Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Role play: The many faces of Jim Sarbh

Throwing light on Jim Sarbh

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Feb 9, 2015 06:00:53 AM IST
Updated: Feb 9, 2015 12:09:05 PM IST
Role play: The many faces of Jim Sarbh
Image: Mexy Xavier

Jim Sarbh | 27
Theatre actor-director
Category: Art & Culture

Do you get to work from here?” he asks, trying to roll himself a smoke as best as he can in a bumpy autorickshaw on the way to the nearest railway station. “You know, that is something I never feel like I am doing.” Working, you mean? “Yes. I never feel like I am working.”

A chat at Prithvi Café in Juhu with Jim Sarbh (prior to the rickshaw ride) generally gives that impression. The 27-year-old actor, director and producer moves around with a backpack full of scripts. “That’s my next one,” he says, pulling out a sheaf of stapled pages of Vikram Kapadia’s adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. “I play Gratiano. And then there’s Kalki’s [Koechlin] play called [he looks at another stapled sheaf]… It does not have a name yet. And then there’s The Maids, which I am directing.” Between theatre rehearsals, there are the odd advertisements which bring in the bread. That too, he says, is hardly work. “It’s just a day’s shoot, and they pay me enough to cover my expenses.”

Over ‘cutting chai’ and sandwiches, he flits through the characters he has played and directed, and plays he has produced. We do not talk about him being from a family that was one of Mumbai’s earliest promoters of art in Independent India: The Pundoles. His grandfather, Kali Pundole, started the Pundole Art Gallery that was one of the pioneering galleries in the city. We also don’t talk much about him going to Emory University in Atlanta for a degree in psychology.

Sarbh played Romeo in class 7 or 8, followed by several other plays, some as varied as Grease, The Importance of Being Earnest and Danny Boyles’s Shallow Grave. Acting continued while he was in Atlanta. “And there was a time when I gave it all up, thinking there was something very narcissistic about it all. And people were too busy trying to stick a finger at people, instead of trying to get better or exploring human conditions.” And now? “Now I am not concerned so much about what others are doing.”     

Back in India for three-and-a-half-years, Sarbh has built an impressive repertoire of work. “In 2013, I worked, acted in, eight plays. And in 2014, I made three plays,” says Sarbh, whose career graph started with Purva Naresh’s OK Tata, Bye Bye, and went on to include Sunil Shanbag’s Stories in a Song, Alyque Padamsee’s version of Death of a Salesman, apart from his own directorial ventures like Mike Bartlett’s Cock. His latest act is that of Tom Wingfield in Rajit Kapur’s production of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.  
Theatre director and producer Raell Padamsee says, “Sarbh is a sensitive, intuitive actor who straddles the myriad roles he has essayed with ease. He has a great stage presence and there is trueness to his performances.”

Role play: The many faces of Jim Sarbh

The success, Sarbh admits, has made his family accept his choice of career. He does wonder, though, why he has a tendency of picking plays with messed-up characters. “All the three plays I worked with last year—Untold Stories, Bull and Cock—had these characters. And since we were talking about Things Fall Apart [an allusion to Chinua Achebe’s novel], I remember one more of Yeats’s quote: The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. That’s what these characters are like,” he says.

“You know, enlightenment is not so much about seeing the light yourself, but about throwing the light on a patch of darkness,” he ponders. Has he managed to light up a dark patch yet? He looks up, broken from his thoughts: “I have no clue, man.”  

Here is the full list of 30 Under 30 for 2015 and its methodology

(This story appears in the 20 February, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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