Why Anand Patwardhan's Ram ke Naam will make RSS uncomfortable
This article was first published on Firstpost.
Three cheers for the internet! After ILS Law College in Pune cancelled the screening of Anand Patwardhan's 1991 documentary Ram ke Naam (In the Name of God), the filmmaker has put the film on YouTube.
Although the Pune college has denied that it backed out of showing Patwardhan's film because of threats from right-wing Hindu groups, the institution hasn't explained its change of heart. Patwardhan claims the organisers were threatened.
It isn't difficult to imagine political groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad would take issue with Ram ke Naam. The VHP has a long tradition of restricting freedom of speech and causing disruptions and the organisation's hate politics are laid bare by Patwardhan in this documentary. Ram ke Naam was mostly shot in 1990, before the demolition of Babri Masjid, and as a result, Patwardhan's interviewees speak candidly.
VHP and Bajrang Dal members brazenly speak of inflicting violence upon those who stand in their way. Common people explain how political groups have vitiated the atmosphere in their neighbourhoods. Some expose their ignorance of Indian history and Hinduism; other offer hope by not falling for toxic political rhetoric.
Patwardhan shows that the entire debate about Babri Masjit being built on the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram is fuelled by nothing but politics. That the mosque was built upon a razed temple was something the British circulated in order to divide Hindus and Muslims during colonial rule. It didn't work too well — Hindus and Muslims both worshipped their respective gods in the same complex for decades. The first disruption to this peaceful status quo happened in 1949, when Hindu idols were found in the mosque. Subsequently, it became a disputed site, the mosque was shut down and since there were Hindu idols in the structure, the court appointed a priest to officiate over this makeshift temple.
Among the people that Patwardhan interviews in Ram ke Naam is a mahant who freely admits that he, with help from the district magistrate, put the idols in the mosque in 1949. Patwardhan also spoke to the court-appointed priest, who is forcefully critical of the VHP and the campaign to demolish the mosque.
"This is a political game," says the priest, who later says that no one from the VHP has ever come to offer prayers at the temple, but VHP workers have disrupted prayer schedules with their threats of violence. "Why demolish a building where god [the Hindu idols] already exists?" asks the priest, pointing out that to raze the mosque now would effectively be destroying a temple because according to Hinduism, any building that houses an idol becomes a temple.
If it is indeed true that those who consider themselves custodians of Hinduism are the ones standing against Ram ke Naam, then we need to dig a double grave because irony just died along with common sense. Anyone who is a devout Hindu should work actively to make sure this film is seen because it distinguishes those who believe in Hinduism from those who swear by Hindutva.
It's a distinction that bears repeating as Patwardhan shows how callously political parties either turn a blind eye to riots and other acts perverting our fundamental rights or actively encourage them.
The ones who will find Ram ke Naam thoroughly uncomfortable viewing are political parties like VHP and BJP, along with their supporters. The fact that LK Advani went on record to say his 1990 rath yatra would not be cause communal riots is placed alongside the numbers of people killed in violent incidents that followed Advani's trail. VHP would probably be embarrassed by Patwardhan revealing its old financial scandals. Patwardhan doesn't pull his punches and armed with research and testimonies, the filmmaker points fingers at godmen and politicians who have exploited religion for power and personal gain.
From footage of riot victims to political rallies to the voices of the common people who bear the brunt of these vicious strategies, it's all in Ram ke Naam. To see the way politicians have used the Ram Janmabhoomi issue to incite people to violence and stoke flames of communalism is a bitter pill to swallow if you're politically-inclined towards the right-wing. For everyone else, there is hope held out by those from villages surrounding Ayodhya, who talk about how Hindus and Muslims have lived together in harmony for as long as they can remember even as tensions escalate and kar sevaks arrive in thousands.
As the priest at the Ram Janmabhoomi tells Patwardhan, "There is a storm, but we mustn't lose our bearings. Like the tidal wave, it will recede." We live in hope that his words will come true.
The Grand Budapest Hotel and the Imagination
In the course of The Grand Budapest Hotel, its hero Gustave H breaks out into poetry ten times. Each of those ten times, his florid, beautiful verse is interrupted by life. Everything from dinner to the sound of an alarm gets in the way of Gustave's poetic flourish. The last time, it's literally life that gets in the way. Gustave is hanging on to the edge of an icy precipice. There's a killer intent upon ending his life. The ice is cracking. Certain death awaits Gustave. His response to the end that looms before him is to speak these lines:
“If this do be me end: farewell!” cried the wounded piper-boy, whilst the muskets cracked and the yeomen roared, “Hurrah!” and the ramparts fell. “Methinks me breathes me last, me fears!” said he.”
