Jim Sarbh, a name that is being talked about as much as the lead trio of ‘Padmaavat’. This Parsi boy, belonging to a Mumbai based family, started his acting journey at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and moved back to India to become a part of theatre. After garnering accolades for his roles in theatre plays, he made his debut as an antagonist in 2016’s most talked about ‘Neerja’ directed by Ram Madhvani which won his several debut and negative role awards. He was Forbes India 30 Under 30 list that year. He then went onto star in films like ‘Raabta’ and ‘A Death In The Gunj’ where his performance was much appreciated. He stars in last year and this year’s most talked about film ‘Padmaavat’ as Malik Kafur where he essays the role Alauddin Khilji’s slave turned Khilji dynasty’s advisor.
Cinespeaks had the opportunity to interview him post the success of the film and appreciation for his portrayal. Let’s take a look at what he had to say:
1. Twice a villain and once a character that is very new for the Indian cinema, a homosexual warrior character, is it a strategy to go the unconventional way for you in Bollywood?
Jim Sarbh: No. Roles are roles. You are equally responsible for creating these stigmas and these conventions by asking questions like this.
2. Was there any kind of awkwardness while shooting scenes with Ranveer Singh while indicated both of your characters getting physical. Did you guys rehearse or discuss it much in advance? How did it come through?
Jim Sarbh: No. My character loved. His character, in his own way, also loved. We acted. Any actor who would be awkward in such a situation isn’t an actor, in my opinion, but a frightened bigoted idiot.
We rehearsed, but in the same way we rehearsed every single scene: with a desire to play it true, to dig deep and strike gold, to crystallize Ranveer’s impulses, my impulses, and the impulses and direction of our improvisational, demanding, instinctual captain Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
3. There’s a certain accent that you have for Malik Kafur. Did you train in getting it right and did some research on the gestures that you showcase?
Jim Sarbh: Yes, we had a lovely lady, Muneera Surati, helping us with the Urdu, and another kind gentleman, Sarfaraaz ji, who helped me with my Afghani accent. They were always on set, and would come to us between takes to fix anything we might have accidentally mispronounced while caught up in discovering or expressing the scene.
In addition, before shooting, I rehearsed my lines with Muneera ji and Sarfaraaz ji, so we would not waste time on set: however with script changes, last minute work was always floating around.
We tried our best.
4. How different was it as an actor to shoot for your debut film in an almost real life plane with continuous shots and then a larger than life set that Padmaavat had?
Jim Sarbh: Yes, diametrically opposed set ups. Neerja was over in 13 days, straight. Padmaavat, the scenes were spaced out over a year and three days.
The continuous shots of Neerja, of course, were both nerve wracking and exhilirating. Coming from a theatre background, that set up makes immediate sense to me: pushing through no matter what, having all your lines accessible to you in your head, improvising depending on how the scene went, while still leading it towards the inevitable fate of the script. We were blessed to have such freedom and clarity from Ram, and such a wonderful DoP Mitesh Mirchandani and his camera operators who captured everything we did.
This film was a very different learning experience: it was a kind of stamina to stay with the character for so long; but mostly it was learning about having a very clear awareness of the camera. Learning the power of the frame, of the magnification, of the angle, of the precision required depending on these things. The costumes and sets were also lavish, but since my character didn’t care about these things, neither did I.
5. Tell us about your experience of being directed by Ram Madhvani, Dinesh Vijan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. How similar or different was it?
Jim Sarbh: Ram Madhvani did most of his work with the actors in prep. We learn the entire script, and we workshopped heavily with the extremely talented Vinod Rawat (one day, for example, we just had to stand around, waiting, for news to come back from the outside world: we stood for about an hour and a half, and were told to follow our impulses. The moment where I am eating an orange and spitting out the seeds in the final film came directly out of that long exercise). We were given guidelines on how to behave on set: stick completely to ourselves and do not interact with anyone. Ram created all the circumstances that would create the most powerful acting, and then set us loose.
Dinesh Vijan also did quite a lot of prep work, however we were riffing a lot on set. He would always come to me and remind me of my place in the story, of what my desire is at that moment, and then he would wait for me to discover the scene in this new environment: and only when he felt he had gotten it, would he say: stick to this continuity! And we would move on.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is extremely demanding, and extremely clear. He always pushes you to delve deep into the scene, to find the beat of the scene, to be precise and present and to try to create some kind of magic. He is passionate about his project, and this ensures I am on his side no matter what.
6. So many years since the existence of Bollywood, but so less that the industry has had to offer the LGBT community in terms of showing them in the right light. What do you think must have been the reason for such a delay? Do you think your character portrayal has started a debate for the community?
Jim Sarbh: The fact that you still treat it as a talking point, as opposed to just a normal character, is part of the problem. Only if you treat something as a perfectly normal reality, will it be so. I don’t know what bollywood should do. I don’t know what the community should do. I know what I should do. I hope you think about what you can do as well.
7. Sonam Kapoor, Kriti Sanon and Sushant Singh Rajput or Ranveer Singh, which lead actor have you had most fun working with?
Jim Sarbh: They all have different qualities that are surprising and wonderful; that said, I would have to say Ranveer Singh. First of all, I am not trying to kill him in the movie, which helps. Second of all, it was the longest process: a year and three days – compared to mere weeks. Third of all, he is a rare and beautiful person.
8. What are your aspirations with regards to playing a lead actor in a film?
Jim Sarbh: I want to (play a lead).
9. What is your opinion on the Karni Sena controversy? How does it feel when someone deceives hardwork without seeing the outcome?
Jim Sarbh: Less said the better: as far as I’m concerned, the whole conversation ends at, “but have you seen the movie?”
It must have fingers reaching up farther than I can understand. I can barely manage waking up in the morning, forget understanding the bizarre politics burning all over the world.
10. We hear you portray Salman Khan in Ranbir Kapoor starrer ‘Sanju’. Is that true? What are your upcoming projects apart from ‘Sanju’?
Jim Sarbh: No, I don’t. But if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. I have a day left on ‘Made in Heaven’ a web series helmed by Zoya Akhtar and Nitya Mehra, which I have enjoyed working on for the last few months.
I am also in a web series called ‘Smoke,’ and am wondering when that will see the light of day.
I have also acted in a film called ‘Teen Aur Aadha,’ directed by Dar Gai, with Zoya Hussain. I am hoping that receives a theatrical release, because it is a very sensitive and beautiful script. Three stories occurring in the same house, the same room, are told with three long takes, each about 30-40 minutes long.
Jonaki, for which I am currently in Rotterdam, just had its world premiere at IFFR. In this film, I play the lover of the lead protagonist, a lady in a coma, going back through the experiences in her life in dream sequences.
– Yaser Khan