x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Desi girl: On love, loss and the untimely death of Jiah Khan

Jiah Khan may not have been Bollywood's youngest or brightest, but it turns out that she was loved. If only she had known before she chose to end her life.

Last week, I woke up to a series of alarming and deeply saddening tweets on my Bollywood-rich Twitter feed. "What!!! Jiah Khan??? What has happened? Is this correct? Unbelievable!!!" posted Amitabh Bachchan.

"Shocked and saddened to hear about Jiah Khan. Very disturbing. May her soul rest in peace," said Shahid Kapoor.

"It's the sad demise of a young dream," tweeted Juhi Chawla.

And so on and so forth. Jiah Khan may not have been Bollywood's youngest or brightest, but it turns out that she was loved. If only she had known before she chose to end her life.

On June 3, the 25-year-old actress - who made her sizzling debut opposite Bollywood's biggest superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, in 2007 - committed suicide in her Mumbai apartment.

Her explosive debut performance in the film Nishabd as a girl besotted with a much older man earned her a Filmfare nomination for Best Female Debut. In a foretelling of her fate in the industry, she lost the award to Sonam Kapoor. Khan went on to work on several other projects, but only two ended up in theatres: 2008's Ghajini opposite Aamir Khan and 2010's multi-starrer Housefull.

The news of her suicide reminded me instantly of another young and promising Bollywood actress whose life ended just as abruptly. In 1993, the 19-year-old Divya Bharti fell to her death from her fifth-floor Mumbai apartment. The official report was suicide, but conspiracy theorists smelled foul play and everyone Bharti knew came under suspicion, from her husband, the film producer Sajid Nadiadwala, to Mumbai's mafia.

Bharti had been in Bollywood only for a couple of years and had already delivered a series of hits in quick succession. Her first film, Vishwatma (1992), was no box-office hit but her performance in the hit song Saat Samundar made her an instantly hot commodity. Just a few months later, her second film Deewana, opposite Shah Rukh Khan (it was his first film) smashed the box office, and Khan won a Filmfare award for Best Debut. Bharti went on to do several more films after that. Was it the pressure of too much work, too soon, that led to her death?

How ironic is it that the opposite situation, most likely, made Jiah Khan take her life.

Apparently, for the past several months, after having been disheartened by the way the Hindi film industry was treating her, Khan had been knocking at doors in the Southern Indian film industry, but without much success.

Her memorial service was attended by Bollywood's top stars, including Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor.

What resonates in the end, though, is the actress Pooja Bhatt's question to everyone on Twitter: "And finally, why couldn't we show this love to Jiah Khan when she was alive? Why does it take death for us to finally be gracious and kind? RIP, sweet child."

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai

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