It sounds like something written by Lord Alfred Tennyson or someone from the 19th century who read “The Lady of Shalott” too many times. A friend asked me if the lines were a quote and that resulted in me tying myself up in knots. “It’s not really a poem,” I said. “As in it is, in that it is poetry, but it’s not real. As in no one wrote it. I mean, obviously someone wrote it, but not –” I paused for breath and then got to the point: “It was written for the film. I think Wes Anderson, or Hugo Guinness, made it up.”
This is true not just of these lines of poetry, but practically everything in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Zubrowka is entirely fictitious. There is no champagne known as Pouilly-Jouvet; the Courtesan du Chocolat that Agatha makes so beautifully is not a real dessert; Johannes van Hoytl did not exist, and as far as anyone can tell, neither was there ever a secret society of concierges like The Society of Crossed Keys. Pick a detail from The Grand Budapest Hotel — from the screenplay or the film itself — and chances are that it will be a beautifully fabricated bit of fiction.
What’s particularly lovely is how Anderson emphasises this in the way he’s filmed The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson researched the period and area in which the film is set extensively, which shows in the exquisite production design. Every little detail is either authentically sourced or remarkably fabricated. Then it’s put in its place so that each and every frame of The Grand Budapest Hotel is precisely arranged like the doll’s house of a child with OCD. The symmetry of each shot is perfect, with the lines and geometry of everything from architecture to costume, character and prop perfectly aligned. It’s all too neat to be true, and yet every detail looks so authentic to this doll’s house world and so comfortably at home in its niche that the world starts feeling real.
Still, for all the care that has been lavished upon making the illusion seem real, Anderson doesn’t ever let us forget that this is all imaginary. So, for example, there are models and drawings that he slips in every now and then. The funicular is a good example. That the funicular was once a real mode of transport barely lingers in our memory. Anderson’s delicate, miniature funicular simultaneously reminds us of its existence and consigns it to romantic folklore. It’s not by chance that every time we see The Grand Budapest Hotel from the outside, what Anderson shows is a miniature model. If the charm of the hotel’s interiors and characters like Gustave has seduced you into believing the illusion to be true, Anderson subtly reminds his audience that this whole world is, in fact, made up of artifice and the imagination.
So why do all this? Why lavish all this attention and care into creating something that doesn’t hold up a mirror to contemporary reality, something that seems to be not just irrelevant to the present but also to the time period in which the story is set? After all, there’s a war marching into Zubrowka and all Anderson cares about is a bisexual concierge in a luxury hotel? Yes, and contrary to how it seems, the fact that The Grand Budapest Hotel retreats from the reality that surrounds it is what makes it so relevant to everyone who has ever daydreamed or lost themselves in a work of art.
Gustave H, head concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel of Zubrowka, is not a mundane creature. His job is commonplace — a concierge is an unremarkable employee in a hotel, whose job is to assist guests who want to sample the cultural offerings of a place. Just how lowly he is in the social scheme of things is evident when Gustave is accused of murder. Although he is innocent, he can’t fight the system because the ones accusing him are powerful. There are no lawyers that come to his aid, there is no one to plead his case. He is without champions and at the mercy of the legal and justice system that is not in his favour.
Yet within the hotel, Gustave carries himself with majesty. His role is to serve, but the power dynamic is clearly in his favour. It isn’t the guest who makes The Grand Budapest an institution, but Gustave, with his adoration of all things sophisticated, tasteful and beautiful. It is his sensibility and his unflagging devotion to elegance that makes the hotel the exquisite little gem that it is. His attention to detail makes The Grand Budapest a retreat from the real world for everyone. For young Zero Moustafa, it’s a refuge from the violence of war that he’s left behind him in his homeland. For Madame D, it’s a place where she’s alive and safe, which is why she’s so unwilling to leave.
