It’s been 8 years since the lovely child ended her life. I still remember waking up on June 3 in 2013 to a message sent in the night from an editor. “Apparently Jiah Khan is dead. Can you check?” I didn’t know her well. Nobody did. She came and went like a passing breeze. The leaves barely stirred before the stillnesss crept in.Sadly she left without any mark in the movies, though her death left a big scar on the life of her boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi. Jiah’s mother continues to believe Sooraj to be responsible for her death.
Whenever she would call me there was forced gaiety in her voice. The effervescent conversation was laced with ‘Darling’ and ‘Sweetie’,
She was warm affectionate girl who wanted all the things that girl her age want: stardom, money, a steady boyfriend, a supportive family. Jiah did only three films. And she was subjected to harassment and ridicule on the sets of one of them. She would return home crying from the shooting. She had no fun doing this film.
“Jiah didn’t want be in the film industry. It wasn’t her scene at all. She was miserable. We all knew she wanted out. But she couldn’t,” a friend of hers told me days after her death.
Why did Jiah Khan have to go so young? Apparently a stormy love affair did her in. But she was also very disheartened by the lack of progress in her career.A producer friend of Jiah’s who wishes to remain unnamed said, “She got the biggest breaks. In her first film she was paired with Bachchan Saab...Which 19 year old with no Bollywood connections gets that privilege? Her second film was with Aamir Khan...And third film with Akshay Kumar. But nothing happened to her career. She was very depressed by the lack of progress and was trying to understand why even Ram Gopal Varma, known to repeatedly work with his discoveries like Antara Mali and Priyanka Kotahri shunned Jiah after the stunning performance in Nishabd.”
According to this friend, Jiah was specially hurt when she was thrown out of Ken Ghosh’s Chance Pe Dance and overnight replaced by Genelia d’Souza.
“She was trying to make sense of her career. I also heard she was in a relationship that wasn’t getting anywhere. I guess she couldn’t take the pressure. Sad, because she was a really warm and friendly girl,” says the producer-friend.
Jiah made a bold and aggressive start with Ram Gopal Varna’s Nishabd where she played a 19-year in love with a 60-year old man.That her co-star was the Big B didn’t intimidate this Londoner in Bollywood at all. I remember how she would exchange jokes on the sets with her mighty co-star. She also told me that Mr B was one of the nicest-smelling guys she had ever met.
When the film bombed Jiah told me she had no regrets at all. “I agree our audiences are still very conservative and Nishabd was a very bold subject. Even in the West Lolita created a huge controversy although they are no strangers to sex and nudity. For me Nishabd was a challenge because I got to work with Mr. Bachchan and Mr. Varma so early in my career. And to be doing a central role in a film featuring Mr. Bachchan. It made me what I am. So I am grateful," she said
Jiah shunned networking practices to further her career.
She told me, “Not that I'm a recluse. But at this age, I don't want to get unnecessarily influenced by the wrong kind of people. Once I'm 30 and achieved what I've set out to, I can visit all the night places that I want to. As long as you're respectful to people who are older and more experienced, there's no need to try to fit in."
Jiah came into Bollywood with no one to advice her. She told me once, “Being so young and coming into the industry with no knowledge of how it worked, I picked an unconventional role as my debut. No regrets. I maintained my distance after Nishabd. I waited for the right opportunity. For Ghajini, I did an audition. It was a long process.And if you consider the fact that I started my career with Mr Bachchan as my hero, I got two generations of remarkably talented co-stars in my first two films."
Jiah felt equally comfortable with all every generation of actors. "I can get along equally well with someone 16 or 60. It's a gift, I guess. I really think I'm lucky. As for my so-called audacious launch, I was very comfortable with my role in Nishabd. Maybe other people weren't. It didn't affect me beyond a point. If they reacted violently against my relationship with Mr Bachchan in Nishabd, then good. Aggressive reaction is far better than indifference"
She was hurt when she was sacked from Ken Ghosh’s film.
Uncharacteristically subdued she had mumbled, "I'm new to all this. I keep to myself and I've no idea what people do in this industry. I am here only to work."
What really happened to Jiah? Blaming Sooraj for her death is just a making a convenient scapegoat out of him. Maybe they shared a volatile relationship. But there is really no mystery about the nature of her death. Actresses have died under far more mysterious circumstances. We have accepted the tragedy and moved. Why don’t we give Jiah’s brief bright burnished life a closure?
I remember speaking on the day of her death to the man who gave her her only worthwhile film. For once Ram Gopal Varma was shaken. He may not strike his friends as an emotional man. But the death of Jiah Khan triggered off a yearning for the past that this self-confessed cynic never felt before.When Jiah’s family held a condolence meeting at Juhu, Ramu, true to his image, didn’t turn up to bid his protégée farewell. Instead he made a 2-minute film as a tribute to the spirited actress who in her very first film, stole the Big B’s heart.
The short film which Ramu has titled ‘The Reel & The Reality Of Jiah’ catches Jiah at her most reflective and resplendent.The film was gifted to Jiah’s mother and sisters who apparently were deeply moved by the efforts Ramu had made to capture Jiah’s most effervescent moments in Nishabd.
Subdued and thoughtful Ramu said, “Ironically her character in the film feels life should be taken lightly. It is advice that Jiah couldn’t follow in her own life.I couldn’t bring myself to attend any memorial for Jiah. For me she will always be alive.I decided to put together this tribute. When I was looking at her in Nishabd again I was struck by how spontaneous she was on screen...and not the least intimidated by Mr Bachchan! I can’t get believe she is gone.”
Ramu regrets not being able to live up to his high opinion of Jiah’s talent. “I should’ve worked with her again. But we had both set such high standards for each other in Nishabd. I couldn’t come up with a role to equal that one for Jiah.And I haven’t made any film as heartfelt as Nishabd.”
The last I heard from her was when she was in Patna for an event. I invited her home. She promised she would definitely come home the next time.That was not meant to be.
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