Jiah Khan was one of Indias rising film stars. But at just 25 she was found dead in her familys apartment. The question of whether it was suicide or murder has now pitted two of Bollywoods leading families against each other. Abigail Haworth investigates
On 3 June 2013, Jiah Khan planned to spend the evening at home in Mumbai binge-watching Game of Thrones. The 25-year-old British Bollywood star wanted to stay awake to greet her youngest sister, Kavita, who was arriving at 3am on a flight from Heathrow. Jiah had been shopping that day and bought Kavita some gold jewellery. The sisters texted non-stop before the plane took off. We bombarded each other with emojis, says Kavita. We couldnt wait to see each other.
Rabbiya Khan, their mother, left Jiah alone in the familys apartment in the affluent beach suburb of Juhu at around 9pm to have dinner with friends. At 9.37pm she spoke to Jiah on her mobile. I said the typical mummy-ish things about how she mustnt forget to eat, says Rabbiya. She needed to gain weight for a film role. We laughed about how she could have any food she wanted. She sounded relaxed and happy.
Less than two hours later Jiah was dead. Rabbiya returned home at 11.20pm to find her daughter hanging from a ceiling fan in the apartments spare bedroom. Her body was still warm. Rabbiya grabbed Jiahs ankles to support her weight while she screamed for help, but Jiah was gone. When Kavitas flight landed in Mumbai her phone started pinging like crazy, she says. The first I knew of it was a voicemail from a casual friend saying she was sorry about my sisters death. Everything around me went black.
The next day mourners and TV crews gathered in the overcast heat outside the apartment block. Jiah had risen to fame playing a sexually uninhibited teenager opposite acting legend Amitabh Bachchan in the 2007 Hindi film Nishabd. The wavy-haired Londoner with a plummy accent had had further success in two other movies. Never ever seen a debutante actress with more spunk and more spirit than Jiah when I was directing her in Nishabd, tweeted filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma.
While the forensics team was still working inside, local police told reporters the case was an apparent suicide. A narrative emerged based on every clich about troubled starlets: she was depressed; her boyfriend had left her; she was struggling to compete in a ruthless industry that thrived on a rapid turnover of fresh, pretty faces. By midday, as more tributes appeared on social media, it was accepted wisdom that tragic Jiah Khan (hashtag #gonetoosoon) had taken her own life.