“I think for the fourth time, I will just have to grow a moustache and I will be ready to play Saheb. The character has gotten under my skin,” says actor Jimmy Shergill about his new film, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (SBG) 3, which releases today. He adds, “But this version of Saheb is more layered, he has aged. There is a hint of salt and pepper in his hair and moustache. Ek dialogue bhi hai film main, ‘Hamare safed baal dekh ke kya laga, ki hum kamzor ho gaye?’” Shergill plays one of the titular characters in the film franchise, which has had two versions earlier — Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns.
Dressed in a light blue shirt and khakhi trousers, Shergill blends in with his surroundings — the greyish blue monsoon sky and the darker Arabian sea — as we settle in for a chat at the Sun and Sand hotel in Mumbai’s Juhu. “The first SBG was more compact, the story just centred around the three characters; the second was a little bigger — Irrfan (Khan) played the gangster and came with his back story. In the third one, we have gone to another level, the story, of course, picks up from where I am in jail. Time has elapsed, and the biwi (played by Mahie Gill) has become much more powerful. With Sanjay (Dutt) playing the gangster, you don’t get bigger than that,” says the 47 year-old.
The first two editions did reasonably well at the box office and were also critically acclaimed. It’s also one of the few examples of a franchise film working well, with the titular characters reprising their roles. “It works as a franchise because SBG blends things that most people love. We have the royalty, action (relatable kind, not where you are turning over trucks and such), and of course, drama. From the second part onwards, we started to invoke politics as well. All of this put together does the trick,” he adds.
Over the last two decades of his career, Shergill — who made his debut with Gulzar’s Maachis (1996) — has played a college student, lover boy and the second fiddle with equal elan. There have been a couple of negative roles in his filmography such as the recent Mukkabaaz and the earlier Eklavya: The Royal Guard. Even his cameo appearances, in the Munnabhai series, for example, have left a mark on public memory.
And Shergill says he is also okay with not getting the girl. “I consciously kept taking roles that were different. One needs to breakaway from the boxes that one as an actor, gets slotted in. Initially, when I started to break away from the chocolate-boy image, in 2003-04, I was kind of insecure and apprehensive because that formula was working for me. But what pushed me was the thought ‘ki kitna naach loge ped ke aas paas, kitne gaane ga loge?’ Today, I am glad I took the plunge,” says Shergill, adding, “Also I was never swayed by the appeal of a big film or a big banner alone. Hence, you see me doing cameos and small appearances.”
The latest film also marks the seventh collaboration between the actor and director Tigmanshu Dhulia. They had started working together in Haasil (2003), which became a career-defining film for both. “I have known Tigmanshu even before Mohabbatein released. I met him at Shaad’s (Ali) house, and that’s where he narrated Haasil to me. He told me that the hero of the film will feel that the antagonist is more powerful, but that I fit the character of Ani (the hero) to the T. Irrfan was already cast as the negative lead. I immediately told him that I am doing the film,” says Shergill.
That also brings us to the question of directors repeating their actors. “I have realised that the relationship between a director and actor is sacrosanct. When they work together for the first time, and by the time they finish the film, their rapport has developed. In the second film, they build on the trust and the more you work together, the less time is spent to explain a scene or a situation. With Tigmanshu, now we speak the same language. When he is even reading the scene, I know what he wants from me,” he says.
Shergill, who also has Happy Phir Bhaag Jayegi releasing next month, is excited about his comedy avatar. “Comedy is something I am very keen to explore more. It’s tough but very rewarding. And we as an industry are primed to push the boundaries. It’s a good time to be an actor. When I started out, there were 5-6 channels, 7-8 production houses and similar films were being churned out. Now, we are open to watching a film without an A-list star. The line between mainstream and alternate cinema is blurring. We are in a great zone,” says Shergill.