“I’ve Never Believed In the Idea of a Typical Bollywood Hero”
Known for his rivetting work (as also for his striking good looks and coruscating wit!), Jim Sarbh is in no mood to slow down. At his candid best, our digital coverstar opens up about performing across mediums, living life as a workaholic, why he’s feeling a bit “needy” these days, and how he’s a secret romantic!
Creative Direction: Zunaili Malik; Photographs: Sahil Behal
Cosmo: You started out as a literary intern, who then began acting in plays, films, and webseries. Tell us about the journey...
Jim Sarbh: “I was studying psychology in the US, and needed a proof of employment to get an Optional Practical Training visa extension. I had been lazy about finding employment. The artistic director of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Susan Booth, was an associate professor at my university. When she found out that I was going to have to leave, she said, ‘I’ll hire him’. I went in for an interview with the heads of department, and they needed help in the literary team. So, I became the literary intern. The same year, however, I got to act in one of their productions, Tennis in Nablus. And bang out of college, over the summer, I performed in another play, Ice Glen, and, luckily, got cast in a couple more. But then, as is the case with many kids fresh out of college, I had that strange restless hunger to want to know things. I wanted to know more about myself, about life, spirituality, the likes. So I came back to Mumbai.
Cosmo: What was that like?
JS: “First, I went off to Munger in Bihar to live in an ashram. I was at the Bihar School of Yoga for five months. It was a different phase of life. I quite enjoyed being completely cut off from everything—no phones, no internet, a kind of a voluntary jail. After a quick check in with my family, I took off soon again to wander in the Himalayas—practised Vipassana, hiked to Gaumukh from Rishikesh, Dharamkot, etc. At some point, wandering around became quite easy, and so I wondered if I were lying somewhere, broken legs, dying slowly, would I regret anything?. I came to understand that I would regret not being along the path of making films, or acting in them. So I decided to get back to it. As luck would have it, I met someone in Dharamkot, who offered me a part in a play. It was going to be performed in Goa, Delhi, and Mumbai. So, eventually, I wound up back in Mumbai. Then, I started working in theatre here, was offered Neerja about four years later, and post Neerja, I got the opportunity to work in more films, and a couple web series.
Cosmo: Which of the three mediums do you enjoy the most?
JS: “I like all of them, for different reason—theatre for rehearsals and the in-depth dive into finding a performance that is true and surprising, and the live feedback of the audience; films because they have been my oldest love, and I’ve always dreamt of acting in the medium; and for me, web series are just an extension of films…a long novel, which allows for different forms of storytelling, and if you are lucky enough to play an important character, more time—since a film/web series is essentially the manipulation of time and perspective—to reveal different aspects of your character. Since you are playing with more time, you can delve deeper into the details, introduce many more characters with parallel/intersecting tracks, and the stories can have wonderful new shapes.”
Cosmo: You are now an established, well-known name. But did you have a plan B should this not work out?
JS: “No. There was no alternative.You know, I’ve been enamored by television since I was a kid. I could watch anything and everything! When I was really young, my mum would sit me in front of the TV and put on a programme for me to watch so she could go do some work. She’d come back into the room and find me still glued to the TV, watching news or the weather forecast, long after the show was over. I’d be sitting there with my mouth and eyes agape, just taking it all in! And she’d be like, ‘what are you even watching?’.”
Cosmo. And what are the highs and lows that you’ve had to face an as actor?
JS: “I am a hungry actor, and so many projects have been so memorable, but I’d always want more! So there will always be its ups and downs. Also, when I joined films, I was already playing the lead in theatre. But no-one knew me here. I was aware that I had to slowly build that up. I wasn’t from the film industry—I didn’t know anyone here, didn’t know how to go about it, who to meet. So I needed to patiently put in my time, which is what I am doing—I knew I had to stay put and keep trying for about 4-5 years before I’d start to see any dividends.”
Cosmo. You have always been conspicuous for your look...did not looking like a typical Bollywood 'hero' ever create issues?
