Jiah, just seems like yesterday

By Khalid Mohamed

Just a year gone by, and the name’s deleted. Or almost. On her first death anniversary, on June 3, a memorial service was conducted in Chelsea, London.

jiah khan againIn Mumbai, showbusiness city, there was nothing, for Jiah Khan who is believed to have committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan in her Juhu apartment. Disappointed in love, disappointed in her career at the age of 25, hers is the kind of tragedy which Bollywoodkars forget as quickly as their incipient days of struggle.

Divya BhartiSuccess is all that counts till the A-listers find themselves relegated to the darkest shadows. Twenty-one years later, Divya Bharti who died at the age of 19, is recalled only by scant nostalgiaphiles, uncertain about why she opted for a fatal leap from a high-rise apartment.

A year later Jiah Khan born Nafisa Rizvi Khan is remembered only in distant Chelsea.

Divya Bharti, I had met or rather talked to over the phone with, once. She was to light the inaugural lamp at the international film festival ceremony in Delhi. Doordarshan had asked me to interview her in the lobby of the Ashok Hotel. She was late by an hour, then two hours, I phoned her room to get an inexplicably irritated voice at the other end, saying, “I may or may not do the interview… I’ve just woken up.”  It was 3 pm. Obviously the crew and I packed up.

By contrast, Jiah Khan I knew 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, around 6 pm, emerging from a black sedan, her hair was a wild but gorgeous mess. Omigawd, how beautiful is she, was my initial response: glowing cocoa brown skin, unlipsticked lips, challenging eyes and a girlish gait.

Mercifully, the PR hadn’t accompanied her. After a spontaneous hug and something like a ‘mwaaah’, she 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 Khan, and Jiah at the age of two, had been abandoned by her father in New York. Tough city.

Jiah and Amitabh BachchanThey moved to London, life proceeded with its few ups and many downs. “A man who doesn’t care a damn about his child,” Jiah had said, “must be hanged”.

That quote was the headline on the front page article of the entertainment supplement I edited then. Ironically, the ‘hanging’ metaphor came true. Only it wasn’t the father. Instead it was the child, a gorgeous, intelligent girl who hung herself.

Followed the arrest of her boyfriend, Suraj Panscholi and the glut of headlines. He was arrested, and released. Jiah’s parting letter mentioned an aborted child. Rabiya Khan was distraught, and continued to level charges. Of course, none of us can even guesstimate the depth of a mother’s pain. Soon after the release of  Nishabd, Jiah’s mother would speak to me occasionally on the phone and kept in touch on Facebook.

Rabiya KhanAfter June 3, last year, Rabiya 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 of what and why someone takes the last step. Or why a candle in the wind snuffs itself out.

Decades after the suicides of writers Sylvia Path and Virginia Woolf, they are remembered in psychiatry research studies, in scholarly comments and have also been the subject of  movies (Sylvia, and The Hours). Soon after Jiah’s end, never-heard-of-directors rushed into a film adapted from her life. A TV show incorporated none-too-subtle elements, and believe it or not, Jiah became a ‘verb’. Meaning? Meaning when an upcoming actress was dealing with her boyfriend, agitated after a row of flops, she said, “Last evening he almost did a ‘Jiah’ on me.”

Quite naturally I had to do an obituary on Jiah Khan last year. I wrote about the poems she would attempt, her fund-raising documentary on children for the UN, besides her alternative option of a singing career. Trained in opera at the age of 16, she had met agents in New York, and there was hope of recording an album of electronica pop songs. “Woohoo,” she had exulted. “They want to present me as Asia’s Beyonce Knowles.”

Jiah with Aamir KhanThat 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 say. “I’ve acted with Mr Amitabh Bachchan, also Aamir Khan. So why don’t I get any more work? The ones which I’m offered are yuck. Still, I’ll stick around. Try karne mein kya jaata hai?”

As it happened, try karne mein jaan jaa sakti hai. When I put a post on Facebook, flashbacking to my meetings and conversations with Jiah, an otherwise sensitive FB friend, commented, “Why is so much attention being given to a Bollywood actress?” Actually if you ask me, she should have been given much more attention.

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

Follow Khalid Mohamed at @Jhajhajha on Twitter

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