AN UNFINISHED DREAM
Despite a brilliant start, Jiah Khan struggled to find a place for herself in Bollywood
Her nickname was also Bebo. “Do you even want to be in films?” director Anurag Basu had asked Nafisa “Jiah” Khan, then 16, on the sets of Tumsa Nahin Dekha, then called Zaroorat. It was 2003, and the second schedule of the film was being shot in Dubai. The first schedule in Mumbai had just been completed, and it was Jiah’s official debut opposite Emraan Hashmi. The character, especially created for her, which was later played by Dia Mirza, was also called Jiya Khan. Jiah replied “maybe it’s my parents who want me to like films”. She was too young, too confused and too unsure, says Basu. So, they let her go.
Mahesh Bhatt, producer of the film, who was first introduced to Jiah in 2001, outside Harrods in London by UK- based producer Sevy Ali, recalls his first impression of her. “Her eyes were so intense, I told her mother, if she ever wants to be a star she should call me.” A few years later, her mother Rabiya Amin called Bhatt when the family visited Mumbai and the die was cast.
Jiah went to school in Chelsea, and lived with her two sisters in an affluent South Kensington home. Her father, Ali Rizvi Khan, had abandoned them as children and her mother had acted in a few films in the 1980s. She scripted and directed Tehzeeb Apni Apni, an independent production for British television produced by Ali, in which Jiah made her debut as a child actor. Jiah had also starred as the young Manisha Koirala in the role of Meghna in Shekhar Kapur’s Dil Se. But it was on the second schedule of Tumsa Nahin Dekha that news started filtering in of Jiah’s unpredictability, says Bhatt. She would be up one minute, down the next. In 2009, she claimed to have walked out of Ken Ghosh’s Yahoo ( released in 2010 as Chance Pe Dance), though it was rumoured that she was let go because Shahid Kapoor didn’t take to her. The story was repeated in 2009 with Pehla Sitara directed by Owais Husain, M. F. Husain’s son. Sonal Chauhan later replaced Jiah in the film.
But actresses walk out of films all the time, says Ali. While Jiah was beautiful, volatile and temperamental like any actress, he adds, she was also deeply
driven. When the film with Bhatt didn’t work out, Jiah went away to the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York, dropping out of the course and returning in 2006 to do Nishabd, a relaunch with Ram Gopal Varma.
Sadly, the industry that painted her the next best thing one day, called her a washout the next. Despite Nishabd, in which she starred with Amitabh Bachchan, and for which she received the Filmfare Best Debutante Award that year, her career remained stagnant. She received only one brand endorsement in the interim.
Jiah was offered Ghajini in 2008, with Aamir Khan. Here, too, rumours of differences erupted. But news reports also claim that Aamir helped her work on her Urdu to lose her clipped accent.
“JIAH HAS SO MUCH TALENT. I AM SO PROUD OF HER. I JUSTWANT TO BE THERE AS HER SUPPORT BECAUSE I KNOW HOWTOUGH THE FILM WORLD CAN BE.”
Jiah’s mother, in 2008 “FOR SOMEONE WHO BEGAN HER CAREER WITH AMITABH BACHCHAN, JIAH NEVER REALLY HAD TO STRUGGLE. IT WAS TOUGH FOR HER NOWTO ASK AROUND FOR AN ITEM NUMBER.”
NAVDEEP Telugu film actor, in 2013
She seemed a willing pupil, working against all the failings Bollywood repeatedly kept pointing out to her.
“She has so much talent. I am so proud of her. I just want to be there as her support because I know how tough the film world can be,” Rabiya said, soon after Jiah had bagged the role in Ghajini. Jiah and her mother were like best friends, and she was always advising Jiah on auditions and her wardrobe on the phone from London.
But for the introverted Jiah, Bollywood’s glamour circuit was not one she knew how to crack. She was lonely. “I don’t enjoy drinking or partying through the night. That’s just the way I am,” she had said a few years ago.
Producer Madhu Mantena signed her on for a second film post- Ghajini, and UTV inked a two- film deal with her. Neither came to the floors; the studios won’t say why. In 2009, she received a supporting actress role in Sajid Khan’s Housefull, partnering with Akshay Kumar. Her last long visit home was in June that year when she was on a gruelling diet to ensure she could match up to co- stars Deepika Padukone and Lara Dutta in bikinis. It was to be her last role on screen. Jiah’s body image always played heavily on her mind. “Everyone thinks I am this starry- starry girl but when I am home, I get treated like nobody,” she had joked back then.
On her return to Mumbai, Jiah changed her name back to Nafisa. But still nothing came her way. Jiah vied for leads in Telugu films, but she was told that she was “too thin”. She tried to settle for item numbers and was reportedly banking on one such coming through. She met Telugu star Navdeep for lunch on June 1 and told him she had picked up an item number in a big Telugu film. “She wasn’t exactly upbeat but she wasn’t without hope,” says Navdeep. Sources say that the one item number offer too fell through the weekend before she died.
In her personal life, Jiah was earlier seeing Jasmeet Singh Walia, younger brother of producer Bunty Singh Walia. She was in a relationship with Sooraj Pancholi, son of Aditya Pancholi, for two years now. Sooraj, 22, had assisted a few directors and was waiting for his big Bollywood break. Salman Khan, who recently announced that he would take him under his wing, was the much hoped- for window. While the family knew of the relationship, Jiah was very private about it, says Sevy Ali. She didn’t discuss it much but she didn’t seem happy about where it was headed.
Two weeks ago, Rabiya and Ali had tried to tell her to move on professionally and personally. Jiah suspected Sooraj was developing a growing interest in another woman. He said he needed to focus on his career, and was growing aloof. He tried to calm her down.
The lovers’ argument began at 9 p. m. on June 4, 2013. It continued till 10.53 p. m. By 11.30 p. m., Jiah Khan, 25, had finished her unfinished life.