Thomas Puppendahl – believe she killed herself. Rabiya has, from the beginning, claimed her daughter was murdered and has fought to have Sooraj convicted, throughout questioning the investigations and any loopholes that might have been left.

    Deceased actress Jiah Khan’s mother Rabiya Amin has indicated that she is unhappy with the CBI chargesheet.
    Deceased actress Jiah Khan’s mother Rabiya Amin has indicated that she is unhappy with the CBI chargesheet.
    (Photo: The Quint

    Since the CBI dismissed a murder charge in 2015, Jiah’s family has hired three independent forensic experts – in India, London and Ireland – to review the case, all of whom have found missing blanks in the official reports.

    Significantly, the findings by UK-based forensic expert Jason James-Pynes in September 2016, suggested that Jiah's “hanging was staged”.

    According to the CBI, “injury marks” on Jiah’s lower lip were the result of "friction with the teeth during the [suicide]”. However, Payne-James said in his report that the injuries “represent either abrasions or bruises”, and were a result of of “blunt force trauma to the mouth region (for example punching or a hand placed over the mouth), not typical of teeth marks”. The ligature mark on her neck, the CBI concluded “may be caused due to slippage of [thedupatta] slightly downwards or the knot present at that site”. Payne-James, on the other hand, concluded that such marks on her neck and also face, could not have been created by the dupatta: “It would seem unlikely that the diffuse pressure of the soft, wide, cotton dupatta around the neck would cause the well-defined abraded ligature mark seen”.

    There are a number of serious misinterpretations (or exclusions of reasonable inferences) of the medical evidence, and that the apparent intention to attribute her death to suicide may mean that the real possibility of a staged hanging subsequent to earlier death at the hands of another has been missed.
    An excerpt from the Jason James-Pynes’ report

    Rabiya has, over several years, claimed that the first police officer to come to the crime scene had said the hanging appeared to be suspicious. There were injury marks on Jiah’s face, neck, arms and lips (photos of which she carries on her iPad till date and which she claims have not been added to the CBI report), a broken drawer handle in Jiah’s room, unexplained blood and unlocked balcony windows amongst other things. But, she claims, the police officer retracted his opinion the next day.

    As years have passed, Rabiya alleges, crucial evidence has gone missing, including the white dupatta Jiah used to hang herself. It was later found abandoned in the state’s forensic clinic in Kalina, only after the court asked the CBI and police to submit it as a part of their evidence. Until then, the agency never collected the dupatta.

    Additionally, Rabiya claims the tracksuit Jiah was seen wearing 30 minutes before her death as on CCTV has been entirely missing, never recovered by the police from the scene. They also found no fingerprints in her room– not even hers, and yet, Rabiya claims, these inconsistencies have never been double-checked. Other points Rabiya makes to support her claim of her daughter being first beaten to death, then hanged are that the police never once checked if someone as short as Jiah (5 feet 4 inches) could even reach the fan to hang herself and the inconsistency in the CBI report that the boundary wall to Jiah’s apartment in 5 m high when in fact it is only 1 m at the back, where coincidentally, no CCTVs are installed, and hence, can be used as an entry-and-exit point.

    I won’t rest until the truth comes to the surface.
    Rabiya Khan to The Guardian

    Rabiya alleges that the CBI has been doing everything it can to delay the process and further muddle it up, including changing the public prosecutor on the case without any reason, at the behest of Aditya Pancholi. Ironically, this is an allegation the Pancholis are making on her, given how everytime the case has reached a trial point, she has consistently asked for a stay through petitions, unhappy with the investigation at all points.

    Rabiya wants Sooraj to be tried for murder, rape and illegal medical termination of pregnancy. Unfortunately, these are yet to be backed by any evidence, as is necessary in the the pre-trial phase.

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  9. 9. What is Sooraj Pancholi's Family Claiming?

    Sooraj, Aditya and Zarina Wahab have, from day one, argued that all Sooraj did was fall in love and date Jiah, who they claim was emotionally unstable, having had attempted suicide in the past. This has been corroborated by the Juhu Police and the CBI, individually.

