The Jiah story

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HB looks at the life of Jiah Khan, who committed suicide this June

In 2007, she rocked Bollywood with her scandalous debut – the movie Nishabd in which she played a young woman in love with an older man (played by Amitabh Bachchan), the father of her school-friend. While the movie did not do well at the box office, it had everyone sit up and take notice of a British-born Indian actress named Jiah Khan.

Six years later, Jiah rocked the world of Bollywood again – on June 3, 2013, the actress was found hanging from the ceiling fan of her bedroom in her Mumbai residence. In a suicide note that was later revealed to the media, she speaks in detail of the abusive relationship she was in with Sooraj Pancholi, actor Aditya Pancholi’s son, and how it was the cause of her depression and subsequent suicide.

The daughter of Ali Rizvi Khan and Rabiya Amin, a Hindi film actress in the 1980s from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, Jiah, whose original name was Nafisa, grew up in London, before moving to Mumbai to try her luck in Bollywood.

A trained opera singer, Jiah had studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Manhattan. She had mentioned in interviews then that she was inspired to enter Bollywood after watching Ram Gopal Verma’s former protege Urmila Matondkar’s movie Rangeela at the age of six. A determined Jiah, then 18 years old, met with Ram Gopal Verma, who produced her debut movie Nishabd. Her role got her a nomination for a Filmfare Best Female Debut Award, but she lost out to Deepika Padukone.

While she received a lot of praise for her “sex appeal”, Jiah went to great lengths to give interviews where she mentioned that she was only playing a character and she was nothing like that in real life.

She didn’t manage to sign on too many movies after that, until 2008 when director AR Murugadoss cast her in his psychological thriller Ghajini, starring Aamir Khan, which went on to become the highest grossing Bollywood film of 2008. Her role in the movie though was described as “sketchy” and Jiah’s career went downhill from there.

Later, she shot for Ken Ghosh’s Chance Pe Dance opposite Shahid Kapur, but was later replaced by Genelia D’souza. She made her last film appearance in 2010 a supporting role for Sajid Khan’s Housefull opposite Akshay kumar, Riteish Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone and Lara Dutta in 2010. Housefull was her second highest grossing Bollywood film, but in all her interviews after the movie’s release, she mentioned how she just wasn’t comfortable wearing a bikini on screen. While Housefull did well at the box office, most reviews called her a glorified female extra. In fact, she again went to great lengths to mention that she was not the person she keeps being cast as.

For a while after, her career hit a complete low and Jiah could only be spotted at parties and product launches. However, she resurfaced in 2013, claimed to have signed new films and had also changed her name back to Nafisa Khan. “I want to be myself, so I am back to my real name. I was always Nafisa Khan. My family and friends call me Nafisa and I am used to it,” she told the daily.

She also claimed that she had deliberately taken a break. “I was learning acting in London all this while. And I had taken a deliberate sabbatical – I wanted to hone my skills a bit more and also give myself a break. That’s why I haven’t been seen in any film lately,” she had said.

In the months before her death, she is supposed to have signed three South Indian films. In fact, several magazines are even putting out reports of interviews that were not published before her death where she mentions that her career is showing signs of doing well. “I am definitely seeing a good high in my career. I am currently in London and then travelling to Los Angeles,” she mentions in one of her interviews. She also says she is doing a lot of work for charities. “I am planning something in order to collect relief fund for Haiti earthquake victims. I am also aligned with UNICEF,” she mentions to another daily.

Today, though, Jiah’s suicide is still making headlines. A bitter battle has erupted between the aggrieved mothers of both Jiah and Sooraj. On one hand, Rabia Khan has been gathering evidence to build a case against the Pancholi family, on the other, Suraj’s mother, Zarina Wahab, has been fighting to save her son’s image. Letters that Jiah is supposed to have written to Sooraj as well as her suicide note are doing the media rounds, while Sooraj continues to claim they are all fake.

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