The 2012 Hindi movie Filmistaan celebrated people with an excessive and illogical love for the movies. Its protagonist, played by actor Sharib Hashmi, finds himself in a dangerous hostage situation but the crazy film buff in him romanticizes this near-death experience. It's also what helps him survive it. This was Hashmi's first major lead role. The actor admits that post Filmistaan, he assumed that he 'had arrived'. But that was not to be. He ended up arriving once again in 2019 in Raj and DK's Amazon Prime Video show The Family Man. He plays JK Talpade, 'family man' Srikant Tiwari's (Manoj Bajpayee) single friend. After the show's successful second season that released last week, we spoke to Hashmi about creating JK and the revival of his career.
What's the last few days been like?
I can't describe what I'm feeling in words. It's surreal. I was not expecting this kind of mad, crazy response. I'm not leaving my phone for a even a second. I can't sleep at night. I'm online till 5 AM and get up at 8 AM, and still there are so many messages to go through.
How did you work on your chemistry with Manoj Bajpayee. Is it organic? Do you'll rehearse a lot?
It's actually organic but we do rehearse a lot. Manoj sir likes to do a lot of readings before we go on set. We sit in the van and keep going over our lines and then there are improvisations as well. But all credit to Manoj sir. He made me feel comfortable from the very first scene. I was extremely nervous about playing his best friend because I was so aware that this is Manoj Bajpayee. But we clicked immediately and the bond kept getting stronger. I can tell he's very fond of me and I also adore and respect him.
One of my favourite moments was when we were shooting in Chennai and were travelling back to the hotel. It was a long drive and I was talking to him about playing Bhiku Mhatre in Satya. I was asking him how it still looked so fresh, how he pulled it off… And then I took out my phone and we ended up watching Satya together for the rest of the journey. It was surreal.
What do you make of JK's relationship with Umayal? He tried to flirt a little but it didn't go anywhere.
I think this time the flirting went one step ahead. When she's hospitalised JK goes to visit and the moment they shared was a little more than flirtatious. This was my reading but I don't know what Raj and DK will do with this chemistry or if they will do anything at all. But I think there is hope for JK and Umayal.
You've said JK was initially Bengali. Was it your idea to make him Maharashtrian?
When I had auditioned for the part, they sent me the script and it said Mr Ghosh. I said, 'give me two days. I'll work on my Bengali accent and come back for the test'. They said I had to keep it neutral, without any accent, and then they'd take a call. Raj and DK liked my audition but when I met them they said I don't look Bengali. They asked me which other region I could fit in. My dad was from UP so I suggested that. They said no because Srikant Tiwari is from UP, so that was taken. We also considered making him Muslim but Pasha and Zoya were already there. Then I said let's do Maharashtrian because I'm born and raised here and I speak Marathi well. We took a while to lock the name also. I suggested so many options like Tambe, Chaatre… finally we zeroed in JK Talpade.
Do you remember the audition?
I remember it very clearly. I remember I did a great job! Vaibhav Vishant, who was an assistant at the time with Mukesh Chhabra, was giving me cues for Srikant. In season 1 there's a scene where JK and Srikant joke that they want to go to Bangkok. He says, 'chal wahaan surgical strike karte hain'. That was the scene. It's happened to me in the past where I've given a damn good audition for a really big show and it just never works out. So when this went well, I started crying from before because I assumed I won't get the part. We actors go through so many rejections on a daily basis that sometimes it becomes very hard to be positive. I really, really prayed hard this comes through. I wanted this so bad. I knew if this happens it will change things.
Did you ever ask Raj and DK what they liked about your test?
That's another amazing story! Raj and DK were shooting for Stree in Bhopal. Raj was looking at the auditions for JK on the set. He was going through mine when Aparshakti (Khurana) looked from behind and said, 'Oh, that's Sharib. Please cast him'. Abhishek Banejee (actor and casting director) also saw me and said you have to take him. And then Rajkummar (Rao) came and said, 'Oh my god, that's Sharib. Don't look further. He's your guy'. They all strongly recommended me and later Raj told me he's never seen actors back another actor like this. So I have to thank the entire cast of Stree for putting in a good word.
Filmistaan is one of my favourite movies about the movies. You played a person who has this mad, irrational love for cinema. Personally how have you managed to keep that kind of love alive when things were going downhill?
Because I'm a big film buff. My dad was a film journalist and I used to go to film parties and mahurats. Actors used to come over for interviews. I remember going to massive premieres at Eros and Minerva. I would go along for those grand mahurats at hotels. Now everything is corporatised.
Yes, but this is showbiz from the outside. How hard was it to continue loving this world when you had to sell your house to make ends meet.
Yes, my love did waver at times but that love for cinema is also what kept me going. We lived in a chawl and if I passed by a home and saw someone watching a film, I'd stand at the window and see the entire movie. I also remember which films I've seen this way – Bhagwan Dada, Coolie and Mard. So I'm crazy about the movies and that wont go, no matter what.
Is there a film or a movie character that has influenced you the most?
If I have to pick just one it will have to be Anand. The undying spirit of a man, no matter how bad life gets, inspires me. 'Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi' is my motto.
Which reminds me, the scene in the hospital when JK tells Srikant, 'Pushpa, I hate tears' is lovely.
That was Suparn's (Verma) idea. And after that JK shows Srikant the middle finger and says 'yeh dekh, yeh dekh, yeh dekh'. That's from Andaz Apna Apna. Paresh Rawal shows the gun and says that line. This I improvised.
What kind of doors has The Family Man opened for you? Has it led to better parts?
My career was revived thanks to The Family Man. I went through a very low phase after Filmistaan and I never expected that. I thought I have arrived, my struggle is over. But I don't know what was wrong with my destiny. I signed some really great films but some never took off, some got stuck midway and some we never managed to release because they were indies. The years went by and nothing substantial happened. A film called Phullu came and no one saw it. In fact, when The Family Man interviews happened, everyone asked me 'what happened to you after Filmistaan'. I don't have answers to this question. I used to feel terrible. Thanks to this show things changed. But I have to say but even if this didn't happen, even if Filmistaan was the only film on my IMDB page, I'd have died a peaceful death.