By virtue of being the son of a film journalist, Sharib Hashmi was exposed to film parties, fame and glamour from an early age. So his dream of becoming a movie star were perhaps a little more serious than others his age. Encouraged amply at home, he grew up only to be confronted with a harsh reality — he didn’t have the “looks” to make it as a lead actor. “I realised I haven’t grown tall enough to be a hero. Even the supporting actors I met at parties were taller than me,” says Hashmi, who is dark-skinned and short. We are at a special screening of Filmistaan held by filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra in Mumbai and the people in attendance — Bollywood celebs and personalities — can’t stop congratulating Hashmi, the film’s leading man. All of this appears dream-like to him.
A small film with a big heart, made by a debut director and a bunch of largely unknown actors on a shoestring, Filmistaan is winning hearts within the industry even before it releases in theatres across the country today. While Amitabh Bachchan, Mehra and Vidhu Vinod Chopra have openly endorsed the film, Kal Ho Naa Ho and D-Day filmmaker Nikhil Advani has gone a step ahead by casting Hashmi in his next directorial venture within days of watching Filmistaan.
The movie releases almost two years after it was made as it went through a difficult phase of getting a producer. While Shringar bought the rights early last year, its National Award-win further helped push its fortunes to get a release. The film’s plot revolves around Sunny Arora, a Bollywood fan who can’t make it big in acting despite his earnest and over-the-top efforts — at one point in the film, a character calls him “chalta phirta Bombay Talkies”. He gets a job as an assistant director with a foreign film crew shooting a documentary in Rajasthan and mistakenly gets kidnapped by terrorists and is kept captive in a sparsely populated village on the India-Pakistan border.
Sunny’s character is a lot like Hashmi. He was a screenwriter for TV shows and has also written the dialogues of Filmistaan. His acting talent, would show up in his mimicry acts and gags, which he would pull off among friends. Filmistaan director Nitin Kakkar was impressed by his acting when he saw him pull off a gag on MTV Bakra. Working with the channel for years, Hashmi would make appearances as Anu Malik, Rajesh Khanna in the spoof show Semi Girebaal.
Prior to Filmistaan, Hashmi did small roles in Haal-e-Dil and Slumdog Millionaire. “I realised I was getting acting assignments for TVCs and films, even as I was working for TV channels behind the camera. I thought I might as well give acting a shot full time,” says Hashmi, who got the role of Shah Rukh Khan’s friend in Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
Both Hashmi and Kakkar remember the Saturday movie watching sessions they had several years ago. While it marked the start of their friendship, it also laid the foundation to a creative partnership. For the two ’80s kids who grew up on a diet of Bollywood melodramas such as Himmatwala and Maine Pyaar Kiya, the phase opened up their horizons to world cinema, inculcating the idea that cinema was beyond entertainment. Filmistaan, their first film, was born somewhere “between the sensibilities of realism of World cinema and the escapism of Bollywood.”