As it turns out, leaving The Grand Budapest Hotel is fraught with dangers for those who appreciate its pleasures. Soon after Madame D leaves the hotel, she’s killed. When Gustave and Zero leave the first time, we discover there are tanks and soldiers standing in the middle of barley fields. Zero and Gustave are both roughed up by soldiers and what saves them is the memory of the hotel. Henckels, the commander, remembers Gustave from holidays he spent at The Grand Budapest Hotel as a child, and that’s what saves the two travellers. Within the world that Gustave has created inside The Grand Budapest, everything is beautiful and works in clockwork order. Desires are catered to, needs are met, beauty is preserved. Outside, there’s murder, intimidation, war and gloom. Even nature can provide no relief, smothered as it is under a thick blanket of snow or ice. The one exception to this setup is Agatha and her Courtesans du Chocolat. As Gustave says, there’s a purity about her and it’s particularly precious because it survives the real world. Her terrible boss, the poverty in which she lives, the birth mark that mars her face, none of this interferes with the single-minded dedication with which she makes those beautiful desserts. Perhaps it’s because what Agatha creates is made despite the pressures of the real world that when Gustave has to break out of jail, nothing from the world of the hotel is of any help. It’s Agatha’s confectionery that proves to be invaluable. It looks like frippery, but without it, there would be no jailbreak.
Remembering Gustave, Zero says at one point in The Grand Budapest Hotel,
“To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it — but I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace!”
He could be talking about Anderson, whose every film is steeped in a nostalgia for a past that is part inherited or learned memory and part imagination. Anderson’s films almost always are filled with fictitious books, unreal histories and imaginary maps and trails. While his films are always beautiful, there are times when the quirkiness becomes overwhelming. The Darjeeling Limited, for instance, seemed more self-indulgent than imaginative. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the episodes that made the film seemed too haphazard. When all the bric-a-brac fall into place though, as it did in The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom for instance, Anderson’s films are magnificent for how completely they’re imagined. Watching them is like stepping into a dream — you know it isn’t real, but it feels emphatically true for its running time and once it’s over, you wish you could return to that world which, despite its sadnesses, is so utterly gorgeous.
The Grand Budapest Hotel might be the closest to being Anderson’s personal manifesto. It’s a story about a concierge who was falsely accused of murder but who had the last laugh over his accusers. It’s also a story about an immigrant who came to a foreign land, started at the bottom of the social pile as a bell boy and ended up to be not just one of the richest men, but also the one person who preserved his new homeland’s cultural legacy. But most of all, it’s a story about the love of beautiful things and an ode to the imagination that can cocoon you from reality.
On the surface, Gustave and Zero’s adventures are a silly little caper set against exquisite backdrops, but what they celebrate is the ability to be completely out of touch with reality. Reality is filled with tanks, murderous henchmen, greedy sons and thoughtless nitty-gritty. There are barely any colours and all the details that could make the world beautiful have been hidden. If you’re looking for beauty, then you have to retreat from this reality, into worlds where the imagination flourishes; worlds like The Grand Budapest. The hotel seems like a repository of elitist frippery and there’s no doubt that there is an elitism at play here, but it’s not one guided by money. It’s an elitism of taste. Anderson doesn’t glorify the aristocracy or the moneyed in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Look at Dmitri and Madame D’s daughters, and you find little sympathy for those characters. They don’t even get a splash of colour, dressed as they are in flat, dull black.
The ones who do find favour with Anderson are the concierges, who are low on the social pecking order but who are, in a way, the guardians of taste and culture. It isn’t the poshness of the opera or the cost of the hand-crafted luggage that makes these things valuable; it’s the artistry. It’s the ability to appreciate the beauty of a painting, the lyricism of words, the delicacy of flavours in a dessert — this is the keen sensitivity to sophisitication that distinguishes the concierges of The Grand Budapest Hotel. The delightful Society of the Crossed Keys isn’t a union of hotel employees, but a collective of people who love the beautiful details that seem like unnecessary luxuries. In times of crises, these luxuries become examples of the best thing about the human mind: its ability to create out of absolutely nothing. In a world without colour, where war is inevitable and people are becoming increasingly like automatons, perhaps losing touch with reality is the best way to deal with — and maybe even change — everything that’s wrong with what actually exists around you.
