Donning khaki once again in ‘Collar Bomb’, the actor on drawing from his early years in small-town India, and why he’s glad he isn’t considered overrated
Since 1996, when he played the eponymous Jimmy in Gulzar’s Maachis, Jimmy Sheirgill has had something many of his contemporaries could only aspire for — the audience’s love. They have the actor’s back and root for him at every step. YouTube comments on songs featuring him and his films are proof of that.
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That is something Sheirgill, whose action series Collar Bomb dropped on July 9, is humbled by. “Somewhere, it is validation of the body of work I’ve done, of the films I’ve chosen — Haasil, Yahaan, Tanu Weds Manu, Mohabattein. Through it all, you know that the love showered is not due to a mass factor but it’s something you’ve earned. I’m delighted they call me underrated; it is better than being overrated,” says the 50-year-old.
Sheirgill is one of the few actors who has done multiple films where he’s in uniform — from Yahaan and A Wednesday to Special 26 and Madaari. He’s looked distinctly different in each one of them, something he manages again in Collar Bomb. “That is the attempt — to try and make it a little different from before. I’ve done cop roles earlier, but this is a thriller and there’s not much scope to add scenes to the character. Here, I am a cop with a backstory who is also the father of a 13-year-old. There’s a fair bit of grey. It is a race against time, but there is also a story unfolding simultaneously,” he says, about the film on a cop rushing to save a group of people being threatened by a suicide bomber.
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Years after their release, some of his films continue to remain relevant and a few like Yahaan have achieved cult status after tepid starts. Does that validate the choices he’s made? “Yes. These films still have a following and I think that is a big thing. It was a lonely path I was walking on, but it was a conscious choice. Today, seeing Yahaan [a 2005 film about an Army officer falling in love with a girl from Jammu and Kashmir, whose brother is a terrorist], and getting all this love, makes the struggle worth it,” says Sheirgill, adding, “The team took so many risks — we shot in Kashmir, guerilla style, I grew a moustache at a time when leading men were expected to be clean-shaven. In fact, Shoojit [director Sircar] kept asking if I was okay to grow one! I’ll accept that there were nights when I’d lie back and think if I was doing the right thing. Today, I’m glad I did what I did.”
Notes from the Hinterland
The artiste laughs as he recalls a time when creators would come to him when no one else would take up a subject. How does he react to the constant referencing of his earlier films? “I like to look at the future, but I accept it with humility when someone speaks about my early work. Many from the Army background have loved Yahaan, and that feels good.”
Sheirgill is from small-town India — he grew up in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab — and you can see snatches of his lived experience in his performances set in the hinterland. For instance, in the Tanu weds Manu franchise, he plays the role of Raja, a goon who has his kind moments, and in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, wherein his character is an ex-royal from a small town who has fallen on bad times. “It is easier for me to relate to those characters and work on those looks. If the writer is good and picks up the dialect well, it is easier for the actor. I try to recall people I’ve met and, with those visuals in mind, I work on the character,” he says.
The OTT maze
For an actor who has carved his own path in Hindi films, it is natural that he is among the early Bollywood adopters of OTT too. Collar Bomb is an OTT film, but shot the way it deserves to be shot, says Sheirgill, who has already done Rangbaaz, Rangbaaz Phir Se and Your Honour, for Zee5 and SonyLIV, respectively.
“The main thing is the story. If that satisfies me as an actor, I’m interested. Irrespective of theatre or OTT, the effort is the same, the filming is the same. Collar Bomb is like any big film. It was never a case of whether this hard work was needed for OTT,” says Sheirgill. So, has OTT changed the game for performers like him? “A lot. At some stage, OTT will get corrupted and you’ll have people ready to make a film in any manner, but as long as you have creative people true to their art, they will hold the future in a big way,” concludes the actor.
Collar Bomb is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar