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Death in Bollywood: who killed Jiah Khan?

Jiah Khan was one of Indias rising film star. But at only 25 she used were dead in her familys suite. The question of whether it was suicide or assassination have already been pitted two of Bollywoods preceding houses against each other. Abigail Haworth investigates

On 3 June 2013, Jiah Khan planned to expend the evening at home in Mumbai binge-watching Game of Thrones . The 25 -year-old British Bollywood stellar wanted to stay awake to accost her youngest sister, Kavita, who was arriving at 3am on a flight from Heathrow. Jiah had been shopping that day and bought Kavita some golden jewellery. The sisters texted non-stop before the plane taken away from.” We bombarded one another with emojis ,” says Kavita.” We couldn’t wait to see each other .”

Rabbiya Khan, their father, left Jiah alone in the family’s accommodation in the affluent beach suburb of Juhu at around 9pm to have dinner with friends. At 9.37 pm she spoke to Jiah on her mobile.” I said the typical mummy-ish things about how she mustn’t forget to eat ,” says Rabbiya.” She needed to gain weight for a movie character. We laughed about how she could have any nutrient she missed. She resounded relax and happy .”

Less than 2 hours later Jiah was dead. Rabbiya returned home at 11.20 pm to find her daughter hanging from a ceiling devotee in the apartment’s spare bedroom. Her body was still heated. Rabbiya grabbed Jiah’s ankles to support her load while she hollered of providing assistance, but Jiah was gone. When Kavita’s flight landed in Mumbai her telephone started pinging “like crazy”, she says.” The first I knew of it was a voicemail from a casual acquaintance saying she was sorry about my sister’s death. Everything around me moved black .”

The next day mourners and Tv crews gathered in the overcast heat outside the apartment obstruct. Jiah had risen to fame playing a sexually uninhibited teen opposite playing lore Amitabh Bachchan in the 2007 Hindi film Nishabd . The wavy-haired Londoner with a plummy accent had had farther success in two other movies.” Never ever seen a debutante actress with more spunk and more feel than Jiah when I was guiding her in Nishabd ,” tweeted filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma.

While the forensics squad was still working inside, local police told reporters the case was an self-evident suicide. A narrative risen based on every cliche about distressed starlets: she was depressed; her boyfriend had left her; she was struggling to compete in a ruthless industry that flourished on a rapid turnover of fresh, pretty faces. By midday, as more salutes appeared on social media, it was accepted gumption that” shocking Jiah Khan”( hashtag #gonetoosoon) had taken her own life.

‘ My son is too emotional about this whole stuff ‘: Sooraj Pancholi, Jiah Khan’s ex-boyfriend, leaves prison with his mothers after being granted bail in July 2013. Photograph: Hindustan Times/ Getty Images

From the beginning , none of her family- her mom Rabbiya, her two sisters Karishma and Kavita, or her German stepfather Thomas Puppendahl- believed she had killed herself.

” We knew she couldn’t have done it ,” says Kavita , now 25, as she sits with the family in their handsome garden-variety flat in London’s Earl’s Court.” At first we simply trusted the police. We thought they would uncover what had really happened, and who had done this to her .” Four times on, nonetheless, the whodunit to seeing how or why Jiah croaked is murkier than ever.

Developments in the case have been a steady informant of plot in India. Jiah did not leave a suicide greenback, but a few weeks after she died Kavita ascertained a six-page word in her handwriting. The undated note was not addressed to anyone, but the contents exposed it came to her boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi, then 22. The son of far-famed Bollywood duo Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab, he was an aspiring actor who had been dating Jiah for nine months. After the character was validated, neighbourhood Mumbai police detained Sooraj and charged him with abetting her suicide. He was exhausted on bail the next month. His visitation was put on hold when Rabbiya petitioned the Bombay High Court in July 2014 to move the subject to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.

