“Apne dukaan pe koi ladki rakhi hui hai, kaam karne ke liye,” is what many people used to remark, when Sohum Shah used to work with his father at the young age of 15-16, in the small town of Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan. “My father was a commodities broker and I started working with him early on. This was the pre-cellphone era; I used to take down messages for him on the landline. I had a shrill voice, and people assumed I was a girl,” says the 34-year-old actor.
Shah has a come a long way from his “shrill voice” days, as his rich, deep and grounded voice now doesn’t fail to make a mark. His next film, Simran, opposite Kangana Ranaut, is set to release on September 15. “I play Sameer, the love interest of Kangana. I am a very calm and meticulous guy, coming from a Gujarati family. I am the exact opposite of Kangana, who is highly energetic and plays a rebel of sorts in the film,” says Shah. He was offered the role by Hansal Mehta after the latter saw him in Ship of Theseus (SoT).
The 2013 film was his breakthrough role that won critical acclaim the world over, and bagged a National Award for the Best Feature Film that year. Not many people know that Shah, who plays stockbroker Navin Parnami in the film, also produced SoT. “I had auditioned for Anand (Gandhi) and he liked me for the role. But we were not getting any backers for the film. That’s when I decided to come on board as producer,” says Shah.
Shah made his Bollywood debut as the titular character in the 2009 film, Baabarr, which largely went unnoticed. But it was Shah’s realistic portrayal of a stockbroker on a quest to trace the benefactor of a donated organ in SoT that brought him recognition. Consequently, Honey Trehan cast him in the crime drama, Talvar, as a CBI officer. “It was all Trehan’s vision. In SoT, I was very much playing the character I am in real life — in terms of clothes and body language. But I had to do a lot of homework to play the role of a CBI officer in Talvar, who is slick, controlled and represents authority,” he adds.
Interestingly, Shah, who has made a name for himself as an intense actor, says he was inspired to join Bollywood by Shah Rukh Khan. “I was born and raised in Sri Ganganagar, which has a population of about three lakh. There were just two things that could occupy our interest — films and cricket. I had no exposure to literature, art or music, and films were central to my aspirations. I saw Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and was blown away. It was a combination of many things — the leather jacket, his traipsing around Europe, drinking beer out of a can and the way he charms everyone in the film, even Babuji,” says Shah. Adding to it was the fact that Khan at that time was an “outsider”, a tag that Shah himself identifies with. “He was competing with Salman, Aamir, Sanjay Dutt and Sunny Deol, all star kids, yet he made a name for himself,” says Shah.
Shah came to Mumbai in 2000 to try his hand in Bollywood. After his initial brush with the proverbial struggle — numerous auditions, connecting with people and no surety of success — he returned to his hometown. “I couldn’t do all that. I then decided to make something of myself, which will help me struggle in a better way,” adds Shah. He dabbled in real estate, and built a township in Sri Ganganagar.
In 2009, he went back to Mumbai. He now switches between the roles of an actor and a producer. “As a producer, you have to deal with 50 things. As an actor, you are only accountable and in control for yourself. And as an actor, when you work on yourself and your craft, it’s visible. For instance, I am much more calm and controlled in Simran, while in SoT and Talvar, I was a bit restless, there was a nervous energy visible in me,” says Shah.
The actor has now moved to Mumbai; earlier, he used to shuttle between Mumbai and Jaipur. The next couple of years, he says, are exciting. “I have a few projects as a producer. There is also Tumbad with Anand Gandhi, which I am acting in and also producing. It will be released next year,” adds Shah.