Jim Sarbh on International-Emmy Nominated Performance in ‘Rocket Boys’

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Indian actor Jim Sarbh has been recognized with an International Emmy best actor nomination for hit SonyLIV series “Rocket Boys.”

In the series, created by Nikkhil Advani, directed by Abhay Pannu and produced by Roy Kapur Films and Emmay Entertainment, Sarbh plays Dr. Homi Jahangir Bhabha, credited as the father of the Indian nuclear program. Alongside him is Ishwak Singh playing Vikram Sarabhai who pioneered India’s space research program.

Since debuting in 2014 with “Shuruaat Ka Interval,” Sarbh has racked up an impressive array of credits including the acclaimed “Neerja” (2016), Toronto title “A Death in the Gunj” (2017), hits “Padmaavat” and “Sanju,” Rotterdam film “Jonaki,” Toronto selection “The Wedding Guest” (all 2018), Sundance film “Photograph” (2019) and 2023 hit “Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway.” He also has a recurring lead role in the immensely popular Prime Video series “Made in Heaven.”

Next up for Sarbh are: an interview show with Zoya Hussain; a new film with Pannu, Nikkhil Advani and Emmay; two short films, one directed by Dibakar Banerji, and one by Rishav Kapoor (creatively produced by Chaitanya Tamhane); and a film titled “Pune Highway” directed by Bugs Bhargava and Rahul Da Cunha.

Before these get under way, Sarbh spoke to Variety about “Rocket Boys” and the International Emmy nomination.

What was the preparatory process that you went through to play Homi Bhabha?

I read about Dr. Bhabha, took violin lessons, brushed up on historical moments and their significance and effect on Dr. Bhabha’s plans, workshopped the scenes and learned my lines. The most fun was working with Abhay to try to represent an approach to life that was different from ours. How does a genius think? We know what he did, and by reading his writing we get a little window into his thought process, but how does he deal with loss? How does he run a board meeting? How does he beg for funds? How does he flirt? How does a person that thinks faster, deeper, and broader approach all of these moments? Sometimes it would take us weeks to land on what Homi thought of in a moment.

Did your own background as a member of the Parsi community help with the role?

I think being a Parsi, having studied abroad, enjoying working a room, and having family connections to money (not generational in my case) and art, all helped me relate to the character. But that’s where the similarities end. Homi is far more curious, driven, intelligent, charming, comfortable in his own skin, impervious to people’s opinions, focused on perfection, and farsighted than I, perhaps, could ever be.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while working on “Rocket Boys”?

We started shoot right as the first lockdown ended, in late 2020, early 2021. We worked through the pandemic’s many spikes, and that affected the momentum of the shoot. A COVID-19 scare would result in the shoot being shut down abruptly, which would break the flow of a set that had started to click together. The advantage was, however, that we would have more time, sometimes, to rethink a scene, but also just to bond without the pressures that a set naturally brings.

What’s your biggest takeaway from the series?

My takeaway from the Rocket Boys’ lives is just how they managed to harness their privilege and their ambition and devote it to the greater good. They were two of the many architects of modern India, a newly birthed India, where the desire to progress and develop was strong, but the resources were scarce.

As far as Homi Bhabha was concerned, my biggest takeaway is his insatiable curiosity, and that he was unafraid of the hard work required to turn curiosity into expertise.

My takeaway from the set was how important it is for a limited series, two seasons, to have the same crew members, under the guidance of writer-director Abhay Pannu whose vision was as clear as his ability to collaborate. The continuity this gave us, with the same team working on every episode, resulted in a unity of vision, camaraderie, and a sense of striving together for a mutual goal. The entire team assembled: Harshvir Oberoi as cinematographer, Meghna Gandhi as production designer, Maahir Zaveri as editor, Uma Biju on costumes, Subhash Sahoo on sound, Achint Thakkar on music, Kavish Sinha on casting, Pradeep Nigam on art direction, Shoma Goswami on hair and make-up design, Priya Lahon on my personal hair, makeup and prosthetics, and the entire AD and production team, were fantastic collaborators.

What does the International Emmy nomination mean to you and have you watched the shows your fellow nominees are nominated for?

I am overwhelmed and excited to be nominated under the best actor category at the International Emmy Awards for my portrayal of Dr. Homi Bhabha in “Rocket Boys.” It is an honor to be recognized amongst such talented individuals from across the world. I have not seen the work of Gustavo Bassani, and Jonas Karlsson, but I am very interested in watching the shows they have been nominated for.

Martin Freeman? I have followed his career for many years and absolutely love his work. From “The Office,” how he always shows up in one of my favorite directors Edgar Wright’s work, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Fargo,” “Carnage,” to of course “Sherlock.” I have not watched “The Responder,” but I am very eager to. I greatly admire his ability to represent an underdog, an everyman, with so much grace, depth, bravery in the face of sadness, quiet charisma, and humor. He always has me rooting for his character.

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