“ANYBODY WHO WOULD PASS UP THIS ROLE, WOULD HAVE BEEN AN Idiot!”
An interview with the powerhouse performer JIM SARBH was just not an interview, it was an experience. Apart from giving a terrific performance on screen, he made sure that his interview too was a thriller. In fact, a complete cliff-hanger, the man who played Malik Kafur, the lover of the bisexual Alauddin Khilji to perfection, in his delightful accent went from being jovial to sounding exasperatedly irritated real quick. Nevertheless it was both fun and challenging. Read on, as the actor engagingly talks about his latest film Padmaavat, his ecstatic journey in Bollywood so far and more... You have had a great career in theatre, what made you shift to movies?
Who said? I was auditioning for films the whole time I was doing theatre. People always like to structure these two things as separate. The usual binary binary conversation. Why?
After making a remarkable debut in Neerja, how is your career shaping up so far?
It is going pretty well, I think.
Raabta was a dud at the Box office, did that kind of demotivate you?
No it didn’t demotivate me, I think it makes you just more wary of which film you should choose and how you should make your choices. Although looking back on the events: given that Neerja was the only film that I had acted in, at that point of time I took a gamble on a big commercial film that was all set to have a huge platform. I feel the hindsight is always 20-20, you can look back and see what may have happened to result in Raabta’s failure, and that might be painful, but you can’t stop yourself from moving forward.
How did Padmaavat happen?
I auditioned: the story goes that Ranveer Singh suggested me for the part, and then Shruti Mahajan contacted me and sent me the audition piece while I was in Las Vegas for a play called What is Done is Done directed by Rajat Kapoor. After I got this audition sides, I looked up who these people were and made sure I understood the audition completely and then I just did it. Friends helped me, somebody shot it and another friend played Alauddin Khilji, the audition scene was my introduction scene in Padmaavat. I then sent the clip to Shruti at about 2:20 am in Las Vegas, it must have been around 12 or 2 pm in Bombay and in 20 minutes, I got a response saying, ‘Congratulations. I just showed it to sir, you are locked for the part’.
Your thoughts on portraying Malik Kafur?
Malik Kafur is a mischievous character; he is kind of like that fool in the Shakespearean sense who cavorts with kings and courtiers, without taking their world all too seriously. He doesn’t have a personal agenda in the same way as other people do, he is confident in his place
and his love, and so he can be outspoken and he can say what he wants to say anyway, even if it means getting slapped, no big deal. I don’t think that he cares so much about this world and these hypocritcal people. That said, I also think Malik Kafur has a ledger in his head of the mistreatments upon him. He remembers everything.
Your performance as Malik Kafur is being heavily praised by the audience, how do you feel?
How is Ranveer Singh as a costar?
Ranveer is a wonderful co-actor. I think he is lovely, he is a cool guy. If the shoot was delayed, we would relax and chat waiting for our shot. Ranveer is full of energy, he always comes up with ideas or new and interesting ways to express a scene, that may not be the most obvious choice, that he then carries. He is very reactive, so I never feel like I am performing in one room and he is performing in another room, and the editor will stitch together the story. I felt like everything was dependent on each other, his performance is complimenting mine, and vice versa.
Tell us your experience of working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali…
I really like him, I feel very glad that I have been able to work with him because I learnt so many things. First of all the things that I learnt are the basics that every film actor should know, be it framing, magnification, adaptation and basically how to act in front of the camera. Because he demands that kind of precision and in addition to that, he is a kind of director wherein if he gets the idea that you can do it, he won’t be satisfied until he gets the best out of you and I really appreciate that. I like it when the person is on my side and is always trying to push me to do better than I try to do and so I always try to come up with more. I think we arrived on the same page about the character, midway through the first schedule: he had his own ideas
After sending my audition tape, within 20 minutes, I got a response saying, ‘Congratulations. I just showed it to sir, you are locked for the part’.
about how my character should be and I was coming out with my own ideas about it and at some point we kind of hit the sweet spot of irreverence and wicked mischief: we understood each others’ ideas, and incorporated them into our own.
