June 12, 2013

Jiah Khan - my perspective on her suicide by Shobha De

Is suicide the only option….?
It’s yesterday once more. I didn’t know Jiah Khan. But that hardly matters. A young life has been snuffed out abruptly and tragically. And that’s what matters. We are talking about Jiah because she was famous, beautiful and a Bollywood actor. Or else, she would have been just another number in the growing list of young adults who seek an out before their life has even begun. The word ‘suicide’ has such a terrifying ring to it.And yet, so many alarmingly young people are opting to end their lives rather than face the challenges reality poses. The most vulnerable appear to be attractive females in the glamour business. And there are reasons why they reach for that rope or dupatta and hang themselves. Reasons that are so poignant and heart breaking, it makes you wonder why anybody would want to get into showbiz in the first place. Out of the thousands who flock to Bollywood, only a handful succeeds. Years and years of struggle go into that tenuous hope that there will be a rainbow at the end of those stormy clouds  hanging over their tender lives. Over the years, I have watched other Jiahs, with deepening sorrow and a growing sense of despair. And each time, I have felt like warning all those other young girls waiting in the wings to stay away from this lethal business…. unless they possess nerves of steel. There’s no place for losers and has-beens in Bollywood. This is not cynicism talking. This is experience.
My mind keeps going back to Parveen Babi. It’s a scarily similar tragedy with an almost identical story line and cast of characters. Jiah’s boyfriend Suraj Pancholi , is being questioned by the cops ( It’s tempting to add – like father, like son, in this case). Jiah’s depression and mood swings have been referred to by Mahesh Bhatt as possible reasons for her suicide. He should know! Ironical, but those were the exact explanations given for Babi’s death. Mahesh had shared a close relationship with Parveen. Then again, Jiah’s mother has mentioned her daughter’s recent decision to opt out of  Bollywood and become an interior decorator. Parveen Babi had done precisely that! Uncanny. Showbiz is a voraciously hungry monster that devours the unwary. It extracts an enormous price, Jiah aka Nafisa has just paid it.  Watch out!There will be other Jiahs as well. And yet, Jiah had it better than most. She’d experienced the intoxicating pleasure of seeing herself on the big screen… and not in just any old B-grade skin flick, but opposite a Bollywood legend – Amitabh Bachchan himself. A better debut would be hard to find. Moreover, it was a role that suited her unusual personality – a case of inspired casting. Jiah played  the desi Lolita, nubile, unambiguously sexual, predatory, wanton and unconventional. Perhaps it was these very qualities that did her in. Jiah was unlike the typical filmi heroine ( ditto for Parveen). Jiah was an outsider – a London girl trying her luck in the closed, incestuous world of Bollywood. Yes, she had got her dream break. And two other big banner films with top stars like Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar. But  after that? Jiah  languished  on the sidelines for three years. Perhaps she simply didn’t fit in. And unlike another London girl (Katrina Kaif), Jiah didn’t meet a patron saint called Salman Khan, either. Had that happened, she’d still be alive. And successful to boot. Jiah probably imagined she could hack it by herself,  relying on talent and good looks. Poor Jiah. Little did she know there are thousands like her on the fringes of Bollywood, hanging around producers/directors and just about anybody connected to a studio, in the hope of getting a role. Any bloody role. In retrospect,maybe it was Jiah’s early and comparatively easy success that killed her.
Think about it. Had she not got those breaks and tasted fame (limited – but fame, nevertheless), she’d have struggled for a while and gone back to where she’d come from. Gone back to her family in London and a more conducive environment. But instant  success is often a nasty beast. Jiah obviously believed it wouldn’t be long before she hit the big time and made it as an A-lister.Unfortunately, Jiah miscalculated. Bollywood is an unbelievably cruel place unless you know how to crack the system and play ball with the powerful names that exert such a vice-like control over the business.There is no place for fragility here. Jiah didn’t factor in the fierce competition either. With each passing day, a new ‘face’ is born in Bollywood. That same face becomes history soon enough.Sexy, young heroines appear and disappear in a flash. Those who manage to hang in there are either a part of the film fraternity, or plain fortunate. According to rumours, rejected and dejected, Jiah soon became a player who belonged to a desperate set – attractive, hard up women who hang around at parties and events hoping someone will notice them and cut a deal. Ugly situations and compromises follow…. it’s a nasty story. Bollywood’s party girls are easy meat. Sharks feed on their insecurity. Exploit them mercilessly. And then dump them. Soon , money runs out.  What happens next is a straight descent into hell. Drugs, booze, prostitution….till there are no takers left even for that kind of diversion. Boyfriends, husbands, gal pals, secretaries, hangers on, free loaders… any number of people come and go. But they too swiftly find other targets. Loneliness and panic follow. Demoralised and defeated, with nobody to turn to, these girls become clingy and possessive. Paranoid and suspicious. Boyfriends tire of their constant nagging. God knows what really happened between Suraj and Jiah that fateful night.But whatever did transpire, it must have been painful enough  for Jiah to take that ultimate step (shades of Viveka Babajee’s last moments).When all hope finally vanishes, there is just one option left. The ceiling fan whirling ceaselessly overhead sends out a tempting signal – offers an immediate exit from misery and humiliation. Jiah gave up… and took it.

Poor Jiah Khan. May she finally find peace in a place that is kinder to her than Bollywood  was… or can ever be.

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