JS: “The best thing with me was that I never believed in the idea of a typical Bollywood hero. For me, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ have never been drawn so explicitly. That was never the purpose to do this—the real purpose was to be able to act in all sorts of roles! And things are changing drastically now—there is going to be a place for all types of actors. Also, sometimes people can’t imagine something until they see it, and when they see it, suddenly it’s like it always existed. Like, after I did the music video for Prateek Kuhad, Cold/Mess, the feedback was so different. Even afterMade In Heaven. People were like, ‘Oh you aren’t terrifying’, because the roles I had done earlier, like Khalil in Neerja or Malik Kafur in Padmaavat, had made people’s skin crawl!”
Cosmo: And what is Jim Sarbh like in real life?
JS: “A workaholic! So if I’m not busy for too long, I make myself busy. Like these days, I’m taking singing lessons, working on my Hindi, learning to play the violin (which is actually for a secret project), working out... I want to make a series of short animated films, so I’m also researching for those. I also want to start a chat show for the behind-the-scene crew—DOPs, editors, music composers etc— involved in making a film what it is.”
Cosmo: You seem to be working round the clock...
JS: “You know, until sometime ago, I put my career before everything else—it was the only important thing in my life and I wanted to only focus only on it. But I’m turning into a different being now—I think I’m more needy now. So I want to keep working of course—want to keep getting better and better at it and keep getting more interesting and complicated roles—but I also want a girlfriend, I want deeper connections with friends, want to spend more time with myself…”
Cosmo: And how do you unwind?
JS: “Before the pandemic, I used to play football, or go out for a drink with some friends. I like watching movies, practicing yoga, reading. These days I’m busy taking care of Mimi [his pet cat]…spending time with her and showing her some love! I’ve also virtually reconnected with some old friends from college. So yeah, I’ve been enjoying the lockdown...falling in love…”
Cosmo: You want a girlfriend…and you’re falling in love. Is there someone...
JS: “(Laughs) I’m not telling you. But I’m fully in love!”
Cosmo: Are you a romantic?
JS: “To the core! I’m not into big gestures—like I probably won’t sing to you from the bleachers of the football stadium—but the little things. You know, the kinds of things that actually count…just the romance you can seep into the everyday things, the way you look at someone, the way you express your admiration, the way you touch if you’re doing separate things side by side. To me, the extravagant things only exist for that moment, if you can’t keep the romance alive post the extravagance, what does it matter?!”
Cosmo: And what is a deal-breaker in a potential partner?
JS: “I don’t like liars! We can’t be together if you mislead me, or withhold the truth! Also, if I feel like you can’t include me in your life, or that the affection is not equal. But when you get to know a person, there are so many things that get you attracted to them, or not…like if they have a sense of humour, or if can lighten up and not take themselves too seriously, if they can relax and enjoy
life...all of these things become important.”
Cosmo: What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?
JS: “I think because of the kind of characters I play on-screen, people assume that I’m also this intense person, who doesn’t say an extra word, and that I’ll bite their heads off (laughs). Though, honestly, I can be like that…because you can’t play something that you’re not at least a little bit like.”
Cosmo: Either that, or you’re a really good actor and get into the skin of your characters...
JS: “Then I think I’m just moody. If there are days when I’m not feeling so good, I don’t pretend otherwise. I won’t be like ‘Hahah, hello! Life is great!’. I’ll just be like, “Hi, what’s up? It’s not about you, I’m just irritable today, sorry!’. But I can probably work harder to make it clear that the mood has nothing to do with the person I’m interacting with, and I can hope people understand. Also, in the beginning, I definitely was quite nervous. I was new, in this complicated industry that has its own rules that you can only learn by being here. So, I was trying to figure things on my own. I didn’t know how to be, so I preferred just to be blank. It was easier than making any mistakes. But soon I realised that even if you’re blank you end up making many mistakes. For one, everyone thinks your standoff-ish! I’ve had time to learn, so I hope to be more of my genuine self in these public situations.”
Cosmo: Looking back at your life, is there anything that you would’ve liked to do differently?
JS: “Not really. I mean, it all comes together to make who you are! If I take something out, who knows how I would have ended up. Possibly better, but also possibly worse.”