Jim Sarbh knows how to get into the skin of a character. Whether it’s Aadil in Made in Heaven, Malik Kafur in Padmavaat, or journalist Hamid Fezi in Gangubai Kathiawadi–Sarbh has repeatedly demonstrated his range and has exhilaratingly helped demolish regressive ideas about who gets to be a film star.
Next up for the gifted actor is a short film with director Tigmanshu Dhulia and an interview show called Crew Cut. At the recently concluded Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, Sarbh vowed audiences with two short films and spoke about the thrill of being nominated for the best actor at the International Emmy Awards for his role as Dr Homi Jahangir Bhabha in Rocket Boys.
1.Congratulations on your first International Emmy Awards nomination in the Best Performance by an Actor category for Rocket Boys Season 2. What are you looking forward to?
Winning the Emmy of course! I am also excited to be in New York and meeting my fellow nominees–Shefali Shah and Vir Das. Ram Madhvani, whose show Aarya was nominated earlier ,has been saying wonderful things about his experience of going there and think it will be amazing.
2. What would wining mean to you?
Winning is recognition and I love to be recognised. It also means that our country is now producing the kind of work that gets an international stage which is a testament to the extremely hard working crew and team behind Rocket Boys. It’s also a testament that there are so many wonderful and true stories from India which can be explored in this format.
3. You have played diverse characters—from a drug peddler to a terrorist and a genius scientist. What is it about a character that makes you commit to it?
It’s usually the writing and the team behind the project. I am still really old-fashioned and prefer to sign a film only after I have read the final script, and so that’s always the biggest factor for me. And then the second factor is the director and the producer. If it’s somebody that I am dying to work with or if it’s a production house that I know really champions the films, then I want to work with them.
4. What’s the most exciting part of being an actor?
It’s the prep. I love projects where I get the script in advance and the director is really interested in prep. I love to work with directors that love the prep, love to rehearse and sit with me to thrash a scene out. That’s my favourite part because I come from a theatrical background, and in theatre, rehearsal is everything. You hit notes in a rehearsal that you may never hit on stage. Whereas sometimes you hit things on stage that you can’t in rehearsal because the audience is feeding you and giving you energy. I also love the trial and error process, and coming up with new ideas and different approaches to the scene. I love nailing the timing down. I personally prefer this way of working.
5. Talking of theatre, will we be seeing you in one anytime soon?
I love theatre. But since film dates keep changing, it’s very hard to then lock down and set aside a time for theatrical rehearsals. But two plays that I am really looking forward to potentially doing next year is King Lear and Amadeus. They are phenomenal texts.
6. You have played some serious characters so far. How about a comedy?
I would love to do comedy. I think it’s the most exciting, especially if you play it really seriously. That's the trick! You should approach a tragedy like a comedy and try to find the levity because it’s going to be sad anyway. Whereas you should approach comedy like a drama, really serious, like the character does not know that they are funny. I haven’t been offered a script like that so far in the Hindi film industry, but I really hope that I get one.
7. Are there any aspects of being an actor that you absolutely dislike?
Like any job, there are days when work is drudgery and some days it’s the magic of telling a story. It just depends on the day. Some days you are just there in the background of some other shot. And then there are days when you don’t want to wake up at four in the morning and go and sit for two hours in prosthetics, wearing a fat suit, and sweating through it the whole day.
The other thing is the need to socialise to get work sometimes. It does help when you are seen at certain places. Out of sight and out of mind is true. Of course there are some actors who are always in people’s minds. I feel it’s important to have work and personal life balance. I really like my privacy. I like to be able to walk down the street or take a train if I wish to. Keanu Reeves can do it in the States and everyone will be like ‘he’s so humble’! But it’s not the same here. You are called rude if you are just trying to walk down the street thinking about something and don’t feel like talking to other people. One thing that comes with fame is that you have to be open to interacting at a time that you may not be interested.
8. Your character in Made in Heaven 2 has been widely appreciated. Do you think the audience is now warming up to imperfect characters on screen?
Imperfect characters are now being represented more, and when they are represented more they will naturally strike a chord with the audience. The audience experiences imperfect people around them constantly. Nobody in your life is perfect. Nobody! There’s a context to everything. Almost everyone we meet is a hypocrite. It’s just the very nature of life. Contradictions exists; so the older ideas of a hero, heroine, and villain are slowly being dissolved because we just understand that things are more complicated and our life experiences prove that.
9. In your 20s you stayed in an ashram for five months without your phone or the Internet. Was that a one-off thing?
I do want to go back just for a break from everything that’s happening around. Just to be able to go inwards again. Being in the movies is a business of outwardness, and interiority is a really prized and wonderful possession. The biggest learning from my ashram days is that it doesn’t matter how you feel, you can do everything. Just dive in and do your best.
10. What next for you?
I am shooting a short film with Tigmanshu Dhulia. Priya Mani also stars in it. I am very excited to work with her. I think she’s very talented. I am also doing an interview show called Crew Cut where we are flipping the narrative and getting actors to interview crew members. It should be out in December and I am really looking forward to it.