Was there any clash of ideas or opinions between you and Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
Not exactly a clash, sometimes I might want to try something and Sir would have a different idea regarding, how a particular scene should go in terms of the overall structure. I tried to squeeze in my suggestions anyway, sometimes he would accept it and sometimes, he would say ‘no’ take it out and I had to trust the director. So many times when he would suggest something that I never thought of, it was really interesting. For instance, I had some ideas of running in that scene where it’s me, Alauddin and Mehrunisa but Sanjay Sir suggested that I should also get up and start braiding Alauddin’s hair so that Mehru and I are looking at each other over Alauddin’s head. So that kind of thing is what Sir suggested and I was like, oh yeah! That’s a great idea, I can do that. We had a lot of fun crafting this character.
What is your take on the controversy that embroiled Padmavati to become Padmaavat?
Less said, the better. Why give something importance that doesn’t deserve importance?
According to the audience, Khilji would have been incomplete without Kafur in the film and vice-versa. Your thoughts on that?
What is your thought about that? Because for me, it’s the audience interpretation that matters. And it’s overwhelming. I feel like for me it comes down to a simple truth: if you want to look at Alauddin Khilji as a man and not as a monster or that larger than life image he portrays for the rest of the world, see him through Malik Kafur’s eyes.
Kafur is someone shown as extremely sarcastic, outspoken and mischeivious, are you similar in real life? No, I’m very sincere, soft spoken, and shy.
You play a bi-sexual in Padmaavat, what made you take up the role? I don’t know about taboos, I don’t know about the film industry or any of these things. It was a cool role, I took it. Anybody who would pass up this role, would have been an idiot.
What kind of preparations did you go through for this role? Nothing really, just learned my lines.
In terms of body language or accent? Oh yes sorry, definitely… lots of Urdu classes and accent training. And a lot of physical exercise to get my body looking lean, alive and warrior like. Kafur is not a huge warrior like Alauddin Khilji is, he is a different kind of warrior, someone who is graceful and efficient. But as it was shown
I really like Sanjay Sir, I feel very glad that I have been able to work with him because I learnt so many things.”
that in the climax where Ratan Singh is charging towards Khilji, Kafur asks Alauddin whether he should go instead because he is that confident as a fighter. Once the sword is out, he is ready to kill or be killed, he’s deadly; for that it required me to be physically prepared. For the Urdu accent, a lady named Muneera Surati helped me and Sarfaraaz ji helped me with my Afghani accent. In reality, Kafur was actually a Gujarati slave but for the purpose of this film and to simplify it so that people don’t get confused, I was presented as an Afghani slave brought specially as a nayyaab gift.
Ranveer said he was so affected by the character of Khilji that he had to consult a psychiatrist; did you also go through a similar situation?
No, nothing like that. For me it was more like, Kafur doesn’t take people or this world seriously. He is loyal and has been given as a slave to somebody and his work ends there. Ranveer probably has to consult a psychiatrist for all sorts of reasons (Laughs).
Was there any kind of awkwardness while shooting for any scene?
No, there was not.
Did you ever think that you will be able to pull off such an unusual role like this, with so much of ease?
Ya, why not? I don’t like your use of the word ‘unusual,’ so I’m not going to answer this question
properly. And you know why. It’s not unusual. It’s a perfectly normal role.
Have you ever been hit on by the same sex?
That’s my personal life and has nothing to do with you.
Is playing the antagonist, your top-most preference in films?
No, and once again it’s because of the questions like these I am stereotyped as the villain. It’s like you are asking me about being stereotyped, while stereotyping me. I wonder. How many times will I have to say this? Will anyone ever understand?
Who are the directors with whom you would want to work with in the near future?
I would want to work with lots of directors. Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Hansal Mehta, Zoya Akhtar, Nitya Mehra and some more new upcoming directors, I want to work with everyone.
Lastly, any message for your STARDUST readers?
Ya. Hey, thank you for everything. Lots of love!
Ranveer is full of energy, he always comes up with ideas or new and interesting ways to express a scene.”
...A still from Padmaavat
...A still from Neerja