Start early, don’t wait like I did: Sharib Hashmi aka JK Talpade in The Family Man

In an exclusive interview with YSWeekender, actor Sharib Hashmi speaks about his journey in Indian Cinema, his versatile roles, his challenges and more…

A slum dweller, an immigrant worker in London, an aspiring singer who can’t hold a tune, a CBI officer, an assistant director who's a wannabe actor, and a spy all have one thing in common. They have all been played by one man - Sharib Hashmi, aka JK Talpade of Amazon Prime Series The Family Man, and Lolark Dubey of the Voot Select Series, Asur.   

“The second season of The Family Man is even better than the first one,” says Sharib. But before that he played the role of a slum dweller in the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire, an aspiring singer who could not hold a tune for one episode of MTV Bakra, and found his breakthrough as a character actor with the role of Zain, an immigrant worker in London in the movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan

At a height of 5 feet 4 inches, 44-year old Sharib had always thought his dream of becoming an actor would just be that - a dream. The small roles he got for MTV’s once famous - Bakra and other shows on TV were by chance. Giving up on his dream, Sharib went to be a writer for television. But it turned out that life had other plans for him.

Sharib Hashmi

For many people, Mumbai becomes home with the dreams of tinsel town. For Sharib, both Mumbai and it's tinseltown were home. Living in the chawls in Malad, Sharib’s father ZA Johar was a noted film journalist. Films, parties, and the glitz associated with Johar’s position left Sharib starry-eyed as a young boy. 

Not able to pull his ‘height’ through 

“I remember waking up one afternoon to drink water and walking into the living room, and seeing Anupam Kher talking to my father. I wasn’t sure if I was fully awake,” says Sharib. 

As a young 10-year-old, he remembers dancing to Govinda’s songs in his room, and stopping on the streets to watch a film playing on a neighbour’s television. “I have watched the movies Ghar ek Mandir, and Tawaif on my neighbour’s VCR close to 50 times,” he recollects. The close association to films just got him deeper involved into the world of cinema.

Even today Sharib brings in the same innocence and passion of that of a child. He loves movies, actors, is curious, and is always learning. While talking about the actors he has worked with or has seen up close, Sharib expresses the same enthusiasm of a star-struck fan. Glitz and glamour may have been a part of his life, but Sharib is still not jaded.

An average student, Sharib finished his degree in Economics from Bhavan’s college, Andheri. His father wanted him to become an actor, but Sharib always felt his height just wouldn’t help him make it. 

“While my parents were of the impression that I am good-looking, I had no such delusions. Also, even for character roles, I felt my height would be a problem. I just naively gave up on my dream without pursuing it,” jokes Sharib. 

It was then, his friend from college, Rajul Mishra, helped Sharib get his first job as an Assistant Director to Nabh Kumar Raju for the film Hum Tumpe Marte Hai in 1998. The combination of chaos and order on his very first film set is an experience Sharib will never forget. 

Sharib Hashmi

On the film sets 

Standing around the sets, watching the chaos and the energy, the mix of discussions, and the water cooler conversations the actors would have with each other - played an important part in Sharib understanding the art of films and filmmaking. 

Even after over a decade, Sharib remembers his first day at his very first film set as distinctly as yesterday. Unlike the other directors, Nabh Kumar Raju would always involve the ADs in the process of filmmaking, from scripting to the final mixing and even ideation. 

“It is something that taught me a lot about the art of filmmaking. I have no formal training in acting or direction, so I learn everything on the sets. And the first film I worked on had stellar actors like Govinda, Urmila Matondkar, Dimple Kapadia, and Paresh Rawal. For a film buff like me, it was a dream come true. I want to become a director,” says Sharib.

Writing his way forward 

While for his next job he did get the option of working as an AD for another director, the experience wasn’t the same. It was then he started writing for MTV, where he wrote VJ links. It was the heyday of MTV, where being an anchor or a VJ was as close to being a film star, but Sharib was in his happy zone of working as a writer. 

It was while at MTV that he played the first Bakra. “My Hindi was my cool factor. I am not very good in English, and I have always been comfortable in Hindi, and everyone found that cool,” says Sharib. He was happy writing for MTV, with the small roles in shows, and Bakra acts

He continued to do small roles, and while many people asked him why he wouldn’t pursue acting as a career, Sharib would brush it off. 

Sharib Hashmi with Sunny Hinduja, and Manoj Bajpai on the sets of The Family Man

From the slums to the ghat 

Working in MTV from January 2003 to December 2006, Sharib went ahead with his writing projects. He went to work for Channel V for one year, and in the end of 2007 another friend asked him to audition for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. 