The more I think about The Grand Budapest Hotel — I’ve seen it four times and I’m yet to be bored by it — Anderson’s latest work strikes me as a fabulously defiant film. Perhaps it’s because the reality that confronts and surrounds me on a daily basis is so intensely disheartening and filled with ugliness, but the film served as a beautiful reminder that there’s no shame in retreating from reality if it threatens what you hold dear. The imagination isn’t important to everyone and it need not be, but Gustave, Zero and Agatha’s determination to not let go of the what they love (whether it’s something as important as one another or as incidental as the Jouilly-Pouvet), it’s everything. Gustave and eventually Zero’s stubbornness to ignore the pragmatic starts off as endearing but ridiculous. By the end of the film, Gustave has been shot and Zero has given up everything just so that he can protect The Grand Budapest from the reality outside for a few more years. Their love for the good things in life seems more like a rebellion.
Ultimately, all we know about Gustave is his good taste, his panache if you will. Despite all the words that he fills The Grand Budapest Hotel with, there’s very little we know of him beyond his aesthetic. Of Zero, we know more and slowly you realise that, in spite of his silences, Zero is much more than a foil to Gustave. It is Zero who prods Gustave into stealing the painting — not only does he silently give Gustave the idea of stealing it, he brings the stool and sets up the crime. He’s also the one who replaces Boy With Apple with an image of two women masturbating — and that sets off the chain of events that change Gustave’s life.
Gustave might be the star of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but the story in the film is Zero’s. There’s a reason for this. Zero, as an immigrant who comes to Zubrowka and The Grand Budapest because he’s survived terrible violence, is keenly aware of the real world. Yet, in spite of all that he reality that he’s survived or perhaps because of it, Zero chooses to immerse himself in the frivolous beauty of The Grand Budapest. He follows in Gustave’s footsteps and devotes himself to preserving a vanishing, beautiful world to the best of his ability; he brings back to life Gustave and the hotel’s glory days by telling their story.
We’re constantly delivering or receiving reality cheques; we’re told to not retreat in face of ugliness, to face facts. Between the coverage offered by 24-hour news channels and social media, there isn’t an atrocity or tragedy that escapes us. Open the newspaper, there’s a horrific crime. Open the email, there’s a hopeless but desperate petition. Open the comments thread, and there are abuses. You’re expected to know what’s happening. It’s irresponsible, shameful if you don’t.
The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me that stepping back and closing off isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because if in the process of facing reality, you forget what is beautiful, then what’s the point of being in touch? Perhaps we bounced back better from fights and disappointments as kids because the imaginary was so crucial a part of our lives. Whether it was through books or doodles or just sitting and staring out of windows, we took time to retreat from the real world as children. Perhaps we were stronger for it.
I look around at the ugliness that’s around us and it seems unlikely that something beautiful can be created out of it. Then I think of Gustave, out of touch with the world and entirely in tune with the beautiful, and suddenly, daydreaming seems like a wonderful idea. There is a place for protests and there is a need for outrage, but there’s no point to all of this if it leaves you without beauty. So forget the world around you and pick up that book, read that poem, listen to that music, savour that dessert, lose yourself in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
And then let’s see what beauty we can conjure for ourselves. Because while it is a relief to be able to turn one’s back upon the rubbish that is reality, it is also the only way to bring a little beauty into an increasingly ugly world. There are now YouTube videos of people making Courtesans du Chocolat at home. In homes around the world, Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous soundtrack for the film drowns the noise of traffic or squabbling neighbours. And maybe, just maybe, a few more people are pledging their loyalty to the priorities that guide the Society of Crossed Keys.
The day after I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, I began writing a story that had no moral, no lesson and no point to make. It’s just fiction, filled with unreal things. And who knows? It might just end up being beautiful by the time I’m done. However it turns out, I’m daydreaming. And that in itself is more beautiful than the reality within or outside the virtual or real window.
Dear Google, please pay Bollywood royalty for Google Glass
This article was first published on Firstpost.
The first manned mission landed on the moon in 1969, but two years before Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for mankind, Astronaut Anand and desi cinema had gone much further. TP Sundaram's Trip to Moon (Chand Par Chadayee) was a science fiction story set mainly in space. Made in 1967, the film starred Dara Singh, Anwar Hussain, Bhagwan, G. Ratna and Padma Khanna. Dara Singh was Astronaut Anand, who with his sidekick Bhagu (Bhagwan), travels to different planets and beats up aliens, a galactic rhinoceros and becomes a heartthrob of the lovely ladies who live on the moon. Yes, there's life on the moon according to Trip to Moon, and not just that, two of them go so far as to fight for him in a contest that involves both dancing and sword fighting.
