From Maachis to Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3, charting Jimmy Sheirgill's eventful cinematic journey
It’s interesting that Jimmy Sheirgill, who started as a 'chocolate boy hero', now makes an impact whether as a Rajasthani royal or as a jilted lover.
After watching Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3, a friend remarked that she thought Jimmy Sheirgill, who plays the sahib Raja Aditya Pratap Singh, seemed to be "reverse ageing". Costumed in sculpted bandhagalas and jodhpurs, glowering behind a handlebar mustache, the 47-year-old actor indeed made for a striking royal. It’s interesting that an actor who started of as a "chocolate boy hero" now makes an indelible impact whether as a Rajasthani royal or as a jilted lover in a pathani suit.
Often playing the jilted lover (he lost Preity Zinta to Arjun Rampal in Dil Hai Tumhara, Kangana Ranaut to Madhavan in Tanu Weds Manu and Happy ran away from Bagga in Haapy Bhag Jayegi), or the patriarchal, chauvinistic relative who stands in the way of love, or the role of the rough-and-tough goon of small-town India — characters that merit their own spin-off feature — Sheirgill has come a long way from the shiny, urban romantic hero image of his early films.
"I have been taking risks from very early in my career. I did a lot of romantic films, like Mohabbatein and Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, early on, but I wanted to go beyond the chocolate hero/lover boy image," says Sheirgill. "I realized that if I stuck to that slot then my story would not go beyond four years. I had to pick up interesting films like Haasil and Munnnabhai. Although I was a little insecure to begin with, I am so glad I experimented," says the actor.
A growth study of his career would begin with his debut film Maachis (1996) followed by Mohabbatein, Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai, Haasil, Munnabhai MBBS, Yahaan, A Wednesday, both parts of Tanu Weds Manu, Special 26, the Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster trilogy and Mukkabaaz. Add a couple of Punjabi language films into the mix, such as Dharti and Daana Paani and you will agree that it’s not easy to place Sheirgill, who was born Jasjit Singh Gill, into a single box.
Equally, though, there are films that are almost forgotten — Kehta Hai Dil Baar Baar, Silsilay, Victoria No. 203, Fugly and Shorgul among others. The 47-year-old actor has consciously kept things varied to keep alive his own interest and ensure longevity. Twenty-two years later, in 2018 alone, he has a list of releases that traverse various genres.
This experimentation and hunger for challenging roles landed him a part in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz in which he played the unscrupulous head of the state boxing federation. Sheirgill endured what Kashyap has described as "inconveniences" like piling on the kilos, ageing up, staying awake all night before the shoot to ensure he had bloodshot eyes, etc. to portray the menacing Bhagwandas Mishra effectively.
Then, in Veerey Ki Wedding, Sheirgill seemed to be having a great time amping up the comedy as Veerey’s bachelor cousin Balli. In Phamous, he played the quieter role of Radhe Shyam. In Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3 he easily slipped back into a part he first played with understated impact in 2011. Next month the actor will be seen back in the guise of Daman Singh Bagga in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi.
Sheirgill’s most consistent collaborator has been director Tigmanshu Dhulia. Their joint filmography includes Haasil, Charas and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster. Dhulia says, "Jimmy’s fortunate not to have been typecast. He has played a lover boy and a villainous character; he’s played a tough cop and a royal. Many people say that he has not got his due, but I think his career has panned out well. I can compare him with Rishi Kapoor who was also very proficient, competent and organic but didn’t get his due. He decided to do a film like Damini at that juncture in his career. Sure Rishi Kapoor got a launch like Bobby, which Jimmy did not, but his debut film Maachis is still one of his most memorable roles."
Others might say that Sheirgill is content in a comfort zone, working with a core group of filmmakers and not sticking his neck out far enough. Shoojit Sircar, who directed him in Yahaan, would perhaps agree. Sheirgill played Captain Aman, an Indian army officer in the 2005 film. "Jimmy’s got a brilliant sense of what he wants to do. Yahaan was one of this best performances and I think he is still seeking another role like Yahaan, which takes him up a notch," says Sircar.
Although he has often been approached to play lead roles, on hearing the script narration Sheirgill finds himself drawn to a different part. "After hearing the narration I would say I don’t want the lead part. I want to do the other role. And that would drive the director or producer away. I enjoy playing strong characters, antagonists, leads and making special appearances. It couldn’t get better than this mix. I have not had a godfather in the industry, so when people say you deserve far more, I take that as a compliment. I have no regrets. There is a tendency of typecasting in this industry and I am glad not to be in that trap," he says.
Rajkumar Hirani teamed up with Sheirgill for two Munnabhai films. The actor had a small but impactful part as terminally ill patient Zaheer in Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS and an equally sincere turn as the debt-ridden Victor in Lage Raho Munnabhai. Hirani says, "Jimmy is a fantastic actor and a great human being. Very few actors survive in the industry playing the lead this long. He still looks as young as he looked 15 years back when we shot Munnabhai MBBS."
Coming up next for Sheirgill is Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, produced by another constant colleague Aanand L Rai, followed by the sequel to Deepak Tijori’s 2006 comedy Tom Dick And Harry. In Tom Dick And Harry Returns, he replays the mute Harry.
The father of one has earmarked time to appear in at least one Punjabi film a year. And though he did produce a few Punjabi films, including Rangeelay and Dharti, he has decided to step back from the business of film making for now. "I kind of made a promise to myself that I would do Punjabi films and I continue to act in one Punjabi film a year," says the star of Yaara Naal Baharan and Aa Gaye Munde U.K. De.
Going forward, he says he would like to "do more light-hearted films" in the vein of Tanu Weds Manu. He hopes that he continues to come across scripts with interesting ideas and crazy characters, even if those characters don’t end up with the girl.
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