Like most characters that he has played onscreen, Jim Sarbh has an edge to his persona. During a telephonic interview with in.com, one recalled the apt description by Ram Madhvani, Jim’s first director on film for Neerja - a powerful and raw act that earned him accolades and Bollywood film awards, Sarbh has an intensity that is best absorbed in bringing a character to life. A prominent and powerful actor on the Mumbai theatre scene, he has made a dent on film with his unusual screen presence in a short span of time. His best performance till date is as Adil Khanna, a rich industrialist in Zoya Akhtar’s web series Made In Heaven. “When I first read the script, the character (Adil Khanna) just a cheating husband. I also found it interesting; that the two most important roles is that of a woman and the second is that of a gay man. So I found that very exciting right off the bat. As I kept reading the script, I was wondering what I could do to complicate the issue. The more I read about Tara, the more I was falling in love with her character and her struggle. So I started to believe that Adil really does love Tara. He is just conditioned to be entitled and to get what he wants. What he doesn’t realize is that because they started off in a position of power, as her boss, he carries that baggage with him. She is always making my breakfast, handing over his toast. Therefore, the story is about a guy who is in love with both,” he explains.
Sarbh also delivered a diametrically different performance in the blockbuster Padmaavat, as Mallik Kafur, a diabolical slave to Ranveer Singh’s crazy-kool-cruel Alauddin Khilji. Auteur Sanjay Leela Bhansali has created memorable scenes on film in recent memory between these two. Recalling this film with one of most infamously temperamental filmmakers we have, Sarbh says, “I enjoyed working with him a lot. He is demanding and exacting but I like that. I like 45 takes rather than first take, and approval from the director. With such work, you get a chance to really go for it and crack the beat of a scene. When actors say that lets just go with the flow, I think that’s rubbish. It never happens like that. There’s a beat to the scene. It’s important to get the beat first by say, the tenth take. Then you go off tempo however you want. “
Less noticed, Sarbh has delivered a winsome performance in Flip, a web series by Bejoy Nambiar that aims for a high concept but doesn’t quite get there. But Sarbh’s part, as a regular Parsi guy (he is of Parsi lineage) and then a paraplegic bound to a wheelchair, stands out. He describes his work in Flip as a team effort.
“I watched 'The Real Sleeping Beauty,' which is a documentary out on a lady named Sarah Scantlin, who is the only documented person to come out of a coma after 20 years. Of course, Bejoy and I took certain liberties with the range of motion and the speech impediment to allow for the narrative to be clearly understood and furthered. I just tried my best to apply limitations and stick to performing within those limitations. Apart from that, I showed up extremely under-slept the first day where I had to be more or less comatose but conscious: I was just at the mercy of my caretaker,” he remembers.
In his ability to navigate theatre, film and web series efficiently, Sarbh is amongst the new crop of Indian actors that stands out for its acting talent beyond the trappings of stardom. Quiz him on adaptability across mediums and his response is that of a true performer who loves to improvise and add value to a part. “It just depends from production to production. There are films, which really allow you to develop the character, and there are web series where you just have to do what is written, even though there is way more screen time. It totally depends on people who are involved with a project. I just love acting. I try to bring in as much detailing to a character that I play irrespective of the medium,” he concludes.
Laughing over the uncertainty that actors have to live with Sarbh speaks about his current and upcoming projects. He has worked with acclaimed British director Michael Winterbottom in The Wedding Guest, a film with Dev Patel. It released across the USA but in Sarbh’s words, “I haven’t heard a peep. Not one person has said, ‘hey saw you in the film’. I wonder if I am even in it!” He has also worked in Beneath the Sea of Lights with Neel Kumar, an international film that is yet to release and a well-reviewed Web series on Amazon Prime Video USA called The Bakers Dozen. Apart from that, there’s a new film for Netflix as well. Sarbh’s hands are full, and the roles are as varied as they come. Edginess aside, here’s an actor with a genuine ability to surprise with each new act.