The CBI conducted its own investigation and defended the Mumbai police’s original conclusion that Jiah’s death was ” suicidal in nature “. In December 2015 it replaced the abetment to suicide bill against Sooraj. Harmonizing to the CBI’s charge sheet, the subject against the actor was based on witness the declarations and Jiah’s six-page letter which detailed” her insinuate affair with the accused, the physical corruption, the mental and physical torture which she experienced,[ that] allegedly guided the deceased to commit suicide .”

Rabbiya has never stopped wondering the authorities concerned’ form of happens. In an open letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September she to suggest that CBI bureaucrats had” deliberately misrepresented certain information “. On the basis of expert ruling, she wrote:” All forensic sign strongly been shown that Jiah was assassinated and then hanged to make it look like suicide .” She has openly accused Sooraj of to get involved in the violation. The Pancholis, Bollywood power players, impressed back with a PS12m defamation suit against her, along with accusations that Jiah was ” emotionally unstable” and had attempted suicide in the past.

‘ I won’t rest until the truth comes to the surface ‘: Rabbiya Khan( centre) with her two other daughters Kavita and Karishma. Image: Suki Dhanda for the Observer

Rabbiya, a slim maiden in her mid-5 0s, is consumed by the case. A Bollywood actor in the 1980 s, she acknowledges she was a bit of a stagecoach baby. As we talk she clutches an iPad that contains hundreds of pictures of Jiah’s childhood birthday defendants, glamorous publicity shoots, grinning selfies with her sisters. Mixed haphazardly among them are police close-ups of her corpse, including photographs of the ligature tags on her cervix, an injury on her look and bruises on her lips. Rabbiya moves through the photos and doesn’t flinch.” I won’t rest until the truth comes to the surface ,” she says.

Jiah, or Nafisa as she was referred at birth, was born in New York in 1988. Her father was a US-based Indian businessman and the family moved to London when she was young. Her parents separated and she grew up in Britain, mostly in west London, where she listened a private daughters’ institution.” After she moved to Bollywood, her favourite act when she came home was to go for champagne and oysters in Harrods with our mum. That was their ritual ,” says middle sister Karishma, 26, a business graduate who works for a thinktank in Oxford.” We were very close as a family .”

At 17, Jiah was examining drama in New York when she was offered her big break acting with Bachchan in Nishabd .” In the closed, incestuous nature of Bollywood ,” wrote columnist Shobhaa De,” a better entry would be hard to find .” At an awards ceremony in 2008, where Jiah performed a dance multitude from her second movie, the box-office smacked Ghajini starring Aamir Khan, the multitude initiated her as Bollywood’s newest” red-hot, beautiful, young, sex sun “. “Shes had” three new capacities in the pipeline when she died.

Although she affection the acting make, it wasn’t easy for Jiah to adjust to life in Mumbai.” She found it strangling after London and New York ,” says Kavita.” As a woman, beings are more judgemental about the mode you act and dress. Your every move is watched .” Vinta Nanda, a Mumbai-based filmmaker and columnist, says it’s especially tough for female fames.” Every young woman in Bollywood is made to walk on fire. It is patriarchal at every single grade. You either co-operate or you are named a troublemaker .”

In the last couple of decades there have been around a dozen suicides or untimely deaths of young actresses in the industry. Most were rejected as the cost of Bollywood fame. Jiah’s family insists that, whatever else happened, she was not a casualty of professional despair. In between her upcoming film capacities, she had plans to return to London to study interior design.” I always told her success is penalty, but don’t get too caught up in it ,” says Rabbiya.

Mumbai awarenes: Jiah Khan at the wed of Bollywood couple Ritesh Deshmukh and Genelia D’Souza in 2012. Photo: Hindustan Times/ Getty Images

According to Rabbiya, the first police officer on the panorama said here hanging believe that this is suspicious. There were injury labels on Jiah’s face and forearm, a busted drawer manage, unexplained blots of blood and the balcony openings were unlocked , among other things. But the polouse changed tack the next day. As era gone on vital pieces of indication mysteriously were lost, includes the lily-white dupatta utilized around Jiah’s neck in the dangling. The tracksuit that she had been witnessed wearing on CCTV footage exclusively 30 hours before she died was missing exclusively- police said they never recovered it from the vistum. They likewise observed no fingerprints in the chamber where Jiah succumbed- incredibly , not even hers. Yet the authorities concerned failed to follow up these inconsistencies.( Neither the police force nor the CBI responded to repeated is asking for interviews ).

