Exclusive: Sooraj Pancholi on Feeling Like a Free Man for the First Time
A FIRST FOR THE BOMBAY TIMES
Actor Sooraj Pancholi, 30, talks to the press for the first time since he was acquitted in the Jiah Khan suicide case on Friday. He discusses the end of his decade-long trial, the optimism he feels now, and his plans for the future. The actor lets his guard down significantly throughout our talk. Excerpts…
After being accused of aiding Jiah Khan’s suicide for a decade, the Special CBI Court finally found you not guilty. Currently, how do you feel?
It’s a great burden lifted. Even when I was in a relationship during the past decade, I never felt like I could commit 100 percent to it because of how unclear my future was. My life is now predictable. Peace is more important than fame, wealth, and success, no matter how much you have of each. The last decade has not been a calm one for me. This was something I pondered every night before bed. As I came to my senses this morning, I realised that not only me, but also my dad (Aditya Pancholi), mom (Zarina Wahab), and sister (Sana) had been affected. I still haven’t processed the reality that it’s over. It has taken some time for me to adjust to life as a free man. No, it hasn’t really hit me yet.
How do you feel about Jiah Khan and the time you spent together today?
I reached out to Jiah on Facebook and asked to be his buddy. She was stunningly pretty and had already been in several films. About a year later, she had a change of heart, and we became fast friends. Only five months into our relationship, I had no idea the depth of Jiah’s struggles. She needed her family’s love just as much as she needed her boyfriend’s. She hoped they would back her up and get her. There was a lot of pressure on Jiah to provide for her mother, her partner, and her two younger stepsisters. She was the sole breadwinner, but she couldn’t make ends meet because she wasn’t working in a field that paid well. At the time, I was just 20, but I had already told her mother that she was depressed and needed treatment. Mental health was not given as much attention as it does today. They did not provide her with the necessary emotional support. And I was all she had. Jiah attempted suicide by slitting her wrist in 2012, shortly after we first met but before we started dating. Rabiaji said she would be arriving in Mumbai on the next aircraft when I contacted her from London, but she didn’t show up for months. Is this how typical parents and children interact? We fell in love while I was there for her. She was fantastic, but my feelings for her weren’t reciprocated. She required the comfort of a loving family. I had a lot to say in court, but I refrained from doing so because I want my family to be at peace, and I know that accusing myself is not the way to do that. According to the court, Jiah did not write the suicide note that was submitted to the police several days after it was released to the media. As stated in the certified copy of the judgement, “the circumstances create serious suspicion regarding the actual author of the said letter.”
Did you feel socially isolated and judged for years prior to the verdict being handed down by the courts? How did you handle the situation?
Every day I felt stuck, exhausted, and criticised from the moment I left my house till the moment I returned. Perception is crucial, especially in the entertainment industry. Anyway, I was the very last person to arrive and the very first to leave. I felt judged all the time, even though they weren’t necessarily doing so. I felt this continual pressure, this sense that people don’t want to be seen with me, and it’s the worst sensation ever. I wasn’t involved in the field at the time this occurred to me. My first picture came out in 2015, and I was accused of something in 2013. There was some hesitancy and resentment that I could feel. I was cut from all the projects. My films were halted in the midst of production. I kept trying to move forward, but each time I did, I was stopped by malicious online trolls and false news stories.
You even silenced yourself online for a time to show your disapproval.
To put it mildly, I was exhausted. Even though I had nothing to do with it, I was falsely accused of being involved in the killing of celebrity manager Disha Salian. It’s simple to cover yourself in dirt when you’re already lying in it. Absolutely terrible! I keep my issues to myself and never share them. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’m going through, not even my parents. On Friday, I made eye contact with my parents for the first time in ten years. We wouldn’t bring up Jiah Khan’s trial at home. My solicitors would be the only people I would confide in about it. You saw my mum in the courtroom with me when I got the verdict because she wanted to be there for me. My dad had my sister stay at home with him. I used to go to court by myself for a whole decade. I didn’t want them to know the trouble I was in, either in court or otherwise. I have conditioned myself to not have emotional outbursts. When I got home after the acquittal, that’s when I cried. In a way, that satisfied me(Sooraj Pancholi).