    Apart from this, the CBI has retrieved CCTV footage from the hotel the night Jiah died, establishing Sooraj’s presence there and not anywhere near her house. His childhood friend Karan Joshi has also been listed as a witness by the CBI who has vouched that they were together when Sooraj learnt of Jiah’s death, after which he “immediately broke down”. Sooraj and his father’s call records also clear his name of a homicide charge, as per the CBI’s investigation. However, he has, after five years of his girlfriend dying, been charged with abetment of suicide.

    I knew that there was something I was going to be charged with but I’m ready for any charge against me, because until I have a charge, I cannot defend myself. I have lost my 20s in this bargain, but I don’t want to feel like a victim. I don’t want any sympathy. I just want my trial to be fair – whether it goes against me or in my favour. I’ve been shown as a criminal since day one; it’s not a good thing to live with.
    Sooraj Pancholi to Hindustan Times

    The final conversation between them, distasteful as it was, was a “misunderstanding”, in Sooraj’s words as there was a confusion in the time he was to meet the other woman. The abortion he has confessed to, while claiming Jiah’s sisters knew about it all along; the deleted messages and the physical and verbal abuse charges, he hasn’t commented on. As far as the private forensic report brought forward by Jiah’s mother is concerned, Sooraj is steadfast on his plea; he believes a paid-for report from a private lab by the only complainant on the case is hardly admissible in court and doesn’t stand a chance in front of the various other reports presented by the police and the CBI.

    Aditya Pancholi, who has been in the news himself, for his extra-marital affairs and alleged domestic abuse accusations, is convinced the family is being unfairly targeted. Speaking to The Guardian he said this entire situation would not have even arisen had they not been “famous”.

    Finally, in October 2017, Sooraj approached the court and asked for an expedition in the trial, which had taken “four years of his prime” thanks to repeated stay orders and petitions by Rabiya, following which the long road to justice finally began.

    My name will always be associated with [Jiah] and I have no guilt for that. I am happy that something at least stays with me. I am sad that she ended her life. But at least her name is with me and I have no problems with it.
    Sooraj to PTI in August 2015

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Who Was Jiah Khan?

Jiah Khan was born as Nafisa Rizvi Khan on 20 February 1988 in New York City to Muslim parents Rabiya Amin (a Bollywood actress in the 1980s) and Ali Rizvi Khan, an Indian-American businessman. She was, however, raised in London, with her two younger sisters, Karishma and Kavita; her father deserted the family when she was only two years old. She completed her higher education in the United Kingdom before moving to Mumbai to pursue her acting dreams, inspired at the age of six by Urmila Matondkar’s performance in Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela.

She formally studied film and theatre in Manhattan, New York, but quit when her first movie offer presented itself.

Jiah Khan was all of 25 when she ended her own life.&nbsp;
Jiah Khan was all of 25 when she ended her own life. 
(Photo Courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

Jiah changed her name before making her film debut in Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd in 2007, where she acted opposite megastar Amitabh Bachchan, as a free-spirited 18-year-old who falls for a 60-year-old man. When it released in 2007, the film garnered mixed reviews but Jiah was singled out for her sex appeal and confidence. She was even nominated for the Filmfare Best Debutant Award for her performance in the movie.

The following year, she acted alongside Aamir Khan in AR Murugadoss's Ghajini, the Hindi remake of the director's own Tamil namesake film, and in 2010, she starred as a supporting actor in Sajid Khan's multi-starrer comedy film Housefull. This was her last film. By then, she had entered Bollywood’s ‘100 Crore Club’ with top-grossing films like Ghajini and Housefull.

In 2012, she changed her name back to Nafisa Khan but had already made her mark as Jiah Khan in the public eye.

Jiah’s promising life and career came to an abrupt end on 3 June 2013; she was only 25 years old. That evening, she had planned to spend time alone at her home in Juhu, Mumbai. Her youngest sister, Kavita, was to arrive later that night at 3 am from London and Jiah wanted to receive her. According to a report, the two sisters were texting continuously before Kavita had to board the flight and turn her phone off.

We bombarded each other with emojis. We couldn’t wait to see each other.
Kavita, Jiah Khan’s youngest sister to The Guardian

Rabiya Khan, Jiah’s mother who had moved from London very recently to come live with her daughter, left the latter alone at around 9 pm that night to have dinner with friends. At 9:37 pm, she spoke to Jiah. “I said the typical mummy-ish things about how she mustn’t forget to eat. She needed to gain weight for a film role. We laughed about how she could have any food she wanted. She sounded relaxed and happy”, claims Rabiya.

