Jimmy Sheirgill is still remembered for his lover-boy roles in earlier films like Mohabbatein and Dil Vil Pyar Vyar. But that wasn’t what the actor had started off with. Jimmy made his debut with critically acclaimed film Maachis, where he played a terrorist.
In a career spanning over 20 years, Jimmy has made a mark in both Hindi and Punjabi cinema. Though his recent Bollywood projects saw him play small-town characters, his turn as Jaimal Singh aka Jimmy, a young boy who ends up picking guns while seeking revenge in Gulzar’s directorial Maachis (1996), is noteworthy.
Maachis, also starring Chandrachur Singh, Tabu, Om Puri and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, went on to win two National Awards.
In this conversation with indianexpress.com, Jimmy Sheirgill shares how destiny got him his debut film Maachis and what it was to be directed by legendary writer-filmmaker Gulzar.
1. How did your debut acting project, Maachis, come to you?
I was doing my acting classes with Roshan Taleja in Bombay. My course was almost over but still Roshan sir was very fond of me. He told me to attend his classes to oversee what was happening. Since I had nothing in hand then, I was more than happy to go there. Also, I had some close family relatives in Bombay who I used to visit on weekends. One of the evenings when we were there, there was a chat about a film Gulzar sir was making called Maachis, and somebody there was close to him. They said you should go and meet him. I said there is no point as I don’t think I am going to get any role in it, neither am I expecting it because what I had heard was nobody gets a break until you struggle for 5-6 years in this city. I said I would want to meet Gulzar sir, and ask him if I can be his assistant in the project, even if it means being his eighth or the ninth assistant. At least I will end up learning about filmmaking and the practical experience. Also at the same time I had finished my course and I didn’t want to go back home. That’s how a meeting was fixed and I met Gulzar sir.
I told him (Gulzar) I want to be an assistant. He asked me what I did normally. I said I did my acting classes and he said if I did acting, why did I want to get into direction. I told him because I don’t think anybody’s going to give me a break. He said the script of Maachis is outside and that his assistant was working on it. He asked me to read it and come back to him and then we will talk. I read the entire script and was totally moved by the whole thing because I had kind of been through it and could relate to it. The next day when I met him, he started asking me questions regarding the story. He said which character would I want to play. I knew that Rocky (Chandrachur Singh), Tabu Om (Puri) ji and all these people were already finalised as I had been to the office before and seen their pictures already put up there. I said it is damn difficult to choose as all the characters are so good. Gulzar sir still coerced me and I picked Jaimal Singh (Jimmy). He asked me why and I said because my nickname is also Jimmy. Surprisingly I got it, even if a small but impactful role. That’s how a new life started up!
If you see Maachis, in the credits my name comes as Jasjit Shergill. The trade, after Maachis, started calling me Jimmy Shergill. Next couple of years, everywhere my name used to come as ‘Jimmy Shergill’. Even when I did Mohabbatein, we had a discussion with Adi (Aditya Chopra). Adi said don’t confuse people right now and go with what the trade is writing. Jimmy is also my name so it was okay. He told me to go with Jimmy Shergill.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
I did not face the camera on the first day. I was also kind of an assistant. I had requested Gulzar sir if I could be on the sets every day. For the first 20 days, I was not shooting. They were shooting for Chandrachur (Singh) and Tabu’s flashback portions in the village. I started going for the shoot every single day, being there from morning till whatever time the shoot was happening. I watched and understood what’s happening. After 20-25 days, my portion started.
I still remember that shot was on a truck. And it was taken with a steady cam and the truck stops somewhere and Rocky tries to come inside the truck and we are sitting with these bags of grenades. He asks what’s there inside those bags and I tell him “anaar hai”. I still remember that was the scene.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
Obviously! I am still nervous. I am always nervous before I approach any character.
Since Gulzar sir was there in Maachis, I think there wasn’t any issue about retakes. I guess the maximum retakes we took in Maachis was in the song “Chhod Aaye Hum Woh Galiyan”, where in one scene we were climbing down a mountain in Manali and there was a very tight close-up. In today’s times, you can obviously manage. But at that time, there used to be a mark. You had to just be out of the frame. Two of us had to come in and it was a very tight frame. We kept missing our coordination and ended up giving the maximum retakes. That’s one thing I remember to this day. And I kept thinking about it, and later in the night, Gulzar sir told me that the retakes happened because of technical issue and not because of us.
4. How is your rapport with your Maachis co-stars today?
Everybody is busy in their own lives right now, but we bump into each other. Suneel (Sinha) bhai is doing theatre. He was always doing theatre, films, television and everything like that. Ravi (Gossain) is doing his own thing. I think he is starting direction. Chandrachur has always been very fond of teaching. He keeps traveling to teach in major schools.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what’s that one thing you’d like to change or do better?
I don’t think I can play that character anymore, of a young boy from college who gets stuck in all these things. I can’t even look like that character now.
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6. One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?
I used to watch a lot of movies. I was like a big film buff, but I had never thought that I will go to Bombay. It just happened. It was all destined. But once I reached there and started my acting classes, it is then I realised that this is what I want to do. This is what I am made for because it gives me joy.