AN UN­FIN­ISHED DREAM

De­spite a bril­liant start, Jiah Khan strug­gled to find a place for her­self in Bol­ly­wood

India Today - - SPORT - By Gay­a­tri Jayaraman With Aditi Khanna in Lon­don

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.”

RABIYA AMIN

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

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