Elegy for Jiah Khan: Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan

Famous at 19, gone at 25: why is life a strife for the young and restless in Bollywood, and Mumbai in general?


Geetanjali Minhas | June 6, 2013

If Jiah Khan’s suicide has taught us anything, it is the uncertainty of life. But shorn of the philosophical touch, it’s a tale gone horribly wrong for a young aspirant in the Maximum City.

While Jiah’s suicide by hanging at her flat in Juhu, an upscale suburban, has got the media spotlight for obvious reasons – the showbiz connection – what cannot be overlooked is the fact that Mumbai, for young outsiders itching to make a career, can be good and evil, inviting and foreboding, warm and cold, enticing and frightening. And all at the same time.

Also read: Jiah death brings to fore life, strife of young India

For the sake of attention, if nothing else, we might talk about Bollywood, but minus a few details here and there it could well be relevant to any struggling, striving, talented youth in Mumbai – more so those coming from outside.

Exactly 20 years and 2 months after the mysterious death of actress Divya Bharti – she died after falling from fifth floor of a building, allegedly jumping off in an inebriated state on April 5, 1993 – Jiah’s suicide has brought to focus the issue of depression, disillusionment and loneliness in the showbiz industry of a city that is said to never sleep.

At first glance, the two deaths are as different as chalk is from cheese. Divya Bharti, then 19, was a more successful actor, married to producer Sajid Nadiawala, had plum projects on hand and was said to be on way to a glorious Bollywood career when she died.

In contrast, Jiah Khan, 25, started off with a bang as a teen (she acted opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Nishabd in 2007, and even bagged the Filmfare best debutant nomination), and then headed nowhere (supporting roles opposite Aamir Khan in Ghajini and Akshay Kumar in Housefull, in 2010; and nothing thereafter). Jiah was also reportedly undergoing problems in her relationship with her boyfriend: actor Aditya Pancholi’s son Suraj.

And if those weren’t enough, Jiah’s mother Rabiya Amin, a small-time Bollywood actor in early ’80s, has said that Jiah had auditioned for a film in Hyderabad  on Sunday and was unhappy about it.

All this leads to one conclusion: she was under stress, immense stress. Those who knew Jiah say she was also despondent and disillusioned about her career and personal life. All three are adjective boxes that Divya Bharti might have checked had she been asked to state her state of mind towards her last days — if the industry grapevine is to believed, she was  being pressured to ‘compromise’ with underworld elements.

Why is Bollywood/Mumbai so tough to crack?

Charmed by stories of success by rank outsiders – Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar in films and in every other arena of professional life – and the opening of more doors in television, fashion, beauty pageant, and reality show circuits, tens of hundreds land in the city of dreams. In showbiz, an abysmal 1 to 3 percent make  it.

While there is no success formula, ‘casting couch’ is said to come as a package deal in getting a break in  Bollywood – insiders call it an “accepted fact”, though most established  actors choose to deny it.

The film industry’s larger-than-life image dwarfs the perils and vices, and the ‘villains’ who come in many shades and hues –in the garb of misleading casting agents, secretaries, producers, directors and hangers on. In a hugely cut-throat competitive industry, there are no true friends.

And then there’s money, a key to struggle for both showbiz aspirants and others in professional life: house rents are high, clothes and accessories are expensive, and you need a good car to flaunt your status. Barring the handful who make it, it is a struggle for the rest to maintain  this façade.

Industry insiders say ingenious ways are invented  to  keep the wheel moving: those with a thick skin, a strong mind  and nerves of steel can withstand the multiple pressures, while the vulnerable and the gullible get sucked deeper in the  muck and grime and often get into alcohol, substance abuse and give in to sexual exploitation.

Not that all these cases lead to suicide, but many do – and it’s a fact writ large enough for us to wake up and smell the coffee. According to a report in aasrasuicideprevention.blogspot.in, a site on preventing suicides and addressing depression, a study on suicide mortality in India published by The Lancet last year pointed out that suicides were the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. The National Crime Records Bureau reported 1,35,585 suicides in 2011.

In many sense, Bollywood is no different from any other high-pressure profession in Mumbai today, and suicides are not that uncommon a social phenomenon. Poignant but true, Mumbai is no place for the fainthearted. Like that Johny Walker song put it so aptly, “Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatt ke zara bachke, yeh hai Bambai meri jaan.”




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