Bollywood's new antagonists are essaying true-to-life characters with ease

It's good to be bad. There are a bunch of relatively new actors who have pulled off some sparkling performances as the antagonists in recent releases. With more slice-of-life films being made, the baddie, too, is becoming more 'real'.

Jim Sarbh was seen as the fuming terrorist Khalil in the recent Sonam Kapoor-starrer Neerja; Inaamulhaq featured as the Iraqi army major, Kahalf Bin Zayd, the main antagonist, in Airlift, which had the evacuation of the Indians trapped in Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf War as its backdrop; and Pradhuman Singh who played Noora, a lookalike of Osama bin Laden, in Tere Bin Laden (2010), reprises his role in the latest release, Tere Bin Laden – Dead or Alive.

But in an industry where stereotypes reign, how easy or difficult is it to shed the terror tag attached to their roles and move on to play different characters? We help the actors get a reality check...

'It's tough breaking the mould'
The make-up guys (Vikram Gaikwad and Rajesh Sharma) did a great job to make me look like a replica of Osama.

It would take me over two hours to get the look. Initially, I had not told anyone including my family what role I was playing, I wondered how they would react. In fact, I feared a backlash. But after playing Osama, I got accolades, but ended up getting similar kind of roles. I have to admit playing Osama worked against getting more work. It’s tough breaking the mould.

Pradhuman Singh in Tere Bin Laden
Pradhuman Singh in 'Tere Bin Laden'

They had seen Osama, but they did not know who I was. I had done theatre during my student days with the film’s writer-director Abhishek Sharma in Delhi. He felt I resembled Osama.

Pradhuman Singh

I was shocked when he first told me who he wanted me to play in the film. I used to work in an IT company in Delhi till I quit my job and arrived in Mumbai to pursue Bollywood. After the first installment of Tere Bin Laden, I broke my arm in a mishap and the going was tough. Some projects that I was supposed to be part of did not happen.

I did 'Dilliwalli Zaalim Girlfriend' (2015), but no one noticed me in it. I did not even talk about it. I have had many conversations with God and there have been umpteen times that I felt like going back to Delhi.

But then another 'Tere Bin Laden' came my way. Now, I have to prove myself yet again. I hope to be second time lucky and find a foothold in the industry. At the same time, I firmly believe that waqt se pehle aur kismet se zyaada, you do not get anything.

'Things are moving on the film front'
I auditioned for the role in 'Neerja'. When I was told that I would be playing the character of a terrorist called Khalil, the only apprehension I had was that I did not want to add to the ongoing Islamophobia around the world.

Jim Sarbh and Sonam Kapoor in 'Neerja'
Jim Sarbh and Sonam Kapoor in 'Neerja'

But then I was only acting and playing a character. Yes, I have been noticed and appreciated. Things on the Bollywood front are moving. I am also a part of Konkana Sen Sharma’s film, 'A Death In the Gunj'. I have been doing theatre and currently, I am part of Kalki Koechlin’s play, 'The Living Room'.

Jim Sarbh
Jim Sarbh

The other day after a performance, I had a member of the audience come up to me and ask me whether I was Khalil from 'Neerja'. The English theatre circles know me, but now I have to prove myself in Bollywood.

I am from Mumbai and lived in Sydney for a while and studied in the US. I am aware that some people feel I resemble Freddie Mercury. Do I? Maybe a bit. Imagine playing him in a film? That would give me the biggest high.

'They wondered about my nationality'
In the National Award winning film 'Filmistaan' (2013), I played the character of a Pakistani while in 'Airlift', I played an Iraqi major, Khalaf Bin Zayd. So people tell me it is time I played an Indian.

Inaamulhaq and Akshay Kumar in Airlift
Inaamulhaq and Akshay Kumar in 'Airlift'

After 'Filmistaan', some filmmakers did not want to approach me as they felt I was a Pakistani actor and I would have to face visa issues. But I am proud to be an Indian and I hope in my next film there will be no nationality crisis.


I began my career by doing theatre with IPTA in Saharanpur in UP and then went to the National School of Drama in Delhi.

I was part of Nandita Das’s film 'Firaaq' (2008) which led to director Nitin Kakkar cast me in his film, 'Filmistaan'. Airlift’s director Raja Krishna Menon saw me in 'Filmistaan' and cast me in his film, 'Airlift'.

So one film is leading to another. I am also a writer, and that helps me survive when I am not acting. I have penned TV shows like 'Comedy Circus'. I want to do all kinds of roles, not always the harsher ones.

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