Less than two hours later, Rabiya returned home to find her daughter dead; her body was still warm. She tried to support Jiah’s weight by lifting her ankles, but it was too late. When Kavita finally landed in Mumbai, her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. She finally heard a voicemail from a friend offering her condolences and then “everything around [her] went black”.

Who Is Sooraj Pancholi?

Sooraj Pancholi, born in 1990, is the son of veteran Bollywood actor Aditya Pancholi and actor Zarina Wahab, a well-known family in Bollywood which enjoys the support of superstars like Salman Khan. In fact, Salman launched Sooraj in his acting debut, Hero (2015) in a film he produced. The film was a dud at the box office, but Sooraj managed to bag the Filmfare Best Debut (Male) award that year.

Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty strike a pose for <i>Hero.</i>
Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty strike a pose for Hero.

At the age of only 22, Suraj was arrested by the Juhu Police after his former girlfriend Jiah Khan was found dead in her home in Mumbai. He had met her through Facebook in 2012, and had been dating her on-and-off for nine months. They were practically in a live-in relationship, with both staying close to each other and living at each other’s homes often.

Five years since and only one movie later, the case is still dragging on, while the newbie actor continues to remain wary of dating, is a gym-addict and an Instagram celebrity. He may soon be on his way to be a real celebrity with reports suggesting that two movies starring him may soon go on the floors: a Prabhudeva flick with Kiara Advani and a dance-based movie with Isabella, Katrina Kaif’s younger sister.

What Has Happened in the Investigation & Trial So Far?

What Does Jiah Khan’s 'Final Letter' Allege?

When Jiah Khan was found hanging on 3 June 2013, no suicide letter was recovered by the police. However, four days later, her sister Kavita found a six-page hand-written note by Jiah in her bedroom. Rabiya released the letter to the media through Jiah’s publicists. Though it was undated and not addressed to anyone, the contents revealed the letter was written to her boyfriend at the time, Sooraj. In the letter, Jiah had accused Sooraj of physical abuse, rape, threatening her and cheating.

Once the letter was verified, Sooraj was arrested and then subsequently acquitted of all charges within a month of Jiah’s death. However, Rabiya, convinced that he had a role to play in the ‘homicide’, petitioned the court to order a CBI probe into the matter, which materialised in July 2014. On 9 December 2015, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Sooraj for abetting Jiah’s suicide, and attached this very letter to the report as proof of his “wilful conduct” leading to her death.

An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found four days after she passed away. 
(Photo: The Quint
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
(Photo: The Quint
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
(Photo: The Quint
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
(Photo: The Quint
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found&nbsp; four days after she passed away.&nbsp;
An excerpt from Jiah Khan’s final letter found  four days after she passed away. 
(Photo: The Quint

However, even today, this letter remains contentious. Rabiya insists that it was never written as a final, suicide note but written over a period of time as a farewell letter to Sooraj before her planned return to London to pursue interior designing, since her Bollywood career wasn’t panning out as planned. The timing – that it wasn’t written before committing suicide but over a period – was confirmed by the Juhu Police, but the intention behind it is anyone’s guess.

It is their word against ours. The letters which were found in Jiah’s house are not addressed to Sooraj. There is no date and no time on the letter. We are going to fight this in court.
Aditya Pancholi, Sooraj’s father, to NDTV

What Charges Have the CBI Put on Sooraj Pancholi?

In the chargesheet the CBI filed against Sooraj Pancholi in December 2015, the agency said: “Investigation revealed that, the note written by the deceased Jiah Khan establishes that the accused Sooraj Pancholi ruined her life... The wilful conduct of the accused drove the deceased to commit suicide. Hence the accused is liable for his actions to be punished for the wilful conduct and abetment to suicide”.

Sooraj Pancholi, son of actor Aditya Pancholi, being produced at a court in Mumbai concerning the Jiah Khan death case in 2013.&nbsp;
Sooraj Pancholi, son of actor Aditya Pancholi, being produced at a court in Mumbai concerning the Jiah Khan death case in 2013. 
(Photo: PTI)

It reconstructs the last few hours leading to Jiah’s death, taking into account messages exchanged between her and Sooraj, her mother and her sister, along with CCTV footage and eye-witness testimonies, finally echoing Mumbai Police’s charge of abetment of suicide against Sooraj, and not homicide.

