“In real life, I’m a really, really good guy” Neerja villain Jim Sarbh goes into confession mode
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“In real life, I’m a really, really good guy” Neerja villain Jim Sarbh goes into confession mode

The actor describes the ordeal of playing a terrorist

brunch Updated: Oct 23, 2017 12:42 IST
Samreen Tungekar
Samreen Tungekar
Hindustan Times
jim sarbh,khalil,neerja
Actor Jim Sarbh played terrorist Khalil in Neerja.(Ashish Shah)

He came, he strangled, he terrorised… He is the guy who you hated while you sobbed over Neerja’s ordeal on screen when terrorists, especially Khalil, hijacked her first flight as a head purser. There were three terrorists, holding the plane hostage, but Khalil was the worst. He was played by Jim Sarbh, an actor who is not keen on being stereotyped as ‘the bad guy’.

About a boy

Jim has been seen in A Death In The Gunj (2016) and Raabta (2017) after Neerja. (ERRIKOS ANDREOU)

He has done Death In The Gunj (2016) and Raabta (2017) after Neerja, and he will be soon seen in Padmavati playing the lover of Ranveer Singh. But I’m still talking about Neerja, the film that made us sit up and take notice of him. Jim thinks the focus should be on an actor and not on the role so much.

Having studied at the American School of Bombay and then living in Australia for a couple of years, Jim didn’t know Hindi too well. Yet, there he was in the shoot for Neerja, having to speak broken Hindi and then learning Arabic. “We had an Arabic coach and for about a month and a half, we went over Arabic, learnt it, literally had exams,” he says. “The best part about learning Arabic was that before the film started, I knew the entire film, dialogue by dialogue. Just like a play. It was beautiful.”

Basic weapons training formed another aspect of the learning he required to get into his character; for one thing, his role needed him to be able to brandish a gun at Neerja. “But we weren’t supposed to be well-trained with weapons; after all we screwed it up at the end!” he laughs.

The exhaustion of being bad

The hijack sequence of the film was shot for 13 days straight. “My life was go home, sleep, come to set, be Khalil. I made it a point to be in character the whole time,” says Jim. “I would do the scene, walk off quietly, and not talk to anyone till the next scene. It was tiring to be that guy. I’m really a nice guy!”

To pull into and out of a scene, Jim had to ensure he kept his distance from his fellow actors. “It’s harder to scream at someone you just chatted with at lunch,” he says. “I mean, if you’re a superb actor you might be able to do that, but I couldn’t do it. So I just kept to myself, and that was a good way to continue being in character.”

He kept his distance from people beyond the set too, not that he had much time to socialise. “I did not hang out with anyone, socialise, did not meet anyone, or talk to people,” says Jim. “My character had to be unforgiving, serious and just really intense. So I thought it was best to not let myself out of that zone at all.”

Was that difficult? “Not really. I appreciate being known as ‘best character’ rather than as the ‘best bad guy’,” he says.

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From HT Brunch, October 22, 2017

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First Published: Oct 21, 2017 22:53 IST