While Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor are being lauded for some great performances in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, there’s one actor who left us equally impressed – Jim Sarbh, who played Malik Kafur in the magnum opus. To call him the surprise element of this period drama won’t be wrong. Jim plays Alauddin Khilji’s slave-general and confidant, who can go to any extreme to please his master. Point to note is how Bhansali has beautifully explored the bond between Khilji and Malik. In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Jim talks about his journey as Malik and how it feels being on a Bhansali set.
“I read about Malik Kafur. I tried to reveal his complicated feelings and ambitions. I tried to portray his journey from being a slave and suddenly rising to the position of being the second most powerful person in the empire. Imagine a man having a slave background to suddenly becoming the second most powerful person in an empire. He is kind of a sociopath. I think he is also extremely curious, curious about the hypocritical people around him,” Jim said.
Talking about what it is to work with Bhansali, who arguably is one of the most demanding directors in the industry, Jim said, “Working with him was super. It really is an enriching experience. He is a demanding director, which I love. As a team all of us were there to achieve the same goal. I was handling my part, and trying to achieve perfection with my co-actors. All of us wanted the shot to be groovy before we go home. We were on our feet ready to face a change at the drop of a hat. He (Bhansali) would come on the set with a new element, a new way of entering into a scene and suddenly the whole team would have to adapt to it. So you come with your own ideas, and new elements get added; now you have to adapt fast and use the new elements as a new way to approach the scene. Sometimes, magically, you end up achieving things you could not have imagined before. I was very happily surprised to see that Sanjay Sir was extremely responsive to improvisations, and it was incredible seeing him adapt his ideas of the scene and the shot breakdown. It truly felt collaborative. Also, because of his receptiveness you trusted him even more if he stuck with his initial impulse or he denied your impulse, it made you feel like he has a master plan that I can’t comprehend. It’s nerve-wracking and exhilarating to be a part of all of this.”
So what was the brief he got from SLB about playing Malik, a character who after a point even controlled the mind of Khilji. “There was no brief. I read the script. I felt I understood the character. It was pretty clear the way it was written. I met him, read the script, had a look test, and the next we met was on the set,” he shared.
Those who’ve seen the film would also laud Jim’s introduction scene where he fiercely stabs two generals while staying graceful behind a veil. When we asked Jim about his most favourite scene, he said, “I don’t know. I enjoyed them all. First one was cool because it is dynamic and kind of encapsulates the character perfectly. He knows when to move, and when to be still; when he moves he does very gracefully and very deadly at the same time. It shows his ferocity and his grace, his loyalty and his irreverence, his sultry confident manner.”
Malik Kafur has been written as a prominent eunuch slave-general of Alauddin Khilji, who ruled the Delhi Sultanate. He rose to prominence and served as Khilji’s governor at one point. When Khilji fell ill, he even held the actual power of the empire. In Padmaavat, we saw how Malik was captured by Jalaluddin Khilji and gifted to Ranveer’s character as a slave. Several books have also mentioned the homosexual relationship between this master-slave, which was very intricately shown in the film too. Talking about playing this, Jim said, “First of all, I don’t understand all the hullabaloo. Your question, frankly, is unnecessary to me. It puts emphasis on something that should not be emphasised. Love is love!”
Ranveer had recently said in an interview how beautifully Khilji and Malik’s relationship was depicted in Padmaavat. He said Jim made him look good. How does Jim feel about it? “Ranveer is a great co-actor. He is extremely reactive, and extremely responsive. He is a pleasure to work with. He always brings great ideas to set with him, different ways to express a moment, and I am allowed to both present an impulse and have more than enough to react to. We got to experience the most beautiful thing an actor can experience, which is being powerfully alive and aware in a moment, trying to represent ourselves but also allowing the other actor to affect you and letting the natural fate of the scene express itself through us. It was beautiful,” he said.
So what was the most challenging part about playing Malik? “I think it had nothing to do with the character. It was about the scale of production. The film was shot over a year and three days. Sometimes even when you aren’t shooting, 25 percent of your brain is still with your character. That requires a kind of stamina to be able to live with this guy, and have him constantly accessible. I think that was the biggest challenge for me, trying to maintain his essence despite long periods between scenes,” Jim said.
Jim made a remarkable debut while playing the main hijacker in 2016 award-winning film Neerja, taking home almost every top award. This was followed by A Death in the Gunj and Raabta last year. Jim’s selection of films might look varied but he says “I just do what I get cast in. I’m just glad to be part of groovy films. There’s been no particular choice of film. So far, I have done what has been offered, because I desperately, powerfully want to act. The luxury of choice is not offered to industry outsiders.”
Jim concludes by sharing his thoughts on the entire controversy around Padmaavat. “Though the film went through all that, I never doubted it’s eventual release,” he signs off.