Jim Sarbh raced his phone’s self-timer to shoot himself for this magazine’s cover. Comfortable in his well-stocked Mumbai apartment, the actor reflects on everything this lockdown has given him, including Mimi the cat. By Sumeet Keswani
How are you spending your time at home in the lockdown?
Jhadu (sweeping). Pocha (mopping). Kitten. Beer. Music. Porridge. Dancing. Crying. Litter scooping. Video chat. Watering the plants. The Office. Kitten. Eggs. Workout. Nothing. Music. Kitten. Google Hangout. Reading. Killing Eve. Nothing. Love? Love. Yoga. Kitten. Crying. Music.
Any books that the lockdown has helped you finally read?
The Secret Network of Nature by Peter Wohlleben, is what I am reading now. Next on my list: The Hidden Life of Trees, same author, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Kutte by Vijay Tendulkar.
Have you been bingeing on any series or films?
The Office. Chernobyl. True Detective Season 3. What We Do In The Shadows. Dave. Killing Eve. About to start Ozark.
What are you doing to maintain your well-being in isolation?
Uh. Well, I do video call workouts with my trainer Varoon Vesuna. I also drop in on some Zoom yoga sessions led by my mother’s friend Shehnaz. On some days, I’ll realise it is 9.30 pm and I haven’t eaten anything apart from an apple and two cups of coffee. Not particularly healthy. One of the weeks I was extremely emotional and thoughts I had been having for a while leading up to the quarantine were intensified and finally burst forth.
I have intensely avoided all interviews, all ‘live’ sessions during this lockdown.
Why? Because, as per usual, the people creating the issues aren’t the ones suffering. I find it irresponsible and insensitive to discuss what I’m doing in my well-stocked apartment, with easy access to food, drink, and the Internet. My most pressing issues are existential ones: coming to terms with boredom and loneliness, disillusionment, cooking, and cleaning.
There are people having existence issues: out in the streets, walking thousands of miles, being beaten, being sprayed with bleach, starving, having to go into work without appropriate safety equipment, stuck in a house with an abuser, addicts dying in withdrawal, etc.
Has this forced confinement given you any insights into yourself?
Yes. I have realised I’ve been more interested in what my life seemed like, as opposed to what it is.
“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”— Hamlet, Shakespeare. I have known only ‘seems’ for a couple of years. I have been pretending everything is all copacetic, but it is not. I have not been in touch with my true emotions. Instead, I’ve been filling my life with repeating cycles of busyness and numbing-ness. I want to engage with myself and the people I love more deeply, more truthfully, and with more effort and heart.
What were the challenges in styling and shooting yourself?
The 10-second timer. Not having a tripod. Trying to get Mimi to cooperate. Having no lights. Trying production design. Trying to pose. I did no makeup. I did no hair thing. I wore a jacket. That bit was easy.
We love Mimi. Tell us about her!
On the second day of the lockdown, I was walking back from BougieCentral (Foodhall), with all my ‘essentials’ crammed into five bags, when I realised a purplish goo was dripping out of one of my bags. “Ah the frozen blueberries,” I thought, “Will I make it through these times without them?”
The bag tore apart. Sigh. A kitten came tearing out of the bushes. Licked at the blueberry juice. Played around my shoe. I redistributed the ‘essentials’ into four bags. The kitten, mewling like a tiny banshee, climbed all the way up my pant leg, then up to my t-shirt, till my chest. It was heartbreaking.
“Oh kitten, my hands are full. I have to take these home.
Also, I have nothing at home for you. I’ve never had a cat.”
I pulled her off my shirt and placed her back in the bushes and carried on home. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t sleep. I went back the next day, at 10 am, to the same corner. But she wasn’t there. Then again at 5 pm. Then again at 7:30 pm. Slightly heartbroken, I began to walk back home.
“Jimbo!” I turned to my right—two people in masks with a dog were walking down the street. Turns out I knew one of them: Shree Ganesh. I told them about the kitten.
I got home to my phone blowing up. “Is this the cat?” Shree Ganesh had sent an Instagram post about a little white calico kitten rescued off the street. It was her. I went over and got her, immediately.
Mimi. She picked me.
What did you first stock up on?
Dal. Rice. Rolling paper.
If you were to choose a place other than your home for this quarantine…
Anywhere with a backyard. The sun on my face. Grass under my back.
Where is the first place you’d like to travel to once all travel bans are lifted?
Kashmir, with someone special.
Jim Sarbh’s 5 Things To Watch At Home
1. Altered States by Ken Russell.
2. Nuts in May by Mike Leigh.
3. Shaun of the Dead by Edgar Wright.
4. Ardh Satya by Govind Nihalani.
5. The Trip by Michael Winterbottom.