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Death in Bollywood: New BBC show explores the tragic passing of Jiah Khan

by Ashima

The three-part miniseries raises new questions surrounding her death. 

By Ashima Sethi

The 11th of January saw the release of a new docuseries on BBC that delves into the life of Jiah Khan, a British-American actress who moved to India to pursue a career in film, and who was well on her way to become a Bollywood star when she committed suicide at the age of 25. 
 
The emotional miniseries tells Jiah’s story across three episodes, but before you tune in, here’s some facts about the budding actress, from her scene stealing roles to her turbulent relationship with Sooraj Pancholi and her mother’s mission to prove that her daughter’s death was the result of foul play.
 
So who was Jiah Khan?  
 
Jiah Khan was born Nafisa Rizvi Khan in New York City on 20th February 1988 to an Indian American businessman and Hindi film actress. She grew up in London before moving to Mumbai to pursue a career in Bollywood. In 2007, she made her debut in Ram Gopal Verma‘s film Nishabd, where she starred opposite Amitabh Bachchan. Despite the film tanking at the box office, critics praised Jiah for her confident performance. 
 
The following year, Jiah starred in A.R Murugadoss‘ celebrated psychological thriller, Ghajini with veteran actor, Aamir Khan. The film went on to become the highest grossing Bollywood film of the year, cementing Jiah as one of the industry’s most promising newcomers.  In 2010, she appeared in Sajid Khan‘s Housefull, which featured a starry ensemble cast, including the likes of Deepika Padukone and Arjun Rampal. The film was considered the year’s biggest commerical success.
 
TW: graphic content, domestic abuse, suicide. 
 
What was the controversy surrounding her death? 
 
On 3rd June 2013, Jiah was found hanging from a ceiling fan at her family’s residence in Juhu, Mumbai. Her body was swiftly taken for an autopsy at JJ Hospital, and once her body was returned, she was buried at Juhu Muslim Cemetery. Her death rocked the industry, with many Bollywood stars in attendance at her funeral. 
 
Four days later, a six-page handwritten note addressed to Jiah’s then boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi was found by her sister amongst Jiah’s things. The note described the actress’ recent abortion, her resentment for the abusive relationship, and that she planned to end her life. Her mother released a statement about the note, pointing out that the it was not dated, and that the events described in the note did not add up because Jiah’s behaviour in the days leading up to the tragedy were that of someone who was excited about the future. 
 
Shortly after, Sooraj was taken into police custody but was granted bail on 2nd July 2013. A year after her death, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was ordered by the High Court to investigate her death further. Jiah’s mother also independently hired British forensics expert Jason Payne-James, who concluded that Khan’s hanging was staged and the marks on her neck indicate it was not suicide. 
 
In early 2018, a Mumbai court charged Sooraj with encouraging Jiah’s suicide, but the case still remains open in 2021. Early reactions to the BBC show are that of heartbreak, with many netizens taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice their frustration with the investigation. Many have also drawn parallels between Jiah’s case and that of Sushant Singh Rajput‘s untimely death last year that was also shrouded in suspicion and controversy.
 
For more information about the show, visit www.bbc.co.uk

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