Since the CBI ruled out murder in 2015, Jiah’s family has hired three independent forensic experts- in India, London and Ireland- to revaluation the subject. All have found government officials investigation requiring. In a September 2016 report, British forensic physician Jason Payne-James said there were signeds Jiah could have been killed before she was hanged. He felt a number of” serious misconceptions” of the medical prove, and said ” the evident intention to attribute her death to suicide may mean that the real possible of a staged execute … has been missed “.

Payne-James examined the Indian authorities’ medical and postmortem reports, analysed the photographs of Jiah’s hurts and reviewed other details.” To be clear, I’m not saying it was surely a staged hang ,” he says.” I’m saying I don’t believe the authorities have given anywhere like due consideration to such a possibility .” In Payne-James’s view, the well-defined doubled ligature markers around Jiah’s neck could not be explained by” simple-minded suspend by a dupatta, which is make use of a soft, wide-eyed cotton cloth “. He also notes that commemorates on her cheeks, lower appearance and upper arm were indicative of weaken coerce trauma or assault.” I’ve worked on many forensic cases involving injuries to the cervix, such as suspension or manual throttling, and there are certain types of harm markers you come to see regularly ,” says Payne-James. He adds that other aspects of the investigation” elevate serious concerns”, such as the police’s failure to check basic factors like whether person of Jiah’s short stature( she was 5ft 4in) could have reached the ceiling fan to hang herself.

Jiah’s stepfather Thomas Puppendahl, who has been married to Rabbiya for almost 20 years, says he is astounded by the” flagrant aberrations” in the CBI’s contentions ruling out carnage.” For example, their reports say the wall to Jiah’s apartment is 5m high and none could clamber it, when in fact “its only” 1m at the back .” The CBI also said that CCTV included the whole building and no invaders were assured penetrating, he adds.” In reality CCTV crosses simply the front barrier and lobby. It was perfectly possible and easy for someone to access the first floor accommodation from the back without being insured .”

Nobody I spoke to was prepared to speculate openly of determining whether such investigative miss were intentional. Rabbiya and one of her solicitors, Dinesh Tiwari, both say they have received anonymous death threats to stop haunting the murder angle.” One stranger came to my gate and reminded me that I still had two other daughters, and I should worry about them ,” says Rabbiya.

Happier durations: at “states parties ” with Sooraj Pancholi

In late August, the Bombay High Court ultimately guided a lower courtroom to proceed with Sooraj Pancholi’s ordeal for abetment to suicide. He assembled Jiah on Facebook in September 2012.” She was surrounded by much older, serious male performers in her first few years. She missed out on teenage merriment ,” says Rabbiya. Sooraj, a gym junkie with a bodybuilder’s physique, was a party boy who loved music and fast cars.

The CBI’s 447 -page charge sheet against Sooraj alleges that the romance didn’t last and quotes Jiah’s six-page letter, in which she describes her unhappiness at his action, as proof of his” wilful deport” leading to her extinction.” I didn’t see any adore or commitment from you ,” she wrote in the word.” I merely became increasingly scared that you would suffer me mentally or physically. Your life was about partying and women. Mine was about you and my work .” Witness announcements in the charge sheet allege that Jiah had told friends that bruises on her neck and shoulder were the outcomes of physical defamation by Sooraj.

The CBI’s subject also includes proclamations confirming that Jiah had a harrowing abortion at Sooraj’s home in January, without telling her family, after a medical doctor prescribed medicines to close the pregnancy.” I aborted our child when it suffered me deeply … I have nothing left to live for after this ,” she wrote in her word. Yet even the character is contentious. Her lineage insists it was written not as a suicide greenback, but as a departure character before her plotted retirement to subject in London. In detail, such questions over the undated letter will work in the defence’s promote, says Tiwari.” Abetment to suicide is not easy to demonstrate at the best of days, and I don’t think Sooraj will be convicted. In my opinion this is a token charge to make it seem like the police have taken any steps .”

