Oct 3, 2019


It's my life! Long after Bon Jovi's chartbuster has faded into musical history, Jim Sarbh sings to us about his life, which in one word is acting

Words: Sudhakar jha

Interview by Shourya Jain

Photography: Bhanu Pratap Singh

Hair: suraj godambe

Makeup: Sanket Borkar


Location Courtesy Godrej Dance Theatre, NCPA

From a dreaded terrorist in Neerja to a mad lover in Raabta, and from a slave general in Padmaavat to a money-minting friend in Sanju, Jim Sarbh has always had a negative shade to his characters in the movies he has acted in. But nowhere could you see any similarity in all his roles. Such are the methods of this actor that mayday calls are sent across movie theatres every time he comes on screen. But it’s not his movies that have suddenly made him an ‘actor’. Jim started his career in theatres a decade ago, after graduating from the Emory University, USA. It was there that the acting bug bit him and he decided to join Alliance Theatre. After working for three years in Alliance, Jim decided to move back to India and joined local theatres in Mumbai. And his contribution towards the Mumbai theatre industry has been so phenomenal that he was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 List of achievers.

With our anniversary issue done, the question in the edit meeting was to better the issue from the last one. And cover was one such discussion that lasted for about an hour. Discussing different names and their rise in such a short of time, Jim was one that checked all boxes. Debuting in 2016 and already amongst the most desirable men of the country, he is that eccentric man you cannot just miss out on.

With calls going back and forth, the date was finalised and Mumbai welcomed us with a spell of rain that made the city look like a dream. At Nariman Point, stands the National Centre for Performing Arts, the power house of theatres in the country. We couldn’t think of any better place for shooting with Jim than the NCPA, a place that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. With the Godrej Dance Theatre at our peril, we started making the shoot arrangements, and also waiting for Jim to arrive. Rain and traffic have always been a dreaded nightmare, and the shoot day was no different as we finally managed to start the shoot two hours behind schedule. But let me tell you something, we wrapped up before time. The crew and Jim’s working habits made things easy and within two hours we came up with the shots that you all are ogling at.

These three years in the industry have been very fruitful for Jim and with a very successful last year, with two of the highest grossing movies, Jim is climbing up the ladder of success. Web series too haven’t been left behind. With Smoke last year, and the highly acclaimed Made in Heaven in 2019, Jim is making a mark in the digital space too. In the latter half of 2019, we are going to see him a lot more, as promised by him. Is there anything that this man can’t do? Well, apparently none! So, after the shoot, we sat down for a tête-à-tête, and here’s what we could decode about the method behind his madness…

Your characters in movies have always had negative shades. Is it a conscious choice of roles or just a coincidence? Sigh! Don’t even ask!

What is that one difference between scripts of movies and plays?

There is no one particular difference. I haven’t read many recent plays, so I’m not up to date. The plays I really love are so exquisitely written that it is a pleasure to unlock the mysteries of the text and of the character I am to play. There are lines I may not immediately understand, that require exploration and playing about to unpack. There are lines that don’t make conscious sense but make perfect intuitive sense, once this intuitive understanding is unlocked. The theatrical tradition is older, and therefore has had more practice in crafting a play – the right amount of brevity, the right amount of verbosity, depending on the nature of the play or the character.

Scripts can also be all of these things. Sometimes, there is a fear with films about being more of a commercial beast than theatre, especially in India, of making sure everything is clear – that can take out the magic and mystery of certain moments – where safety is chosen over truth, or over wonder. But lately I have been lucky to act in very well written and quite funny film scripts, and I have thoroughly enjoyed them all.

How is acting and preparation different in theatre acts and movies?

Theatre has a 3-6 week rehearsal process. So you learn your lines as you explore, you have time to build a scene, you have time to reflect and add different elements to a scene that precedes the one you are currently working on, so that the current scene you are working on is shown in a different light. Usually a pretty good rule is that you should throw out your first few instinctive responses to a line or to a scene, and dig in for different interpretations. Sometimes you have to go back to your initial instinct, but often you find something in the 7th interpretation that somehow contains and is better than what you started with.

In films, you often have to do this work alone, or if you are lucky there will be workshops. You are called in to rehearse usually before the take, so camera angles can be set, but it is rare that this yields the same complexity of blocking and finessing of moments as theatre. But when it does, it is extremely rewarding, because each actor has come prepared with their own ideas, and when they mix with the director’s vision of which moments require beats, it can be such a wonderful rush. It's like acting in front of an audience without any rehearsal and somehow everything coming together perfectly, because the actors are in sync.