It attaches letters exchanged between the couple (the final one and others previously written) and pointedly says that one of the reasons for Jiah’s spiralling into depression was a messy home-abortion.

Suraj Pancholi called Dr Kumar (name changed to protect identity) and told him that he helped her to pull out the remaining stuff (i.e. foetus).
An excerpt from the chargesheet

It also alleges mental and physical abuse by Sooraj, corroborated by third persons like Deva, a domestic help at the Pancholi household’s along with several other witnesses including friends of Jiah, who have said they had seen the couple fight often and her with bruises, especially on the neck and legs. The report further said Jiah used to clean Sooraj's room, iron his clothes and stack them in his cupboard. She also bought decorative articles for Sooraj's flat and presented gifts to him regularly, despite her declining mental health.

Notably, the chargesheet mentioned that Jiah was under the influence of at least 300 ml of ethyl alcohol at the time of committing suicide.

Though the [final] note is not signed by Jiah or addressed to Sooraj, evidences on hand suggested that this incriminates Sooraj only.
An excerpt from the chargesheet

Additionally, according to the CBI, Sooraj had “hidden facts and fabricated information” during questioning about his alleged role in the incident where he was “unwilling to disclose relevant facts” about his last communication with Jiah on 3 June. Intentionally or unintentionally, he had also disposed of vital evidence by deleting Jiah’s contact from his Blackberry messenger account that very evening, deleting all messages between them from both their phones.

The CBI claimed that he had also refused to undergo both polygraph and brain-mapping tests which the agency wanted to conduct as a part of routine investigation. No unknown or suspicious person was captured on CCTV footage obtained from Jiah’s building on the day of the incident, the report added, including no significant finding from examining Sooraj and father, Aditya Pancholi’s call records.

Shedding more light on Jiah’s mental health, in the chargesheet, the CBI corroborates the Juhu Police’s finding about a previous suicide attempt by Jiah in November 2012, which she informed Sooraj about. He arranged a Dr Raj (name changed) for her treatment who “confirmed that this injury was a self inflicted one by Jiah”. The document also said another Dr Kumar (name changed) treated Jiah for mental stress: “On 2 December 2012, she was treated (again) by Dr Kumar for the same problem but this time she did not disclose anybody's name for her stress and depression".

What Transpired During Jiah Khan's Last Hours?

This series of events has been put together in the two chargesheets filed in the case, first by the Mumbai Police in 2014 and the second, by the CBI in December 2015.

1 June 2013, Saturday

Two days before the fateful day. Saturday morning.

Jiah flew to Hyderabad for an audition where she was told she was underweight for the role, and was rejected. Around 7 pm, she returned to Mumbai, upset, and reportedly confided in her mother that she felt as if her career in Bollywood was going nowhere. Around 9 pm, she left for Sooraj’s house, also in Juhu to stay over for the night and the following day.

2 June 2013, Sunday

Around 9 pm that night, the couple had dinner at a hotel, after which Sooraj dropped her back to her own place.

3 June 2013, Monday

Sooraj and Jiah exchanged a series of calls and texts through the day. In the early evening, around 7 pm, she informed him that she had bagged roles in three movies following which Sooraj sent a bouquet of flowers to her residence. He then left to have dinner with a friend at a suburban five-star restaurant, even though Jiah wanted to meet him to celebrate the good news. He told her he would meet her the next day, instead.

Around 9 pm that night, the same time her mother Rabiya stepped out for dinner, Jiah tried to reach out to Sooraj via text after he did not receive her repeated phone calls. She was insistent on meeting him that evening. She messaged him asking “Why are you so cold?” to which he replied that he was busy with some work.

At 10:04 pm, he called Jiah and told her he was at a hotel, meeting a woman called ‘Nita’, reportedly the family jeweller. At this point, Jiah either spiralled into paranoia or discovered the truth of her boyfriend’s fidelity, when she called up the woman and found out that Sooraj and she were scheduled to meet the following morning. Livid, she texted Sooraj back accusing him of cheating on her, which he emphatically denied as a “misunderstanding”. Sooraj then requested Nita to call Jiah up to clear the misunderstanding, however the latter’s phone was busy.