There's a lot to love in Trip to Moon, beginning with the film's confidence in India's space program. Trip to Moonbegins on the moon, where India has set up a "camp". It's a mission to explore and learn, but the Moonlings are suspicious of these human scientists, who roam around the satellite puffing a pipe and brandishing a walking stick, unaffected by low gravity. So, as a warning, the Moonlings kidnap the scientist and send a crack team to sabotage the next Indian mission to the moon, which is Astronaut Anand's ticket off the planet.
The first time we meet Anand, he walks into a high-level security meeting discussing the kidnap wearing a space suit made up of tubes, a bubble helmet, a shiny top and tights. As astronauts are wont to. Later, when Anand, accompanied by Bhagu, goes to the launch site, ready to go into space, he's wearing a suit and a fedora. This is not the oddest part; that would be the site of a bunch of aliens trying to lift the rocket like it's a double bed and the aliens are movers. A fight ensues and its main point seems to be to render Anand shirtless and strip Bhagwan down to his chaddis. Once this is achieved, the duo are also kidnapped.
Once on the moon (and after a delightful attempt to show the lunar surface's low gravity by doing a slow-mo dance), Anand and Bhagu are imprisoned by a council that seems to include a lunar Adolf Hitler. When they try to escape, they are sentenced to death. By this time, we've seen vitamin pills and a lot of flashing lights that are supposed to communicate how technologically advanced the moon's civilisation is. Executions, however, are conducted ancient Roman style, in an arena where Anand and Bhagu must face an ape who looks like he's torn his hair out because he wasn't cast as King Kong. Anand defeats the ape and instead of finding another method of executing the earthlings, Anand and Bhagu become VIPs because the ladies luuurve Anand.
Meanwhile, there's conspiracy afoot. A moonling aristocrat named Simi (Padma Khanna) is scheming with the king of Mars (Anwar Hussain), who wants the moon's princess Shimoga (G. Ratna) as his bride. Shimoga's heart, however, belongs to Anand and he loves her too. So the king of Mars doesn't really stand a chance, but he gives it his best shot by doing everything from unleashing missiles to giant robots and an alien rhinoceros at Anand.
The real genius of Trip to Moon is in the scenes where Simi and the king of Mars are seen secretly plotting. Keep in mind that this film was released in 1967, when the height of technological advancement in India was the trunk call and the television. Yet it didn't stop the writer of Trip to Moon (who is sadly uncredited. The credits only acknowledge the dialogue writer) from imagining the digital camera, scanning, email and modern printers. When Simi spies on Anand being romanced by Shimoga, she pulls out a dinky little camera to click a suggestive photo. The photo is then delivered to the king of Mars instantly. His assistant pulls it out of a box-like contraption.
At another point, Simi dials a code and the King of Mars appears on a television screen so that the two can chat. That is, she Skypes him. Most impressively, Trip to Moon pre-empted Google Glass. When Simi wants to talk to the king of Mars urgently, she calls him and he receives the call in a pair of dark glasses. A live image of Simi appears on one of the lenses and they chat in real time. So there you have it: a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display. And we thought of it in 1967, before Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin were born.
Watch it here:
Suicide and the Maiden
This article was first posted on Firstpost.
There are some things that seem throwaway at the time they happen. Later, with the benefit of hindsight, they acquire a chilling quality. Like this interview of Jiah Khan from 2008, a year after she made her debut film Nishabd. She was asked to define love and she replied, “Love is a feeling I wake up with in the morning and it’s gone by the time I go to sleep.”
On Monday night, Khan didn't go to sleep. She hanged herself with a dupatta.
It's a terribly Bollywood death and in more ways than one. So many heroes' sisters and wronged women in Bollywood films have chosen to end their lives just as Khan did, right down to the dupatta. But suicide is turning out to be a very real aspect of contemporary show business. In 2004, actress and model Nafisa Joseph hanged herself. According to Joseph's parents, the 25-year-old committed suicide because her marriage had to be called off. In 2006, Kuljeet Randhawa, 30, hanged herself. She had recently completed shooting for her debut film. In her suicide note, she had written that she wasn't able to cope with the pressure she was feeling. In 2010, Viveka Babaji hanged herself and it was concluded that the model and actress was suffering from depression. In 1993, Divya Bharati, 19, died mysteriously when she apparently fell out of her apartment. The widespread response is shock initially and then attempts at sympathy that imply these women had been weakened by depression, as though everyone is an expert on that state of mind when you not only decide to end your life but actually go through with it.
