Asiana Archives: Jiah Khan

Read our special interview, from 2007 with the late actress 

Posted: 04.06.13

Like the rest of the world, we at Asiana were shocked and saddened to hear about the death of the beautiful and talented British actress Jiah Khan who made it big in Bollywood.

Back in 2007 we had the pleasure of interviewing Jiah in London, where we also treated her to an Asiana makeover and photoshoot. We’re sharing that again today in her memory. 

We hope you enjoy reading it – Jiah, rest in peace.

Everyone in Mumbai is talking about the hot new Brit teen sensation Jiah Khan. As Shihab Salim finds out, it’s not all quite for the right reasons…

Some compliments do no one any favours. When Amitabh Bachchan gushed over his stunning new co-star, the teen sensation Jiah Khan, his comments that her ‘off-screen personality is very similar to her on-screen persona’ was innocent enough praise. It was meant to suggest she was a genuine person, a rarity in an industry sporting so many fake façades, but it gave unscrupulous journalists just what they needed to run with the story: Jiah Khan, homewrecking slut.

After all, that’s how she appears in Nishabd, Ram Gopal Verma’s groundbreaking take on the ‘old man meets Lolita’ love story, where she, by her own admission, plays a ‘selfish, conniving little girl that doesn’t care about who she hurts to get what she wants’. Well, if that’s what she’s like in the movie, and a man as revered as The Big B says that’s what she’s like in real life, then who are we to argue? And it hardly helps that the character she plays in the movie just happens to be called Jhia…

To Indian journalists, who think rumours and facts are synonymous and libel is something that’s stuck to the side of a bottle, all this could only mean one thing. The sultry 19-year-old siren got the coveted role by warming her way
into Ram Gopal Verma’s heart and, in return, let him worm his way into her pants. No question about it. Or rather, no questions other than her ‘casting couch to big screen’ affair with the elusive director, who himself has been through the rumour mill with every actress that he’s championed – from Urmila in Rangeela to Antara Mali in Company. And Jia just looks like she’s asking for it…

Every interview she’s given in India has dwelled not on her acting ability, or the controversial role the newcomer has taken on, or the impact the movie has had on a conservative nation, but: has Ram Gopal Verma bought you a mansion? Are you his new Urmila? Has he banned you from sleeping with other directors to get roles? The interrogations have been so relentless, not to mention degrading – Jia Khan has had no option than to literally run away from the limelight, which is what brings her to us today. Away from the media madness and the mob of fans – among people who are just happy to see a British Asian girl doing so well across the pond.

‘I can’t tell you how great it is to just go for a walk without a single person recognising me,’ she sighs with relief. A surprising admission for a 19-year-old, especially one that’s supposed to be so fame hungry she’d sleep with a moustached man three times her senior just to get a part in a movie. Something doesn’t seem right here. ‘The thing is, sleeping with directors and producers is commonplace in Bollywood,’ she shrugs, a part of her still gutted she didn’t see this coming, before going on to name a few stars who’ve done just that (which we can’t print because in this country, alas, we can’t slander based on hearsay), ‘which is why it’s easy to believe I must have done the same. Especially seeing that, naïve as I was, in my first few interviews I kept going on about how great Ram Gopal Verma was!’

Fact is, she did – and still does. As a Bollywood-mad child, Rangeela was the movie that inspired her to swirl her shalwars to the Hindi beat, with Ram Gopal playing a huge part in her desire to become an actor. Working in the Hindi film industry, however, was mere fantasy, leaving her to take her dreams towards the stage lights of Broadway. And when you’re a
drama student studying Stanislavsky in Lee Strasberg in New York, what else can Bollywood be but a pipedream?

But then a strange thing happened.

During a short trip to Mumbai, mainly for a family holiday but also partly to conduct research on her college thesis on her favourite film director (no prizes for guessing who), she suddenly got a flash of inspiration: why not get a face to face with the man himself? ‘I thought I’d get turned away at the reception room,’ Jiah recalls, a flash of the
naughty girl she plays so well in Nishabd, ‘But before I knew what I was doing, I wasin Ram Gopal Verma’s office…’

Realising she had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a winning quote for her essay, notepad and pen in hand, she was preparing to let off a round of quick-fire questions before he knew what hit him, fully expecting a burly bodyguard to cart her off kicking and screaming any second, when Ram Gopal Verma simply asked her to sit down. 
‘It was surreal. I didn’t have to say a thing. I couldn’t tell if he thought I’d come for a casting, or if he was always this calm, but before I’d worked out what was going on, he said: you’re the girl I’ve been looking for…’

As a cheesy chat-up line, that would be pretty atrocious, but for a filmmaker as obsessed with casting the right characters for the right role, saying he’s just found the girl he’s searching to play one of the most demanding, complex and daring roles ever seen in the Indian film industry, he was right on the money.