Even Jiah’s calls and messages to Sooraj went unanswered until he called her at 10:22 pm. After this heated exchange, Jiah reportedly went down to her watchman, asked him to throw away the flowers Sooraj had sent earlier that evening and then left for his house. At his place, when she found his phone switched off, she enquired with his domestic help, who, at Sooraj’s behest, lied to her that Sooraj was currently busy with his father. However, he informed Sooraj that Jiah is outside his house.

By the time Sooraj sent someone to get her inside, she had left. He asked her to call, which she did at 10:45 pm. This heated conversation was heard by eyewitnesses who helped the CBI reconstruct the minutes before Jiah’s death. Dejected, Jiah headed home at around 10:48 pm, as seen in the CCTV footage.

At 10:53 pm, Jiah spoke to Sooraj for a few minutes on the phone. This was the last time anyone spoke to her. Between then and 11:22 pm, Sooraj messaged ten times asking her to respond or call him back, but to no avail. The next minute, at 11:23 pm, Rabiya returned home from dinner to find her daughter hanging from a ceiling fan in the house.

Bollywood Actor Jiah Khan’s Death: A Suicide or a Murder?
(Photo: The Quint
Bollywood Actor Jiah Khan’s Death: A Suicide or a Murder?
(Photo: The Quint

Did Jiah Khan Have an Abortion?

Strictly according to the CBI investigation and following chargesheet, the facts of the much-hyped abortion are as follows:

In January 2013, Sooraj and Jiah went to a hospital after she complained of a stomach ache. She underwent some tests which confirmed she was pregnant. "In the same month Jiah and Sooraj contacted Dr Kumar (name changed) to take advice for aborting the pregnancy. Dr Kumar prescribed some tablets and after consuming it, she started bleeding continuously", the chargesheet said.

Dr Kumar later referred her to Dr Das (name changed) who executed a patient agreement form for a medical abortion.

After two days (around 19 January 2013), Dr Kumar received a call from Sooraj, saying Jiah was sitting on the pot and half the ‘stuff’ [foetus] was stuck inside. Dr Kumar advised him to take her to the nearby hospital.
An excerpt from the CBI chargesheet

However, later, Sooraj called Dr Kumar back and said he helped her pull out the foetus. Whether he did this as a knee-jerk reaction, or as an emergency response, or in order to save his name and reputation, is only known to him and sadly, Jiah, who isn’t here to tell her side of the story.

What is Jiah Khan’s Family Claiming?

No one from Jiah’s family – her mother Rabiya, her two sisters Karishma and Kavita, or her German stepfather Thomas Puppendahl – believe she killed herself. Rabiya has, from the beginning, claimed her daughter was murdered and has fought to have Sooraj convicted, throughout questioning the investigations and any loopholes that might have been left.

Deceased actress Jiah Khan’s mother Rabiya Amin has indicated that she is unhappy with the CBI chargesheet.
Deceased actress Jiah Khan’s mother Rabiya Amin has indicated that she is unhappy with the CBI chargesheet.
(Photo: The Quint

Since the CBI dismissed a murder charge in 2015, Jiah’s family has hired three independent forensic experts – in India, London and Ireland – to review the case, all of whom have found missing blanks in the official reports.

Significantly, the findings by UK-based forensic expert Jason James-Pynes in September 2016, suggested that Jiah's “hanging was staged”.

According to the CBI, “injury marks” on Jiah’s lower lip were the result of "friction with the teeth during the [suicide]”. However, Payne-James said in his report that the injuries “represent either abrasions or bruises”, and were a result of of “blunt force trauma to the mouth region (for example punching or a hand placed over the mouth), not typical of teeth marks”. The ligature mark on her neck, the CBI concluded “may be caused due to slippage of [thedupatta] slightly downwards or the knot present at that site”. Payne-James, on the other hand, concluded that such marks on her neck and also face, could not have been created by the dupatta: “It would seem unlikely that the diffuse pressure of the soft, wide, cotton dupatta around the neck would cause the well-defined abraded ligature mark seen”.