From the reactions that have been coming in to Khan's death, there's no doubt that Bollywood was taken aback. Khan was 25 and only three films old. Statistically, she looked like a starlet on the rise since two of the three films — Ghajini and Housefull — were hits. While statistics may not lie, they don't necessarily represent the truth either. Khan became the girl to notice even before her debut in Nishabd. She was 16 when she was cast in Mahesh Bhatt's production, Tumsa Nahin Dekha. While shooting a song sequence set at a swimming pool, Khan had to wear a swimsuit. The way the crew reacted to her appearance unsettled young Khan enough to make her abandon the project. However, the fact that she was ready to wear a swimsuit was enough for many to label her "sexy". This would be fine if "sexy" didn't preclude being intelligent and talented.
Khan ultimately made her debut in 2007 with Nishabd, Ram Gopal Varma's attempt to do mash up of Lolita and Anokha Rishta. Even though critics appreciated her acting, the Lolita stain meant that her chief qualification was her sex appeal. It didn't help that she cheerfully (and perhaps naively) circulated the story of how she got the role: by walking into Varma's office "wearing the sexiest hot pants and heels". In 2008, she starred in Ghajinias the second lead. Two years later, she was seen in Housefull as an almost-minor character. As successful as the last two films may have been at the box office, it must have seemed to Khan like her career was going downhill. She'd begun as Amitabh Bachchan's co-star and the lead heroine. From there to Housefull was disheartening. As an actress, her options were limited. In Bollywood, she didn't conform to the conventional notions of beauty and she wasn't getting many roles, but it was still more hospitable than trying to break into Hollywood or the British acting scene.
Like any competitive film industry, Bollywood is a cruel world. The popular perception is still that women (and even men) get plum roles because they've slept with a producer and/or director. This isn't always true. What is undeniable, however, is that making it as an actor when you're of Indian extraction is easier in Bollywood than it is abroad. It is also true that particularly when you're a woman, success as we define it involves lots of hustling, luck and PR. Talent is low on the pecking order. It's a curious fact that the Bollywood PR machinery works its socks off to project actors as good lads who are looking for or are in committed relationships, while actresses are portrayed as sexual objects who are available.
Does this make Bollywood responsible for Khan's decision to commit suicide? Not directly, no. In any profession in the world, there are more heartbreaks than there are successes. Different people deal with the knocks in different ways. Most aspiring actors who come to Mumbai don't make it, even though many of them are fair, good-looking, slim and talented. Few get the exposure that Khan did. But you can tell from the Twitter responses from Bollywood that there is a sense of guilt. Everyone seems to trying to be make up for having forgotten about the young girl who just five years ago was hailed as the starlet to watch.
It's easier for most people to understand a young woman would kill herself because she was disappointed in love. But to commit suicide because your career was following a disappointing trail? That too when you're 25 and youth -- the most important qualification in the world of acting -- is on your side? That doesn't make sense to most and it emphasises how none of her colleagues had realised how seriously depressed Khan was. Worse, the only way to stand by her now seems to be with something as fleeting as a tweet.
The first wave of industry reactions came from those grappling with the truth that Khan was so deeply unhappy. The second wave will claim they knew she was depressed -- Varma has already said on Twitter that she had confided to him that "everyone around her makes her feel like a failure" -- but no one will acknowledge how depression isn't regarded as a serious issue in India. People who are 'strong' will 'get over it' on their own, we think. Depression needs to be ignored, rather than discussed. Will Khan's untimely death make her a little less forgettable? Perhaps. Will it make anyone in show business look at the next newcomer or depressed person with a little more empathy? Probably not.
In our eagerness to see her as a sex symbol, we dismissed the knocks she'd suffered in her short life. Born and brought up in London, Khan's biological father left her mother when Khan was three months old. Her mother remarried but when Khan was seven, her stepfather left the family. Khan, her two stepsisters and mother were practically homeless for some time.
At 16, Khan decided to rename herself Jiah (her real name was Nafisa), inspired by Angelina Jolie in the biopic Gia.Jolie played Gia Carangi, model who battled many demons, including heroin addiction, but ultimately emerged victorious before dying in her 20s. Khan said she chose the name because of its sex appeal. Perhaps she had hoped that she would, like the real Gia, be able to celebrate despite all the ricocheting sadness in her life. Maybe Jiah just wanted Gia's notoriety. Tragically, she ended up with far too much in common with her namesake.