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Farooque Shaikh birth anniversary: An unheroic actor who could make us laugh, feel deep remorse

Farooque Shaikh birth anniversary: Remembering Bollywood’s aam aadmi who could make us laugh, feel deep remorse and much more.

bollywood Updated: Mar 25, 2018 16:38 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Farooque Shaikh,Om Puri,Naseeruddin Shah
Farooque Shaikh, as Nawab Sultan of Umrao Jaan, was convincing in portraying his character’s many failings.

Can it be possible to be completely unheroic and yet warm oneself into someone’s heart? Can one be a gentle romantic, a sly manipulator, a flustering lover, a conniving politician, all at the same time? Well, if you happen to be an actor as accomplished as the late Farooque Shaikh, you can.

Farooque Shaikh, as one of the foremost exponents in the parallel cinema movement, was the quintessential common man - unheroic yet immensely entertaining and moving. Even as the movement was dominated by the quartet of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil, Farooque along with the other common man of 1970s Hindi film industry, Amol Palekar, was the great exponent of the middle-of-the-road cinema. This was a world inhabited by the average Joe - people of intrinsic goodness with a little ego, some guile and trifle affectations. One of the greatest gifts actors like him brought to the ‘other’ great Indian cinema was a sense of humour.

In December 2013, the talented actor suddenly passed away in Dubai after suffering a heart attack. In his passing away, India lost one of its favourite cinematic aam aadmis. On his birth anniversary, here’s a look at why Farooque Shaikh was so convincing as an actor.

Farooque was born to wealth - no, not as the scion of a rich industrialist. His father was a successful Mumbai-based lawyer but their family came from Gujarat’s landed gentry. Hence, Farooque’s childhood and young adult life was comfortable. Growing up in Mumbai and with a good education (like Shabana, he too is an alumnus of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai), law ought to have been the obvious step, except that the young Farooque had no love for the courts. Theatre is what brought him close to cinema (and his wife, Roopa).

Doing plays for IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) brought him to the notice of veteran director MS Sathyu, who offered him his first break with Garm Hawa (1973), an all-time Indian classic. He wasn’t the hero (Balraj Sahni had that honour) but Farooque, as Balraj’s son, had a substantial role. A riveting drama of conflicting emotions - of a north Indian family caught in the confusion of identities, politics and fortune in newly independent India - Farooque played a young Muslim graduate. Often unclear yet with hopeful ideas of his place under the sun in independent India, he formed a perfect counter to Balraj Sahni, an elderly Muslim gentleman, caught between the roots, identity, failing business and fortune. Garm Hawa remains one of the master strokes of Indian cinema.

The film was Farooque’s first brush with recognition. However, nothing much happened for a really long time after that.

Lady luck smiled on him again in 1978 when he starred in Muzaffar Ali’s directorial debut, Gaman, playing a taxi driver from Uttar Pradesh, who despite his best efforts to save money and return to his village and wife, fails to do so. The haunting melody, Seene Mein Jalan, Aankhon Mein Toofan Sa Kyun Hai, is from this film. Sung by Suresh Wadkar with music by Jaidev, its collective YouTube views (there are a number of videos there) will give you an idea of its lasting popularity. Farooque was paired with the redoubtable Smita Patil in the film.

Gaman, in effect, set the ball rolling for Farooque that lasted till the mid-1980s. With Muzaffar Ali, Farooque would gift us another gem of Indian cinema - Umrao Jaan, which incidentally also happens to be one of Bollywood diva Rekha’s finest performances. Set in the dying days of Awadh’s glory (it would be completely destroyed with the 1857 mutiny), Farooque, as a gentle romantic who fails to live up to the expectations of his beloved, was absolutely convincing. Nawab Sultan, an indulgent connoisseur of art and culture of Lucknow, who craves and appreciates both beauty and poetry, falls for the talented courtesan Umrao Jaan, but fails to commit to her. Quite a spineless guy really, but yet one can’t really hate him either.

