Jiah death brings to fore life, strife of young India

Illusive success, failing career, undying ambition, raging hormones, insecure relationships, parental pressure, media obsession, societal voyeurism, severe clash of vivacious energy and expected maturity – too much to handle for a young mind, isn’t it?


Vidyottama Sharma | June 6, 2013

Jiah Khan
Jiah Khan

When I met Jiah Khan for a film interview segment I hosted as the programming head of Janmat (now Live India), I was rather surprised by the innocence sitting so cheerfully on her face, almost teasing her naughty image. Bubbly, attractive, sultry, giggly and full of life, the 19-year-old gulped down Red Bull, can after can. “I cannot live without Red Bull,” she told me.

She was at ease – if she was nervous, she made a good effort at concealing the fact. But then, she was a kid, I kept telling myself even if her debut had made her a star at the moment. I had instinctively felt protective about her -- it was clear that the ‘bindaas’ tag that was being craftily designed for her, could harm her later – however enticing it had seemed then. It did.

Also read: Elegy for Jiah Khan: Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan

I am saddened by her death. Very saddened. That young vivacious girl did not have to go. It is too early an exit. I was very impressed with her confident act in her dream debut, Nishabd. Not that she was a good actress, she wasn’t. But this confident girl had held her ground opposite, none else but the legend, Amitabh Bachchan. If that wasn’t an introduction to her self-confidence, what was? I think Ram Gopal Verma gave her the best portrayal. He captured her essence, her sultriness, her child-woman appeal, her boldness, her beauty perfectly in Nishabd. No wonder, this was a dream launch any youngster would give an arm or a leg for. Ironically, this immense success is what gulped her. It gave her an inflated sense of her filmi importance. It instilled in her a belief that she could make it big in Bollywood. A belief that was very far-fetched.

Soon after, Jiah aka Nafisa sort-of disappeared. I didn’t watch her in Houseful, hence cannot comment, but Ghajini certainly did not do justice to her. Who remembers her role in the film? After such a brilliant launch, this wasn’t where she should have been. But then, it is very easy for us to sit on the fence and pass judgment. We never know what compelled her to take that miniscule role. Was it the awesome Aamir Khan banner? Or was it the fact that she wasn’t getting roles and wanted to grab whatever came her way? Perhaps both – because she couldn’t afford to be out of circulation in the film industry where out of sight is out mind with newer and prettier girls challenging the strugglers every day. Yes, after the immense success of Nishabd, Jiah had been relegated to a struggler! Sad, but true – that is the way of Bollywood. And not all survive its harsh jolts – careerwise or sometimes, lifewise!

Whenever I read about her in bits and pieces in newspapers or magazines, I wondered what had happened to that bubbly, giggly, dusky beauty I had met for my show? Where had she disappeared? It was difficult to find a trace of the sensitive, nervous and frustrated soul in those stories in media. She was always portrayed as a bindaas girl who cared a damn for the world. What do you expect a little girl to do, excuse me? 18 and 19 is certainly not an age to make the ‘right’ decisions and carry yourself with utmost maturity, please. Technically, these youngsters may be adults, but they are still extremely young. Why do we forget that? Why aren’t we fair to them? Our own 18-years-old are young and innocent and need our protection to take decisions about their studies and professions, but the youngsters at exactly the same age in the film world are expected to make all the right moves!! Why? We lay bare all their activities on television screen and on newspaper and magazines pages, analysing them with disgusting voyeurism, thereby pressurising them to act as divas. It is strange that their lives are there being dissected and discussed by veterans on television screens in the same breath as the moves of big political leaders! But they may not be divas at heart at all.

Tell me one 18 or 19-year-old who has not made wrong choices? We, the mature professionals, err and falter all the time but ironically, we indulge in mocking and judging these youngsters in the film industry! Tell me one youngster who does not experiment with relationships. People do it in their 30s and 40s too. Then why be unfair to the young glamour professionals? How are they different from our children? Why do we  expect them to turn mature overnight?

The pressure of being in the public eye is enormous. A dream launch does not automatically promise a successful long innings – a fact Jiah failed to fathom. She was attractive, but she wasn’t a brilliant actress. She did not want to return to her mundane world, understandably so. She tasted success a wee bit too soon; success that soon engulfed her. In Bollywood people will not bet on you if they aren’t assured of hits. That often is not understood by those who have had at least one successful run at the box office. It is difficult for them to retrace their steps from this intoxicating world of fame. What adds to the frustration of struggling youngsters often is a pressurising family and failed relationships. The hormones are raging at this time (let us not forget their bodies are still undergoing changes). They want relationships, they want films, they want money, they want fame, and they want success at any cost. What they can’t do is: strike a balance among these all. They are too young to do so. It is quite a challenge for people in their 30s or 40s to face such challenges successfully, expecting these child-women to do so is asking for too much. Relationships often compound the pressures of being in the big bad, too exacting glamour world -- Silk Smitha, Nafisa Joseph, Divya Bharti and Kuljit Randhwa took the path of suicide, not ebing able to cope with the pressure.

What is needed for them is a supportive family that does not try to fulfill its own ambitions through these children (mainly girls), understanding parents who can be strong support systems for these kids and hold their hand when they go astray, a mature society that does not feed its voyeuristic tastes on the emotions and aspirations of these youngsters and a sensitive film industry that takes a pause once now and then to tell these youngsters where they stand instead of giving them false promises and luring them to the couch. 

I often hear people say, “When they have chosen to enter the glamour world, they have to be ready for all the criticism otherwise they should have taken up a normal job”. Easier said than done. Do these people stop being human beings by just the virtue of their profession?

In a society where the age bar is constantly lowered in various professions, often bringing down the performance bar with it, such tragedies will not be far and few. With newer Jiahs entering the fray every day, older Jiahs, however young they may, will find themselves on the edge ever so often. And having tasted success, they will desperately try to make their way to the centre where they had once been. In this struggle, without a proper reality check, many would opt for the dupatta or the noose, and find themselves on the front pages of newspapers and in headlines of news channels. This will not stop. But parents, and a sensitive media, can often change things. The only question is: who will be there for youngsters coming from broken homes with extra baggage and pressure on their minds? Who will save them from being devoured by television channels that survive on eye balls, not substance, to make their money? Young and bold lives are sacrificed at the altar of money and fame at regular intervals – with parents desperate for money and fame, and the frantic channels desperate in their pursuit of the advertising revenue. This industry needs to have counselors for such kids whose spirits are crushed and who are on life’s edge. Point is: who will take the first step in ensuring that?



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