“I still wasn’t very keen. It was for the role of the constable that Saurabh Saxena had played. And the audition was for that role. The AD had wanted me to go dressed as a cop and prank Danny Boyle bakra style for the role. But I thought it was too much of a task and I hadn't considered acting as a serious option yet, so I just went for that one short role," recollects Sharib. 

The seeds of childhood dream of the dancing in his bedrooms and trying out Govinda’s dialogues, seemed revive in Sharib’s mind. While he had already moved to Dubai with a job in hand, Sharib couldn’t stay there for more than a month. 

“I knew that I had to stay in Mumbai if I wanted to act, and wanted to try this. It was my first trip out of India. I got my passport made for that job, but then I just wanted to come back and within a month, I was back,” says Sharib. 

He came back and joined as a creative head content for a channel. It was then that he got a call for Dhobi Ghat auditions towards the end of 2008. It was for the role of Pratiek Babbar’s brother, and Sharib bagged the role. 

But the script demanded a different kind of personality, and Sharib lost that role eventually. “While it was the right call as any director would take keeping their film in mind, I was shattered. I took that a little too personally and decided to get into acting full-time,” says Sharib. 

Sharib Hashmi with Manoj Bajpai

The years of struggle 

The ride wasn’t easy. Apart from people wondering why Sharib was looking to getting into acting so late in life, many even wondered why he was looking to quit his cushy job. For three years Sharib went for several 100 auditions but nothing worked. 

“I did TV commercials, ads, and a short film. I was married with a child now and had a responsibility. Three years later, I was broke and in debt. While my wife was extremely supportive, I knew I couldn’t continue like that. I had to find a job. The home had to run,” says Sharib. 

He joined another TV Channel as AVP programming. And three months into that job, Sharib got a call from the casting director of Yash Raj Films - Shanoo Sharma. For any aspiring actor, getting a call from ‘The Shanoo Sharma’ of YRF, is a career defining moment. 

“I had tried everywhere for three years, but nobody had looked in my direction then. And then one day I get the call. Shanoo had seen a short film of mine, and asked for me to test for Jab Tak Hai Jaan. I went for the audition,” says Sharib. 

Sharib Hashmi with director Yash Chopra

Working in Yash Chopra’s last film 

What worked for Sharib was that his immediate boss at the same time was out on a vacation, making it easy for Sharib to take several different rounds of auditions. While he did get through, in the end he got a call saying he wasn’t suitable for the part of Zain. 

“I was working so I had some cushioning. But within a few days, I got a call from YRF, and asked to come for another audition. I went to the YRF office and gave an audition, and within half an hour I got a call back asking me to come for the shoot the day after. It was a sudden shift. I had given up my dream again,” says Sharib. It was also the same time that Sharib got another role in the movie, Filmistaan. He even won a Best Actor in a comic role, Screen Award for his role in Filmistaan.

While Sharib wanted to retain his job and take an unpaid leave, he wasn’t allowed to do so. He was given the chance of either working or acting. Quitting his job, he took the plunge. “It wasn’t an opportunity to miss, especially working with a director like Yash Chopra. And it also happened to be his last film. And in some way, I have become a part of history,” says Sharib. 

Sharib along with Shahrukh Khan during the shoot of Jab Tak Hai Jaan

“I would walk into a set and on side there would be Yash Chopra, Anil Mehta, and Shahrukh Khan. It was like walking into a dream world. I had always envisioned being in a set with Shahrukh Khan, giving a shot and then having conversations of home and hearth, and that dream came true for me. Shahrukh even told me it was great working with me. It is something I will never forget,” reminisces Sharib. 

The world of OTT 

After that, Sharib didn’t have to look back. He soon went on to play character roles in different films and landed the role of JK Talpade in Amazon Prime’s The Family Man

Speaking of how he approaches a role, Sharib says - “I don’t prepare much for a role. I keep reading the script and making the character mine, and getting into the character’s world. I don’t do method acting. I am an untrained actor; I go more with understanding the character and director. I have no fixed approach for preparing for my parts, as every part needs a different thought process. Each character needs a different recipe. Some parts need extensive research, while some others I go with instinct."

Sharib Hashmi along with Arshad Warsi, on the sets of Asur

He says he worked consciously to be different for JK Talpade and Lolar Dubey, as both are law enforcement roles. 

“Working with the likes of Manoj Bajpai, you learn every single minute by just observing him. He approaches every role with authenticity, and even for the smallest scene he adds his bits that make it magical. He works to make every scene engaging. Arshad Warsi is like off-screen Shashi Kapoor, he approaches acting with ease and complete flow,” says Sharib. 

Advising aspiring actors, he says, “Start early, don’t wait like I did. I think I wasted time. Focus on what you want to do, and understand you are on your own and have to get things on your own merit. Join an acting school and learn the tricks of the trade.” 

Edited by Asha Chowdary