Death in Bollywood, a three-part investigative documentary on BBC, attempts to further dig out the ever elusive truth
Amid a global pandemic, the death of a young and talented Bollywood actor shocked the entire nation. News of Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide came as a rude shock to his fans; what followed afterwards was a web of controversies and a messy media trail. In 2013, a similar incident took place – when a 25-year-old aspiring Bollywood actor’s body was found hanging in her apartment.
The actor – Jiah Khan – was also said to have died by suicide, and her death became a subject of controversy as well. In Sushant’s case, it was his lover Rhea Chakraborty who became the object of suspicion and ‘target’ for the star’s ‘alleged murder’ angle. And in Jiah’s case, it was her boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi.
A recent BBC documentary Death in Bollywood explores Jiah Khan’s mysterious death, and raises the question yet again: Was it suicide or murder?
Born and brought up in London, Jiah Khan (originally Nafisa Khan) made her acting debut in Bollywood at the age of 16 with Nishabd (2007). Her debut was talked about for two reasons primarily – first, she starred opposite legend Amitabh Bachchan and yet acted with such rare ease and confidence that it made her stand out. And second, her sex appeal, exotic look and British accent made her B-town’s most promising debutant. Unfortunately, her career saw a downward graph thereafter. After Nishabd, she was seen in Ghajini (2008) and Housefull (2010).
What makes her death one of Bollywood’s most controversial one, even today?
Her affair with Aditya Pancholi’s son Sooraj came to the forefront only after her death. A few months after her death, a six-page letter was released to the public through media – which indicated how her suicide was abetted by her boyfriend Sooraj. It also spoke of the mental and physical abuse she was subjected to by him. This made the case take a new turn, and resulted in her mother Rabia Khan’s allegations of how her daughter was driven to suicide. Soon thereafter, Sooraj was behind bars.
In BBC’s three-episode investigative documentary, we get to hear both sides and not just a single narrative. Jiah’s mother speaks about the discrepancies in the investigation, and alleges Sooraj drove her daughter to a negative mental space. On the other hand, Sooraj speaks about Jiah’s deteriorating mental health and suicidal tendencies, and her obsessive behaviour towards him.
Apart from Rabia Khan and Sooraj Pancholi, the other characters in the documentary are Jiah’s two sisters, Aditya Pancholi – his wife and daughter, and other acquaintances/witnesses, domestic help, lawyers, friends and so on. On January 11 this year, the series was released in the UK, and is yet to premiere in India. Even then, clips and scenes (and even the entire second episode) were released and circulated in India.
In Twitter, hashtags like #JusticeForJiah and #ArrestSoorajPancholi started doing the rounds. It also sparked off the debate that why Sooraj – who is still out on bail and is yet to come out completely – was allowed to speak in the documentary. The chance given to him to present his side of the story did not go down well with netizens.
Another issue that surfaced was the sexual harassment allegations against filmmaker Sajid Khan. In the documentary, Jiah’s sister Karishma shares an incident where her sister faced sexual misconduct by Khan while she was working with him on Housefull. After many other women also came forward earlier with such stories, netizens have called out for justice in this regard as well.
While Jiah Khan’s death still remains a mystery, this documentary attempts to further delve deep and dig out the ever elusive truth.
(Cover: Jiah Khan in her debut film Nishabd)