There are a number of serious misinterpretations (or exclusions of reasonable inferences) of the medical evidence, and that the apparent intention to attribute her death to suicide may mean that the real possibility of a staged hanging subsequent to earlier death at the hands of another has been missed.
An excerpt from the Jason James-Pynes’ report

Rabiya has, over several years, claimed that the first police officer to come to the crime scene had said the hanging appeared to be suspicious. There were injury marks on Jiah’s face, neck, arms and lips (photos of which she carries on her iPad till date and which she claims have not been added to the CBI report), a broken drawer handle in Jiah’s room, unexplained blood and unlocked balcony windows amongst other things. But, she claims, the police officer retracted his opinion the next day.

As years have passed, Rabiya alleges, crucial evidence has gone missing, including the white dupatta Jiah used to hang herself. It was later found abandoned in the state’s forensic clinic in Kalina, only after the court asked the CBI and police to submit it as a part of their evidence. Until then, the agency never collected the dupatta.

Additionally, Rabiya claims the tracksuit Jiah was seen wearing 30 minutes before her death as on CCTV has been entirely missing, never recovered by the police from the scene. They also found no fingerprints in her room– not even hers, and yet, Rabiya claims, these inconsistencies have never been double-checked. Other points Rabiya makes to support her claim of her daughter being first beaten to death, then hanged are that the police never once checked if someone as short as Jiah (5 feet 4 inches) could even reach the fan to hang herself and the inconsistency in the CBI report that the boundary wall to Jiah’s apartment in 5 m high when in fact it is only 1 m at the back, where coincidentally, no CCTVs are installed, and hence, can be used as an entry-and-exit point.

I won’t rest until the truth comes to the surface.
Rabiya Khan to The Guardian

Rabiya alleges that the CBI has been doing everything it can to delay the process and further muddle it up, including changing the public prosecutor on the case without any reason, at the behest of Aditya Pancholi. Ironically, this is an allegation the Pancholis are making on her, given how everytime the case has reached a trial point, she has consistently asked for a stay through petitions, unhappy with the investigation at all points.

Rabiya wants Sooraj to be tried for murder, rape and illegal medical termination of pregnancy. Unfortunately, these are yet to be backed by any evidence, as is necessary in the the pre-trial phase.

What is Sooraj Pancholi's Family Claiming?

Sooraj, Aditya and Zarina Wahab have, from day one, argued that all Sooraj did was fall in love and date Jiah, who they claim was emotionally unstable, having had attempted suicide in the past. This has been corroborated by the Juhu Police and the CBI, individually.

Apart from this, the CBI has retrieved CCTV footage from the hotel the night Jiah died, establishing Sooraj’s presence there and not anywhere near her house. His childhood friend Karan Joshi has also been listed as a witness by the CBI who has vouched that they were together when Sooraj learnt of Jiah’s death, after which he “immediately broke down”. Sooraj and his father’s call records also clear his name of a homicide charge, as per the CBI’s investigation. However, he has, after five years of his girlfriend dying, been charged with abetment of suicide.

I knew that there was something I was going to be charged with but I’m ready for any charge against me, because until I have a charge, I cannot defend myself. I have lost my 20s in this bargain, but I don’t want to feel like a victim. I don’t want any sympathy. I just want my trial to be fair – whether it goes against me or in my favour. I’ve been shown as a criminal since day one; it’s not a good thing to live with.
Sooraj Pancholi to Hindustan Times

The final conversation between them, distasteful as it was, was a “misunderstanding”, in Sooraj’s words as there was a confusion in the time he was to meet the other woman. The abortion he has confessed to, while claiming Jiah’s sisters knew about it all along; the deleted messages and the physical and verbal abuse charges, he hasn’t commented on. As far as the private forensic report brought forward by Jiah’s mother is concerned, Sooraj is steadfast on his plea; he believes a paid-for report from a private lab by the only complainant on the case is hardly admissible in court and doesn’t stand a chance in front of the various other reports presented by the police and the CBI.

Aditya Pancholi, who has been in the news himself, for his extra-marital affairs and alleged domestic abuse accusations, is convinced the family is being unfairly targeted. Speaking to The Guardian he said this entire situation would not have even arisen had they not been “famous”.

Finally, in October 2017, Sooraj approached the court and asked for an expedition in the trial, which had taken “four years of his prime” thanks to repeated stay orders and petitions by Rabiya, following which the long road to justice finally began.

My name will always be associated with [Jiah] and I have no guilt for that. I am happy that something at least stays with me. I am sad that she ended her life. But at least her name is with me and I have no problems with it.
Sooraj to PTI in August 2015

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