• Saturday, July 02, 2022


Rocket Boys star Jim Sarbh: I like to play characters I don’t get to be in my regular life

Jim Sarbh (Photo credit: SonyLIV/Instagram)

By: Mohnish Singh

Jim Sarbh, who shot to fame after playing the antagonist in Ram Madhvani’s critically and commercially successful film Neerja (2016), plays the role of Homi Jehangir Bhabha, in SonyLIV’s latest streaming show, Rocket Boys.

The eight-episode series traces the lives and times of Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, progenitors of India’s nuclear and space programmes respectively.

Eastern Eye caught up with Sarbh to know more about how he onboarded the project, how familiar he was with Bhabha before he got to play him on screen, his working experience with co-star Ishwak Singh, and much more. Read on…

The trailer for Rocket Boys garnered a rousing response from the audience. How important is it to you as an actor?

Well, yeah, that’s obviously great. You know, the trailer’s job is to get people to watch the actual show. So, I hope that the response to the trailer means that all those people do find a way to watch that show because we put in so much hard work and love, and I don’t say that lightly. I know that in promotions you are supposed to say that and everyone’s supposed to be like, “You know, I really did so much work for this. I really put my heart and soul into it. ” But in this particular case, it’s honestly true. We worked really, really hard. I mean, I barely worked seventy days in the last year on it, but it feels like the entire year was Rocket Boys because you were prepping and planning and your work-shopping the scenes and you were learning your lines. And all of it has to just slip out of you like this knowledge is in the back of your hand, you know, because Homi Baba had such a penetrating intellect, had such a great amount of information at his fingertips because his interests were so varied. He was just a brilliant guy. I mean, he knew his Indian art and literature as well as his western art and literature. He knew how to play the violin and the piano, and he could paint and write books on culture. He wrote them. He wrote about his ideas of how culture is appropriated, what makes culture, what are the tenets of culture, and what are the pillars of culture. What a brilliant guy! What an incredible opportunity to play him.

What was your first reaction when the makers approached you to play Bhabha? Were you excited or nervous?

I was very excited, not necessarily nervous, but very excited because I believe that worrying about a character’s legacy and greatness can potentially straitjacket you and make you feel basically like, “Oh, you are constantly worrying about how to play the character, like would a great man do this? Would a great man do that? I think that can sometimes result in a boring, one-dimensional cardboard character, whereas the approach that our director and writer, Abhay Pannu, took to this project was very much trying to break the myth of the idea of the scientist as a great man or as a person who acts in only some ways. The more I read about him, the more I realised that people described him as a complete man, a person who, apart from his interests in science, was interested in so many things. Art, politics, human relations, culture, and also just living life, you know, having a good life, having a memorable and brilliant life. We always try to forget about his legacy and instead try to play a guy that is young and figuring things out and searching for the answer, and you know, more human, humanising these great men.


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A post shared by Jim Sarbh (@jimsarbhforreal)

How familiar were you with Homi Jehangir Bhabha before you got to play him on screen?

Not that familiar with him. I knew, of course, about his family and their contributions to both science and art and culture in Mumbai. I read about him a bit in school, of course. But he was a very untouchable sort of figure. That’s the issue with legends sometimes because they feel like, “Oh, they are in their own league; you can’t even consider them.” But after learning more about his life, he is truly an inspiring person. The way he allowed his vision of a new India to become a reality at a time when resources were so limited. I mean, just coming out of colonial rule in the modern sense of a country, it was a new country, just born. Of course, not in the oldest sense of the country. In the oldest sense of the country, India is an incredibly old country. But in modern ideology, it was a newly birthed country and he could have settled down anywhere. In other countries, where resources and technology were more advanced at that time, neither of these men chose to do that because they wanted to be here. They wanted to improve not just the facilities and technology but also inspire new minds, to take on the same burden and to continue to move this vision into the future, and that’s just incredible. How do you plan so much in advance in your mind and then actually do it? I find that just incredible. If you ask me, where do I see myself in five years? I don’t know, whereas these guys had five-year, ten-year, and twenty-year plans. And they really did the hard work, the perseverance to achieve it. Their drive, their ambition, and their desire to give back for the greater good are just incredible. Even the Jehangir Bhabha estate, in their last move, auctioned off all of the contents of their house and gave it to the NCPA. Even in their last move, they were doing philanthropy. They are helping the world move forward. Incredible people, incredible families. Modern-day wealthy people are only concerned with increasing their wealth. Both of these men were privileged men. They were born with disposable wealth, but the way that they used it, they haven’t squandered it. They have acted more like caretakers of it in order to pass it on to future generations, and I think that’s brilliant. A truly inspiring man!

