As news of Jiah Khan’s alleged suicide broke, Bollywood took to Twitter to express its shock and regret. Amid a barrage of tweets offering condolences, film maker Ram Gopal Vama’s tweet stood out: "I dont know the reason what led to this but jiah was very depressed about her career and scared for her future."
According to sources, Khan’s mother told the police that Jiah had auditioned for a few films down south which did not meet with success and this might have tipped her over the brink, into depression.
While these initial reports are speculative, it seems likely that Jiah fell prey to the pitfalls of fame – a notoriously fickle master to those who pursue it. “People who have had a taste of fame, they derive their self-esteem, their self-confidence by being admired by others,” said Dr Pulkit Sharma, clinical psychologist, VIMHANS. “When their careers start going downhill, their sense of self crumbles and may push them into depression,” he added.
Jiah, whose real name was Nafisa Khan, made her debut in 2007 with Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd, playing a nubile Lolita opposite Amitabh Bachchan. Her first film typecast her as ‘sexy’, an image Jiah herself subscribed to in her public appearances.
Roles were few and far in between and she played small parts in Ghajini (2008) and Housefull (2010). But, in Bollywood, starlets are a dime a dozen – interchangeable, replaceable and ultimately, dispensable. “The insecurity is huge, there is always somebody who is more beautiful, talented or better at networking than you. Combined with this, there is constant pressure to look good, feel good all the time,” says Dr Prerna Kohli, clinical psychologist and life skills coach.
To an outsider looking in, the Jiah’s life may have seemed blessed – good looking, decked out in high heels, glittery gowns and her trademark bouffant, smiling dreamily at the camera. But behind that carefully kept-up façade of a life lived under the public eye, there lurks depression and isolation. “It is important to talk about your feelings, to seek help. It is also important to treat your profession as merely a job that you do and learn to switch on and off,” says Kohli.
Much of the regret at Khan’s suicide mulls over how young she was, too young to abandon hope. Khan’s case is not an isolated incident. Name of actresses and models Divya Bharati, Nafisa Joseph, Kuljeet Randhawa and Viveka Babajee come to mind – all examples of young, promising lives cut short by tragic suicides. According to Sharma, people entering such professions tend to set exacting benchmarks for themselves. “They should cultivate other hobbies as well and have other goals or anchor points to hold onto so they aren’t being shattered when one dream fails,” said Sharma.