Jatin Sarna is heading into 2020 with two big releases: Kabir Khan’s 83, in which he plays batsman Yashpal Sharma, and AR Murugadoss’s Darbar, in which he is sharing screen space with Rajinikanth.

This comes after widespread appreciation for playing the hot-headed gangster Bunty in Sacred Games. The Netflix series scored a nomination in the Best Drama category at the 47th International Emmy Awards that was held in New York on November 25.

“Before shooting for Sacred Games, I had no idea it would become this popular or go to the Emmys,” the 35-year-old actor told Scroll.in. “I thought it would be like any other series, but the hook was that it was Netflix’s first original Indian series, and that Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane have directed it.”

The Delhi-born theatre actor has been appearing in supporting roles since 2011. This includes Zeeshan Quadri’s Meeruthiya Gangsters (2015), after which Sarna says he had no assignments for two long years until Sacred Games. In an interview, Sarna discussed the web series, his upcoming films, and life in between.

When did you realise that ‘Sacred Games’ had become a hit?
Within a week of the show’s debut. I began getting calls and messages on my Instagram and Facebook. Suddenly, the number of my followers increased. People began calling me Bunty on the streets. I realised, wow, something big has happened. People began making memes on the show and my character. They began clamouring for a second part. Until then, I had only witnessed people wanting a part two for Baahubali.

Sacred Games season two (2019).

What’s the best compliment you have received yet for playing Bunty?
The best kind of compliments are those in which people mistake me for being a Maharashtrian and begin speaking to me in Marathi until they are shocked to realise I am a Punjabi from Delhi. This recently happened with a CRPF jawan at the airport. He couldn’t believe I was not a Marathi speaker.

From the industry, I got a lot of compliments directly or indirectly. Anil Kapoor recently said nice things to me while we were shooting for a yearender video for Netflix.

How did you handle being without work for two years before ‘Sacred Games’?
I did not lose confidence, but I began asking myself, am I in the right field? Is Bombay really a place for me?

People said they loved my work in Meeruthiya Gangsters, and yet no one called me for work. One day, out of boredom, my friend and I just decided to stroll into casting director Mukesh Chhabra’s office. He was casting Sacred Games then, and he asked me to audition for Bunty. That’s how things began rolling.

Tell us about the ‘Sacred Games’ experience.
I always say that Anurag Kashyap is more like a teacher than a director. He gave me the space and freedom to explore and find my own character. He always kept us on our toes. We never got any script. He would throw us into a scene and ask, okay, what would your character do now?

Jatin Sarna as Bunty in Sacred Games. Courtesy Netflix.

You were part of a pretty bold nude scene.
I was so scared and worried about that. That scene was always in the script, sure, but on an Anurag Kashyap set, you don’t come to shoot reading the script, so I got to know of the scene on the day of the shoot in the morning from the assistant directors. I worried the entire day. But my co-actor was very supportive and Anurag sir knew what he wanted. We shot in the late evening and pulled it off.

Why wasn’t season two as appreciated as season one?
I have no idea, honestly, but I loved both seasons. I think it’s because season one had more action and things kept happening constantly, but season two’s events gave perspective and context to season one. It showed how hate is engineered and built artificially in people to create wars. Wars are executed by guns and bombs, but how do you create hate in the first place? With, say, a viral video today. It showed how everyone, from the politicians to the mafia to the godmen are all connected to satisfy their own needs.

You also had a key role in ‘Sonchiriya’.
It was very different from Sacred Games. It was difficult shooting in Chambal from January, when it’s very cold, to March-end, when it’s very hot, wearing the same costume throughout. Abhishek Chaubey is calm and composed like Vikramaditya Motwane, and like Anurag Kashyap, he knows what he wants, but he won’t allow unnecessary improvisation. He likes to stick to the script.

Jatin Sarna as Ratan Singh in Sonchiriya (2019). Courtesy RSVP.

Your upcoming films include the high-profile ‘83’ and ‘Darbar’.
Kabir Khan is a phenomenal director. He never makes you feel you are small and that he has worked with Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Saif Ali Khan. He is always approachable and supportive. We began training for 83 in November last year and shooting ended just last month.

It was an honour to play Yashpal Sharma, who loved cricket and his country so much that everything was secondary for him. I feel that once the movie is out, Yashpal Sharma will be remembered alongside Kapil Dev and Jimmy Amarnath. Yashpal is angry, passionate, and focused. Except for people of that era, and extreme cricket geeks, no one knows him, which is sad. He scored 89 in India’s first match in the 1983 World Cup against the giants, West Indies, and won Man of the Match. His knock in the semis against England helped India reach the finals.

About Darbar, well, what an amazing moment to work with three legends, Rajinikanth, AR Murugadoss and Santosh Sivan. I watched Kaala and loved it so much, I framed a poster of Rajini sir’s dialogue ‘Kya re?’ and put it up in my house. Within two weeks, casting director Nalini Ratnam called me to say that I have a small part in Darbar, and that I would be in the same frame as Rajinikanth.

Out of curiosity: who was the best and worst cricketer among the entire cast of ‘83’?
Harrdy Sandhu was the best. He played under-19 cricket earlier. He was trained by Madan Lal, and he is playing Madan Lal himself.

As for the worst, no one really, but R Badree, who’s playing Sunil Valson, was definitely the unluckiest player. He practised so much, but did not get to play cricket, because Valson himself was in the ’83 squad but did not play a single match. Badree has some one or two shots of net practice in the film.

You are working with the best directors right now. Can you afford to be picky?
I am actually jobless right now again, because I am saying no to all supporting roles, like, sidekicks or gangster’s right-hand man or hero’s friend. I won’t do a supporting role unless it has some value for real in the movie. In theatre, I played the leading role for years. I have the confidence of playing the lead in films as well. So why settle for less when you know you can deliver?

Jatin Sarna on the sets of 83. Courtesy Jatin Sarna/Instagram.