Is Jimmy Sheirgill Bollywood's most underrated actor?
Jimmy Sheirgill has consistently wowed us with his class acts, professionalism and humility. And yet, the man who steers clear of the media glare, is always taken for granted
Published: Fri 5 Oct 2018, 12:00 AM
Last updated: Fri 12 Oct 2018, 1:54 PM
I'm guilty as much as other Bollywood movie trackers are. This column on the grossly undervalued Jimmy Sheirgill should have been written years ago. On belatedly watching his brief-but-supremely compelling act as a small-town overlord in Mukkabaaz, I was bowled over. No grandstanding, no gimmicky mannerisms, no belaboured effort whatsoever, the actor - who has been unfairly relegated to supporting roles - belted out a class act.
Born Jasjit Singh Gill 47 years ago in a village in Punjab to a family of landowners, he has never crowed about the fact that the legendary painter, the late Amrita Sher-Gil, was his paternal grand aunt. Without any fanfare, he made his debut in Gulzar's Maachis 22 years ago, and has since featured in as many as 75 films, incarnating characters from the romantic campus youth (in Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein) and tough-talking police officers to the dude who never quite acquires himself a walk-into-the-sunset happy ending. Unwaveringly praised by critics and regarded as an ace actor by the ticket-paying public, he should have been in a cushier zone.
Alas, he isn't.
Reason? Perhaps Jimmy Sheirgill has been taken for granted, and always expected to deliver the goods, which he has with perfect professionalism. Not surprisingly, then, he has been the go-to actor for a range of filmmakers. Count among them Raju Hirani (the Munna Bhai series), Tigmanshu Dhulia (Haasil and the Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster franchise), and Aanand L. Rai (the two-parter Tanu Weds Manu as well as the romedy Happy Bhaag Jayegi and its sequel produced by Rai).
Indeed, the A-lister helmer Shoojit Sircar made his debut over 12 years ago with the little-remembered war drama Yahaan, showcasing the actor in the central role of an army commander posted in the strife-ridden Kashmir valley.
Over time, Sheirgill has been, at most, rated as a bankable actor by the trade gurus. No major awards, and no mass adulation have come to him. So, what's missing? Will he ever get the due recognition he deserves? I don't have a facile answer for these questions. I can merely hazard the guess that perhaps he has lacked the killer instinct to amass publicity. He is rarely spotlighted on the various media platforms. Neither is he seen hanging out at events where the paparazzi could request him for a photo-op.
Married to Priyanka Puri, the first girl he fell in love with, he keeps his wife and their teenage son, Veer, out of the picture - unlike most Bollywood celebrities who tend to be limelight moths. Once, when I'd asked him, why he's shy of the media, his response was, "This could be my fault. I've never solicited for interviews and photo sessions. I guess I didn't ever pick up the tricks of the trade."
And if he's asked why he has far too frequently blended into the acting ensemble's woodwork, he has shrugged, and said, "I've no ego hassles about multi-starrers, as long as my role has at least a semblance of substance. At times, I've just done a handful of scenes. If I'd insisted only on playing the hero, I would have been jobless. Moreover, I'd have missed out on the Munna Bhai and Tanu Weds Manu films."
At one point, Sheirgill had turned producer of Punjabi films - which command a huge market, especially overseas. If he doesn't venture into the area of production any more, it's because he's not business-savvy. "I can't tell you how crazy it was to get into the area of finances," he explains, adding, "My core competence - if I may call it that - is acting, not money-making."
Okay, so how can I vouch for the fact that he's unusually cool about the money factor? Speaking from personal experience, when I asked him to portray the third end of a love triangle in Silsiilay, he agreed to take on the role without a second thought, and did it practically for free. On location in Dubai, where we filmed extensively for a fortnight, he was always punctual and focused. He would only plead for a strong cup of coffee at the pre-shoot breakfast table.
Jimmy Sheirgill, who's travelled to Dubai often, was helpful in scouting locations and obtaining permissions to film at the Jumeirah beach. Uncharacteristically, he was hesitant about performing a scene, and mumbled if it could be avoided, since it involved him sharing an intimate moment with his co-star Riya Sen. The next day, he apologised. "My fault, please accept my apologies. Just let me gulp down a double espresso and I'll do that scene today." Which he did, in a single perfect take, and remarked bashfully, "An actor should never say no to his director."
I don't know many actors who would offer an apology. Subsequently, we've discussed several projects we could collaborate on. He's always been gung-ho, even if the film's budget plan was merely a bag of peanuts.
I don't know if I can ever make a film again, given the complicated corporate grid of finances and deliverables today. Be that as it may, I'd just conclude Jimmy Sheirgill knows the importance of being earnest.
And I'm sure that he will be acknowledged, loud and clear, as an actor who has consistently done the right thing.