I read somewhere that you own a study table that Bhabha owned once. What’s the story behind that?

Yeah, everyone loves this story. I am gonna talk about this story for years now. So when Jehangir Baba auctioned off their estate, my uncle Dadiba Pandol’s auction house conducted the auction. So I was leafing through the catalogue and I saw a desk that I thought was brilliant, really beautiful. It was this art deco, a semi-circular, curved desk where the top piece balanced both of the bottom pieces, which were balancing on two separate balls. You know, it was such an interesting design for a desk that I had never seen anything like it. So, I was like, “Oh, wow! Look at this. ” I was doing theatre at that time and barely had any money saved at all. So it was more like, “Hey dad! Have you seen this desk? Isn’t it nice? Do you want it for the house? Should we get it? ” And I was only joking. I didn’t think he would take it seriously, but then he did. He bid for it and got it. So I moved out of the house a long time ago, but the desk came with me, and I have been working on it for about 8 or 9 years now. It has gone to every house around Bombay and no other piece of furniture because I have lived in Four Bungalows, and then I lived in Versova, and then I lived in Juhu for a bit, and then I carried on to the place where I now live, and the only piece of furniture that has remained constant through all of these houses is this desk. So, you know, sometimes these connections are made in ways you can’t understand. So, just to make it clear, it was Jehangir Bhabha’s estate that was being sold, but this is the desk Homi used to work on when he would come to visit. Whenever he would stay with his brother, it was in his room. So it was his choice of the desk.

How was it to work with Ishwak Singh?

It was really nice. You know, I think our characters sometimes get along; they sometimes fight. They challenge each other and inform each other. I think that when you start talking about a genius or geniuses, basically a pretty fair rule is that they most likely think a bit faster than everybody else, and we don’t know how we don’t know why we just know that it is true that they think faster. So I imagine that it is also a bit lonely. It must be lonely to think faster than everybody else, you know, especially if you are not a psychopath, which I don’t think either of them was. So, I think they found comfort in each other, in each other’s friendship. This is a person that thinks as fast as me. They may not always agree with me, they may challenge me, they may annoy the hell out of me, but I do have to consider their opinion because, you know, they’ll think it through properly, and they won’t be saying it just to say it, they’ll have their reasons. So I loved the idea of a friendship, a friendship in the true sense of the word, where you don’t pander to each other, where you are not worried about saying the wrong thing because a friendship will break, but instead, you say the hard things and you say the true things, and you say things that the other person may not like because you believe it and it’s true and that’s a wonderful thing, you know. So I really hope that our efforts to play the two characters come across in the final show because, you know, we really spent a long time working on it. We worked really hard.

Be it Malik Kafur in Padmaavat, Adil Khanna in Made In Heaven, or Homi Jehangir Bhabha in Rocket Boys, you have always picked up characters that are completely different from one another. Is that a conscious decision as an actor to keep the monotony at bay?

No, it’s just kind of what I have been offered, I think. I mean, sure, you always want to be able to play slightly different characters. I was cast in something recently which I am not allowed to talk about, and the director had seen my performance in Made In Heaven, and he was like, “You know when I saw you in Made In Heaven, I was sure that you were the right person for the part. I was like, “Oh, okay, cool, great.” But I am also shooting Made In Heaven 2 simultaneously, so I don’t want to just make the same character. It will become boring for me, you know. People will watch both and be like “See, he does not have any range.” He does the same thing in every role.” And that’s one of the dangers, I think, one of the ways people think in general across the world, you know. People, in general, do not have much imagination. Why? Because they don’t know you, they have never met you, they don’t know what is possible for you. So if you do the same thing in a couple of projects, then they are like “Huh, this is all they are good at”. It doesn’t matter if the director has asked you to do it or not. They think it’s your personal choice, right? So, yes, of course, I like to play characters that I don’t get to be in my regular life, like a hijacker or you know, like a manipulative slave general or like a person that has come out of a 20-year coma or you know, a doctor who is constantly running away from his childhood trauma. There are so many interesting people to try to get under the skin of and try to understand how they function, and Dr. Homi Bhabha is one of the greatest.

Eastern Eye

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