This three-part BBC documentary series goes behind the scenes of the shocking and untimely death of aspiring young British Indian actress Jiah Khan, aged just 25. The Londoner was just at the start of a promising Bollywood career when she was found dead in her apartment in Mumbai in June 2013, an apparent suicide by hanging.
Her UK-based mother, Rabia Khan, who discovered the dead body, has been campaigning for a more detailed investigation into the factors behind her daughter’s death – which she maintains was “murder” rather than suicide, as ruled by the investigating agencies in India. She points to crucial unexplored pieces of evidence, including the track suit Jiah was last seen wearing in CCTV footage just hours before her death and suspect ligature marks on her body that may not have been self-inflicted. Independently conducted analysis by international forensic and legal experts form a key part of this new series, which delves into the late actress’ short yet eventful life story in great detail.
The documentary travels back in time to unpick the childhood journey of Jiah a.k.a. Nafisa, through conversations with her former actress mother, stepfather and younger sisters Kavita and Karishma. The natural charisma of a talented young girl dreaming of making it big in Bollywood is apparent even as a she performs and poses for home videos with her siblings.
Jiah eventually wins her lucky break in Bollywood at the tender age of 16 but mystery surrounds her eventual exit from that project within a few months of shooting. Her big screen debut eventually materialises in the form of Ram Gopal Verma’s ‘Nishabd’, loosely based on the novel and Hollywood film ‘Lolita’ about an older man’s attraction to a much younger girl.
Through interviews with filmmakers and Bollywood industry insiders an image emerges of a naiive teenager’s turbulent time in a world made up of glitz and glamour on the surface, with a sinister #MeToo side of exploitation and insecurity lurking just underneath the gloss.
By the time Jiah’s ex-boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi comes on camera to profess his innocence on the charge of abetment to her suicide – which is punishable by up to 10 years in jail in India – the documentary has managed to establish the extremely complex picture behind her sudden death.
The series offers a moving insight into the murkier side of Bollywood and one can’t help but feel sorry for all those caught up in its web – Jiah herself who paid with her life, her mother who is yet to get to the complete truth seven years since she launched her campaign, her siblings who miss their older goofy sister terribly and even her ex-boyfriend, whose life remains stuck in a time warp as he remains on bail on a charge he claims to be innocent of.
While there are unlikely to be many answers to be found here, there are several warnings and red flags for other talented young girls with stars in their eyes because on the flip side of the glitz and glamour lies ‘Death in Bollywood’.
*‘iGlobal’ Review Series