Nominated at the 2023 International Emmy Awards in the Best Performance by an Actor category for his amazing performance in Rocket Boys, we chat with multifaceted actor Jim Sarbh about his foray into the world of performing arts, his creative inspirations, and the philosophies that guide him during the crests and
troughs of life.
By DEEPIKA NANDAL
My first audition was for a school play (when I was in the 12th grade). It was for an adaption of the film Shallow Grave by my theatre teacher, Clark Stroupe. Years later, my first professional audition was for a play called Ice Glen. My neighbour at the time told me about the audition, and we both prepared for the same role. Suffice to say, he didn’t take me to any other auditions!
The Path Taken
You know, the past has a way of seeming inevitable. I didn’t really decide on taking up acting as a career choice. First, I fell in love with stories! My nani (maternal grandmother) was an incredible storyteller. And then, I fell in love with television—anything and everything about it. I acted in school (in the annual plays) and looked forward to my drama classes. And it just continued like that. Through college, I acted in student productions. Then, I pursued higher education in Atlanta, USA. While acting in theatre productions at college there, I got a chance to work with professional actors and directors, and received an internship at a theatre in the city. After returning to India, I spent some time in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh. Out of the blue, I was cast in a show at a café there and landed up playing Jesus in a Christmas production! Later, amid the mountains, I had an epiphany. I wondered if there was anything I would regret in my life if I, let’s say, fell off the side of a cliff and bled to death. I realised I would regret not taking the path of being in and making movies. That was the final push for me!
I love all genres of films. Truly. I hope to act in absolutely all kinds of movies. I don’t know what affects your range as an actor, but if the script is beautifully and skilfully written, the comedy or the horror or the romance or the drama is innate. You’ve just got to play the moments truthfully. Ideally, the beats and the rhythm of the scene are written in, so you try to discover how your character would behave, and the rhythm can play through you. If the script—let’s say a comedy—is not as well written, you’ve got to find a funny rhythm for yourself within the scene. Sometimes, it’s obvious, and at other times, you play around to find it. It’s the tiny pauses—the sustained ones, the variation of the pitch, speed, and volume—that can be used to create comedic eff ect. I prepare for a role by running the scenes as much as I can. The script will tell you what your character is. As Pablo Picasso rightly said, “Donʼt seek, find.”
The Platter of Dreams
I didnʼt choose Neerja. I gladly accepted it. And I happily continued to accept what came my way post Neerja, as well! What makes me choose one project over another? Firstly, the script—the story has to be so wonderful that I want to be a part of telling it. Then, the character—the role must hold the potential to experience interesting emotions, discover motivations, and express interesting behaviours. This is followed by the director—do I want to work with him or her? And whatʼs the platform? Is it theatrical? OTT like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix? Festivals? International? All this seemed to come together when the team of Rocket Boys, Nikkhil Advani and Abhay Pannu, approached me with the part of Homi Bhabha. I was very pleased. There werenʼt that many Parsi actors my age floating about at the time! And it was such a unique, challenging role. It was also great fun to be back on the set of Made in Heaven, laughing and joking with the team. They are a good mix of talented and down-to-earth people—the whole cast and crew.
Pearls of Wisdom
During my younger years, I was greatly inspired by Jim Carey. Iʼve also been influenced by Naseeruddin Shah, who once said that actors should choose characters based on the characterʼs own conflict throughout the fi lm. Some characters exist only to add complication or conflict for other characters, whereas others have their own personal journey. I keep this in mind when picking up roles. However, I donʼt have a favourite role of my own as I believe that comparison is the root of misery.
My Creative World
Art is a slippery eel. On one hand, it can be pretentious, and on another, transformative. It can be highbrow, lowbrow, or somewhere in between. It can be ridiculous and surprising and inevitable. It doesnʼt answer, it asks. Sometimes you donʼt feel very artsy, you feel mechanical, and thatʼs all right. I keep one foot ahead at a time, especially when navigating a creatively low phase in life. Creativity, like love, comes and goes as it pleases. But you can keep the house clean to invite it back in.
I do like to travel. I prefer visiting one place for a while and donʼt like whirlwind tours. The sights donʼt concern me too much, but Iʼd rather get to know one little area well. I like to sit outside and eat, watching people walk by. Or maybe Iʼll take a stroll through the parks, use public transport, and get a feel of the local rhythms. Iʼm an outdoorsy person and love going on hikes, sitting by the pool, and swimming in lakes and rivers. Apart from this, I enjoy watching a sport in an arena and a local stand-up show. I get a thrill from exploring places when itʼs dark
and late, too!
A film named Pune Highway is in post-production. I hope to direct a play soon. The last play I directed was Bull by Mike Bartlett, quite a while ago now (maybe nine years or so). I hope to direct movies, as well. One day.
QUICK SHOTS WITH JIM
Tanzania, Granada, Dharamkot, Rishikesh, Hampi, Coorg, and Sri Lanka.
A good book or OTT binge-watch?
Both! Neuromancer by William Gibson and Kohrra on Netfl ix.
Mountains or beaches?
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Creativity to you is…
Natural and innate.
Words that best describe Jim.
Everyone else is taken.
Three ʻmost-liked’ artists on your playlist.
The Meters, Madlib, and Donovan.
Your go-to Parsi dish.
Dhansak (meat and lentil dish). My favourite Parsi food comes from my house or from Godiwala Catering. If they’re doing a Parsi wedding or a Navroze (New Year celebration), I don’t want to miss that!