Little is known for sure about what happened in the last two hours of Jiah’s life. After want me talking to Rabbiya at 9.37 pm, her telephone preserves demonstrate a few brief the talks with Sooraj, who was having dinner with a sidekick at a hotel until about 10.30 pm. Onlookers say they had sounded the couple arguing over the phone later on the day. At around 10 pm, CCTV footage evidenced a florist extraditing heydays. A short while afterwards, Jiah is shown holding the garland to her gatekeeper to throw in the bin. The card on the corsage, afterward retrieved, said plainly:” Best pleases from Sooraj .”

The rest of the floor remains unclear partly because Sooraj, intentionally or not, disposed of vital evidence, in agreement with the CBI. When police perused his phone, they discovered he had removed Jiah from his Blackberry Messenger account that evening, automatically removing all the meanings between them on both their phones. The forensic psychologist who interviewed Sooraj reported “hes been” ” reluctant to disclose relevant facts” about his last communication with Jiah.” It is felt that the subject was intentionally supporting incomplete or fabricated information on crucial question ,” the police force psychologist concluded.

With the history of Sooraj’s disturbed affair with Jiah laid bare in both the CBI’s charge sheet and the Indian press, along with the fact that he was the last person to communicate with her, it’s not surprising that the actor has been the main points of suspicion and gues. Now 26, Sooraj declined to be interviewed, or, to be precise, his father Aditya refused on his behalf.” He is too psychological about this whole act ,” he told me from Mumbai over a Skype call.” Sooraj has never created his hand to anyone .” Aditya says he admonished Sooraj to stay silent and avoid calling Jiah’s family after her extinction.” I announced him as soon as I heard about that good girl and said:’ Turn off your mobile. Don’t speak to anyone or see anyone until I get to you .’ I told him not to go to Jiah’s apartment, too. He was just a kid, I didn’t want him to understand her like that .”

Dark daylight in Mumbai: Jiah Khan’s funeral on 5 June 2013. Photograph: Hindustan Times/ Getty Images

Aditya, 53, speculates his son is being unfairly targeted.” If we were not such famous people, this wouldn’t even move the word .” Aditya has frequently been been in the news himself – his extramarital liaisons have furnished much tabloid fodder and he has been arrested for assault a number of eras. He admits he has ” feeling problems” and has forewarned his son not to attain the same mistakes.” I have lost a lot in “peoples lives” because of my humour. It’s my duty to tell my children:’ Don’t get angry, don’t do what I did .’ The constitution will take its own trend. If Sooraj was a murderer or an abuser, do you think producers would have lined up outside his house to sign him ?”

He’s right that Sooraj’s career seems to have thriven. Shortly before Jiah’s death he had been signed for his first lead role in a Bollywood movie. A” romantic act blockbuster” produced by industry heavyweight Salman Khan and released after 2015, the cinema was announced Hero ( Aditya also had a part ). Sooraj currently has 1.3 m Instagram adherents, and in September he was in Britain performing with an all-star direct in the Bollywood stage show, Dabangg .

With so many unknowns, it’s unlikely what happened with Jiah will surface soon- if ever. Vinta Nanda says Bollywood’s ingrained sexism partly explains why the deaths of women like Jiah are written off as collateral damage. There are some signs of betterment, with female performers such as Kangana Ranaut prevailing support for challenging double standards, and feminist cinemas such as Pink – a groundbreaking take on assault in India- winning critical acclaim, but the problem is still huge.

At home in London, Jiah’s family say they will hinder pushing for a irrefutable investigation. They try to remember her in other, gentler spaces, like broiling a patty for her birthday. They likewise say they’ve bought a whiz in her delivery refer, Nafisa, because she enjoyed astronomy.” There’s an internet site where you can buy a idol and appoint it ,” interprets Karishma,” You get a certificate and everything .” Puppendahl sighs something about it being a defraud, and all three women laugh loudly.” Never judgment ,” says Rabbiya,” she’s definitely up there .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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