As it turns out, Jiah is much more like her character in the movie than she makes out. For one, she really is into older men. Always has been. She’s not entirely convinced it’s because both her biological father and step dad both did runners when she was a still a child, meaning she’s been searching for a
father figure all her life, but she can’t deny the possibility either: ‘I’ve never dated anyone the same age as me. I find guys my age not necessarily immature, but they don’t have that ambition or focus that older men
have. I’m attracted to men with drive, in fact, right now, I’m only interested in
anyone that’s as committed to their careers as I am.’

This includes most of her old school and college friends. She sighs, ‘I met up with some of them recently and it depressed me. They’re still hanging out in the same old places, doing the same old things and spending daddy’s money. People like that just sap my energy these days…’

No surprise that she’s now left with no friends! Even in Mumbai, she lives alone, preferring the company of a good book than hobnobbing with the stars. She prefers to think that’s because she’s a private person, but it soon becomes apparent paranoia has had a big part to play. ‘I’ve only been out in the party scene in Mumbai once. I went to the hip Poison nightclub and the next day I was in the papers under headlines like Cinderella’s they’ve been waiting for me to do something more interesting than just minding my own business – and you just know their intentions aren’t noble.

Sure enough, next thing I know I’m ‘linked’ to the actor Emraan Hashmi, who just happens to be a regular at Poison. Except I’ve never met the guy…’ India has made its mind up. Jia is a maneater. It’s just that she isn’t fitting the
image they’ve painted of her by drinking and shagging her way through town. But for Jiah, it’s easy not to play the game.

‘It’s fair to say I was a wild child. I did the whole guys and party thing between the ages of 15 and 18. In fact, any vice you can think of, I’ve been there, done it, bored as hell of it all.’ The drug scene that’s sweeping the Mumbai elite, for instance, leaves her cold. With a yawn, she says: ‘When you go to a posh school and see why these kids take drugs, you quickly learn it’s all about insecurity, attention seeking and this mistaken notion that it makes you cool. I’d or say, not what I take.’

Taking a swipe at the stars that do powder their noses, Jia points out: ‘A lot of Indian actors come from villages and they see the razzmatazz of the Mumbai scene as part of living the dream. If they think cocaine makes them sexy, that’s their problem.’

If we’re talking sex appeal, Jiah certainly doesn’t need chemicals to convince anyone she’s hot as hell. She simply says: ‘I know I’ve got a good body. I’ve been going to the gym and dancing all my life. I realise the way I look is an asset. I hope that’s not theonly thing working in my favour though…’

Jiah wasn’t always this sexy. In fact, it’s surprising to hear she used to be ‘a geek’. She admits: ‘I used to dress in Doc Martens and men’s shirts, until one day my mum forced me to wear a party dress and put on some lipgloss. Next thing I know, I’m going out with a guy in a Lamborghini!’ A-ha. The older man corrupting the innocent swan syndrome again! She laughs: ‘You don’t have to worry about anyone corrupting me. I know all the tricks of the trade – and that’s exactly why I don’t play them!’

Sadly for Indian journos, vices are the last thing on her mind. She’s working ‘to be superfit’ for her next role, and she refuses to confirm or deny whether it’s another Ram Gopal Verma enterprise. Last she read, the director has apparently vowed never to speak to her again… Isn’t she just a little perturbed that all this fuss has been made of her and Ram Gopal who, let’s face it, isn’t the best looking man on earth? Wouldn’t a rumour about the Big B be more appealing?

‘I was in awe of Amitabh Bachchan and, like any other girl, totally fancied him. But I’m no homewrecker. I don’t want to be with any man that jeopardises his relationship every time a fit girl in hot pants comes into the room.’ As Jiah Khan leaves the room, piercing me with a sultry smile that drips with sex appeal, it’s almost easy to understand why the Indian journalists just don’t want to believe her…

Photographs: Alexandre Pichon
Hair & make-up: Naveeda

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