‘I was a version of Alauddin’

Neerja Raabta Padmaavat

By Bharati K. Dubey
  • Published 13.02.18



Found anything common? 

Yes. Jim Sarbh. As Malik Kafur in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, his chemistry with Ranveer Singh as Alauddin Khilji is more talked about than the one between Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor. Considering Sarbh has starred mostly in period dramas, he wonders: “What’s up with my face?” The actor speaks to The Woods on playing Kafur and sharing the screen with Ranveer and Deepika.

The Woods: You chose to go into isolation while shooting for Neerja. How did you prep up for Malik Kafur?

Jim Sarbh: Just learnt my lines, really. I used the dialect coaching to keep developing ideas of how to play the scenes. I think the film truly undervalues rehearsal. I also worked out hard to try and have a lithe, warrior body.

You had mentioned that the character of a hijacker you played in Neerja made you angry. How did Malik Kafur affect the real life Jim?

It did to a certain extent, but this shooting schedule went on for so long that it wasn’t something that you could allow yourself to be affected by it for that long. Malik is a good mix of the sultry and vain, and ambitious and dangerous — all of which I can turn the volume down on, redirect, and still reap the benefits of those qualities in my actual life. An interesting life could always use a little seduction, confidence, ambition, and danger.

Why do you always play mean characters like Zakir Merchant (in Raabta) and Malik Kafur? When will we get to see the nice guy in Jim Sarbh?

Ask Bollywood. Or go watch some plays I’m in, I guess!

You seem to be a favourite actor for period films. Is it your face that makes directors sign you up for such films? 

I really couldn’t say. Why, what’s up with my face?

Critics to audience, everyone is discussing the Khilji-Kafur chemistry in Padmaavat...

That’s nice. Yes, the relationship, as written, was already fascinating and layered. I think our chemistry together as co-actors helped to bring their dynamics to life, add dimension and mischief whenever we could. Their chemistry is interesting because they are interesting as individuals. I felt my character could easily understand Alauddin’s principles, because I was a version of him, just born in very different circumstances. Kafur was also not bound by the same morals and scruples as the people around them. A good pair of sociopaths. Kafur knows what he is doing, being Alauddin’s right hand (in more ways than one). Besides, that is possibly the best life Kafur could ever have.  

Ranveer said in an interview that working with Jim Sarbh has enhanced and enriched his performance as Khilji. What do you have to say about him as an actor?

Ranveer is an incredible co-actor. He is always coming to the scene with ideas, with new ways of expression, with real spirit and vigour to try to achieve everything Sanjay sir would throw at us. He is improvisational and extremely reactive — that is all you can hope for, someone ready to run with your impulse without dulling theirs. 

There are two kinds of directors. One who gives you a brief and lets you play your part and the other who wants you to do it in a particular way. Where does Bhansali fit in?

He is a bit of both. Sanjay sir would curb my more radical ideas, and continue to strive for grace, efficiency and precision in the scene. I feel that we understood each other and the character we were both trying to bring to life, and then the entire experience became so much fun to shoot. He encouraged and appreciated my weirdness. I enjoyed him letting me indulge in the character’s wicked narcissism and curiosity.