I personally like you more in Smoke than in Made in Heaven. What’s your opinion about the two shows?

Oh, that’s interesting. I think the character in Smoke is a bit free-er, is a bit more fun over all. Adil, on the other hand, is quite straight jacketed by his class, without realising it; in fact, while thinking, it’s what makes him free. The shows are so wildly different that it is hard to compare them.

Smoke is this languidly-paced, a lazy-Goa pace, thriller. I enjoyed my character – a stoner drug dealer that has his wits about him more than he lets on.

In Made in Heaven, the social commentary of the entire show is where the show shines – the juxtaposition between classes and ways of life, as well as the fact that our two main protagonists would not be the protagonists in most male directed shows. The fact that the creators and most of the directors are women, as well as Prashant, who is a very sensitive and self aware man, is why we were afforded both sides to the story, as opposed to an often simplistic one-sided view of relationships and interpersonal politics.

Why do you prefer it though? Well, I think I like thrillers more than linear movies or shows!

What kind of homework do you do to come out as convincing as each character that you play? I read the script a lot. It helps, trust me!

Playing a lover of an 80-year-old woman must have been tough in Jonaki. How was that experience?  It was really easy. She is, was and will always be a lovely lady, and I enjoyed getting to know her and the rest of the team through the process. I enjoyed being around her fearlessness, her indomitable spirit that was up for all the fairly intense things she had to do. I’ve played the lover to much more difficult people, in comparison.

Unrequited love or a perfect romance, what’s your kind of love?  Well, unrequited love is pretty painful, but a fairly standard fact of life. So, if it happens, you feel it, you suffer or you either win favour, or move on. Perfect romance? Hahahahaha.

Let’s go back to the very beginning. Take us through your first ever audition for a play.  My first professional audition was for a role in a play called Ice Glen. I had just graduated from college and an actor friend of mine, who lived next door, was auditioning for the same part, and suggested I do so too. I went along with him and managed to get the part. He didn’t suggest any more (haha).

Which is that one role you have regretted doing and why? Nah, I don’t really regret doing any. Hindsight is 20/20, but while it is happening, there are always powerful enough reasons to go ahead.

Robert or Natraj, which character is closer to your heart? I really enjoyed both. Robert is such a wonderful character – someone who really knows how to listen and see another person, to see them for what they are. Sometimes I think about dying is a very special project for me, because many of my mates from Emory got together to make this together, after many years apart. I really love the director, Stefanie Horowitz, and the team that she put together included some of my best friends of all time: Craig Newman, Isaac Fosl-van Wyke, Caitlin Reeves, Emma Yarbrough, Andrew Simon. So the entire project has a soft spot in my heart.

That said, Teen Aur Aadha was my first foray with Dar Gai and Zoya Hussain, who I got to work with again in the music video for Cold/Mess, and Hold Tight. Natraj was a pleasure to discover with this very talented actress and the extremely sensitive and clear director, Daria. While, working on this project, I also met Dheer Momaya and Sakshi Khanna, two wonderful men, who I hope to continue to collaborate with as we age together.

As a character building exercise, do you think web series give more depth to an actor as compared to movies? No, I do not think so! The depth is your job: be it a short film, a music video, a feature, or a web series. Perhaps it appears deeper to an audience because screen time often translates to depth – but this should be of no real concern to an actor. It can bum you out, to have less screen time, to be a less important character, but as far as depth goes, you should try your best to achieve it no matter the length of the format.

Tell us something about your two new series – House Arrest and Flip. Well, Flip is out on Eros Now. I am a part of the episode titled The Massage. Check it out. House Arrest is not a web series, and I have been forbidden from speaking about it, and rightly so.

Who has been the most fun co-actor to work with? And the most annoying? Hahaha buy me a drink first!

From meaningful movies, you are now working in Housefull 4, an out an out mindless comedy. What made you choose to work in the Housefull franchise? I am not anymore, but I see how you feel about it.

What other movies are we going to see you in 2019? Ideally a film called Beneath a Sea of Lights should release at some point. But no idea when or how! You can watch The Wedding Guest on Emirates, and Delta Airlines, I’ve been told.

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