Farooque Shaikh and Rekha in a scene from Umrao Jaan.

Through the late 70s and early 80s, Farooque formed a great onscreen chemistry with actor Deepti Naval. Theirs was, without doubt, one of Hindi cinema’s best loved ‘filmy jodis’. Together, they worked in close to nine films, the crowning glory being Sai Paranjpe-directed Chashme Baddoor (1981), a delightful comedy of errors of two buddies who fail to woo the new girl in the neighbourhood while their nerdy roommate succeeds. Thereafter, how they set out to sabotage their friend’s romance, forms the gist of the drama. Needless to say, a glorious set of actors, Deepti Naval as ‘Miss Chamko’ Neha, late Ravi Baswani, Rakesh Bedi and Farooque ensured that we got an evergreen classic.

Farooque Shaikh and Deepti Naval formed a hit romantic pair.

Burrowing from the basic plot from K Bhagyaraj’s 1981 Tamil movie Indru Poi Naalai Vaa, Chashme Baddoor is what millennials will remember him for.

Farooque and Deepti was what middle-class romantic couples looked like - even the college going ones. There was warmth, friendship and an innate civility about their onscreen romance. One never laughed, but rather smiled a lot more. No copious tears were seen here, but had those pangs of pain.

This combination - Farooque, Deepti and Sai Paranjpe - would give us yet another delightful piece of cinema, Katha. Set in the chawls of Mumbai, this triangular love story, was special in more ways than one. It had Farooque playing a bit of rogue. As a sly manipulator, who casually flirts with a gullible girl (Deepti) of the neighbourhood only to ditch her at the end, Farooque was a study of cunning. The story is inspired by the Indian folklore of the hare and the tortoise. The film had many light moments sprinkled throughout.

The duo did many other films together, some of whose songs are still hugely popular. Check out the Jagjit and Chitra Singh ghazals from Saath Saath; Tumko Dekho Toh Khayal Aaya, Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mere Ghar, for example.

But before you think of Farooque as the arthouse type, hold your horses. He also delivered a superhit film, Noorie, with Yash Chopra production. Starry opposite the absolutely stunning Poonam Dhillon, Farooque was every girl’s lover. The actor looked convincing as a striking Kashmiri too. It’s title track Noorie, Aaja Re O Mere Dilbar Aaja, might still be a popular on late-night FMs.

With Shabana Azmi too, Farooque formed a successful partnership. However, their best remembered piece of work will remain not from films but theatre. Tumhari Amrita, an epistolary form of play, directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, is a bitter-sweet love story, spread over 35 years between Amrita Nigam and Zulfikar Haider. It remains among the most successful plays in Indian theatre scene.

Farooque Shaikh with Poonam Dhillon in Noorie.

Watching these two seasoned actors at Delhi’s Habitat Centre, this writer realised how pauses, smiles and simply filling up the little gaps in the script with glances and reflections is what makes good acting enigmatic. If you haven’t watched it live, chances are you will never know what magic was.

Farooque, incidentally, was in great form on television too. If you have always craved for a bit of British humour on Indian TV, here’s to inform you that there was once a glimmer of hope with Ji Mantri Ji. This satirical take on Indian bureaucracy and its relationship with the political class was an Indian adaptation of the British satirical sitcom Yes Minister.

Farooque as Surya Prakash Singh, the minister of administrative affairs and Jayant Kripalani as the department’s secretary, Rajnath Mathur did complete justice to the original. Given the sorry state of Indian television today and the enduring charm of this intelligent series, Netflix could as well, pick up its rights and air it for an all-new audience craving for a more engaging entertainment.

The actor had a rather successful stint as a chat show host as well. Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, where he interviewed all top stars from Bollywood, will always be remembered for its honesty of purpose, his sense of humour and humble approach.

There’s a lot more to write about the actor, but let’s just end here. Farooque went suddenly, aged only 65. Not fair, boss.

Author tweets @mniveditatweets

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First Published: Mar 25, 2018 11:24 IST