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It was the release of Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein that promised a new slew of stars to Bollywood and while 17 years later, we know how everyone fared, it was fairly easy to foresee that Jimmy Shergill was here to stay. While this teenage (or so they claimed) love story was not his debut, it was the first time a large part of the audience saw him on the silver screen. His first appearance in Gulzar’s Maachis was seen by a niche crowd. And honestly, who could have guessed that the unkempt assassin from Maachis would turn into a boy who thought self-harming was the way to woo a girl.
In a role that wasn’t written with much thought in Mohabbatein, Jimmy shone nevertheless. His chocolate boy looks combined with his broodiness gave Bollywood a new hero to look forward to but like many others, he became one of many way too soon. This wasn’t the case of Bollywood not giving him his due but rather a slew of bad choices (Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai, Dil Hai Tumhara, Dil Vil Pyar Vyar) that landed him in this precarious position.
Luckily for the audience, the actor in him did not get disheartened.
Jimmy’s Zaheer in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. brought back the actor the audience had once spotted a spark in. His character was introduced as the patient who only has a few days left to live. His anger towards the unjust nature of life, the pain that he felt towards his family and his outburst became the emotional touchstone of a film that was otherwise a comedy. Zaheer balanced the film and his scenes turned out to be memorable. And looking back, it can be said that this was one of the best performances he ever delivered.
Haasil, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, added credibility to Jimmy’s filmography. His performance as a student who gets involved in university politics was noted but was overshadowed by Irrfan’s Rannvijay. Nevertheless, Haasil and Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. proved that Jimmy was an actor who could find the right nerve of the character and convince his audience to root for him.
With films like A Wednesday and My Name is Khan, Jimmy showed that it wasn’t the hero tag that he was after. He was an actor who offered top notch performances but only when the script allowed him to do so.
Tanu Weds Manu, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and the sequels of both these films had Jimmy in a supporting role but these were the kind of supporting roles that mattered. These weren’t characters that were just there to make the hero look good rather these existed because they had a story to tell. And there could have been nobody better than Jimmy to essay these roles.
Apart from his Hindi films, Jimmy has done his fair share of Punjabi films as well and honestly, his performances in those are just as good. Mel Karade Rabba, Dharti and even Mannat helped him gather a large fan base in the north.
Jimmy Shergill was the man who was seen as the potential chocolate hero but over the years he has evolved into an actor whose aura and character choices simply enamour the audience. While he will always be remembered as the boy who impressed teenage girls back in the day, he will also be remembered as the man who never became the ‘hero’ but delivered performances that were nothing short of perfect.