Sharib Hashmi’s own life with its ups and downs, is no less than a potboiler. Hashmi could be Scam 1992’s bemused Sharad Bellary, or The Family Man’s playful JK Talpade. He could be the man next door and yet there’s something about Hashmi that will take you back to a memorable cinematic moment. It’s perhaps why Raj and DK, directors of The Family Man, chose to let their original character named ‘Ghosh’ go to Hashmi and recreate him as ‘JK Talpade’. “I promised to learn a Bengali accent and return for the audition. Instead, they asked me which ones I could pull off,” he says over a telephonic interview with Zee Zest.
The 45-year-old, Mumbai-born and raised actor, had small trysts with the screen as early as in 2008. He appeared in a film called Haal-e-Dil and even had an uncredited part in Slumdog Millionaire. But that was where it remained. He grew up wanting to become an actor but locked away his dream for a more pragmatic career. “I always wanted to be an actor. As a child, of course, I wanted to be a hero. I thought I couldn’t do much with my personality and 5’4 height. It was naïve of me,” he says. After his first job as an assistant director in 1998, Hashmi went on to work as a writer at MTV. By now, he was married and had a family to support. “While I worked at MTV, people made me do small parts in-house. They were mostly funny gags and MTV Bakra. I was happy with the arrangement, where I had a job and could also act,” he says. For the two small parts that he played, he took days off from work.
The story of a rejection
It was an audition, and more accurately, a rejection that turned things around for Hashmi. “I got a call for an audition for Dhobi Ghat. I was selected in the audition. But 15 days before the shoot, Kiran Rao called me to say that I didn’t match the looks of the character. I offered to grow a beard and change things up if it helped. But it didn’t work,” he says recounting the harrowing time.
The rejection broke Hashmi and he decided to drop everything he was doing to pursue acting in earnest. A short film and a toothpaste ad are all he had to his credit during this time. Three years later, after having exhausted all his savings, Hashmi dejectedly returned to a programming job at UTV Bindaas. It wasn’t meant to be, he thought. “Right after I joined, I got called in for an audition for Jab Tak Hai Jaan, and I got selected. I was also working on the script for Filmistaan with director Nitin Kakkar. He found a producer and I auditioned for the lead, and bagged it around the same time,” Hashmi says.
This time though, Hashmi was afraid to quit his job in fear of reliving the three years that he spent struggling. A request for a sabbatical was turned down and Hashmi was left with no choice but to quit, yet again. He had also made up his mind that he wouldn’t return to a job again.
The critically-acclaimed Filmistaan released in 2012, bagged a national award and brought Hashmi accolades. “I was nominated on all major award platforms and won three. I felt I had arrived,” he says adding that soon he realised he couldn’t be more wrong. “I signed a few good films after that. Some didn’t take off; some were half done, and some others though completed never saw the light of day. I didn’t know I would be sitting at home all over again despite a big break,” he says.
The OTT break
At this time, OTT platforms were emerging in India and slowly finding their feet in the burgeoning entertainment industry. There were talks of Indian originals, binge-watching was common, and a boom in the space, imminent. Hashmi was offered a substantial part in Amazon Prime’s The Family Man season one starring alongside legendary actor Manoj Bajpayee. A film he co-produced, Ram Singh Charlie, also found space on an OTT platform. If there was something that could change his life, it was going to be OTT. Hashmi, lapped it all up and played the memorable, often cantankerous JK in The Family Man. He also got the opportunity to work with Bajpayee, who he terms friend, philosopher and guide. “I’ve learnt so much from him. We talk about film, politics and there’s a lot of nonsensical banter too. Our bond in real life is a lot like Srikant and JK’s bond. He made me very comfortable during the shoot,” he says adding that The Family Man 2 has a lot more of JK and interesting sequences with Bajpayee and him.
Hashmi also speaks about the unique experience of working with a multi-cultural cast, especially in The Family Man 2. “A Malayali character was played by a Malayali, Kashmiris played Kashmiri, and auditions were conducted in Chennai for Tamilian characters. All credit goes to the directors Raj and DK. Earlier filmmakers would cast someone from Bombay and give them a strange accent. However, when a cast like this meets, all boundaries dissolve and we are only actors working under the same roof as a family. It’s true unity in diversity,” Hashmi says.
Hashmi clearly loves his work and is full of stories from the OTT world. And yet, the moment there is talk of the OTT vs film debate, Hashmi won’t swear allegiance to it. “I want to act; whether it is for a film, OTT platform or on stage. I can’t deny that OTT revived my career, but the charm of cinema is different. Films are my first love. We grew up watching films and I love the cinema theatre experience, where people laugh and cry together. I am more concerned about a good script, a good director and role now,” he says. And yet he admits that the series format allows for every actor on the cast to develop and show their potential. “Every character gets their time,” he says.
We are convinced Hashmi is here to stay on our OTT screens even when he is eager to take on film projects. He will soon be spotted in Mission Majnu with Sidharth Malhotra and Rashmika Mandanna and the Kangana Ranaut starrer Dhakkad. “There’s a Hotstar series in the pipeline too. I am getting offers for both film and OTT. The roles are very diverse too,” he says adding that he believes he is finally in a good place in his acting career.