Farrukh Jaffar, Gulabo Sitabo’s sassy Begum is on a career high at 87, here’s where you’ve seen her before

Gulabo Sitabo’s Farrukh Jaffar has previously worked in films such as Peepli Live, Sultan, The Photograph, Swades and others.
Farrukh Jaffar as the Begum in Gulabo Sitabo.
Farrukh Jaffar as the Begum in Gulabo Sitabo.
Updated on Jun 12, 2020 06:54 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByDeep Saxena

Very few actors can boast of a career high in their late 80s but Farrukh Jaffar is one such miracle. The 87 year old is the heart of Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo. She plays the sassy Begum, forever armed with her witty comebacks and infectious smile.

But Gulabo Sitabo is not her biggest or only big screen appearance. She played important and memorable parts in Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s The Photograph, Irrfan Khan’s The Lunchbox, Shah Rukh Khan’s Swades and also in Raghubir Yadav’s Peepli Live.

HT City traces her journey from the “first female Vividh Bharti announcer on radio” to becoming a lead actor at 87.

SHAPING UP

Farrukh walked slowly from her room with her stick and settled on her cosy sofa. She then flashed a smile and fired the first question, “Kahan se hain aap?”

Answering the same query she said, “I have lived in ‘Naya’ Lucknow all my life, away from the Old City — Hazratganj, 40-odd years in Lawrence Terrace and now Gomti Nagar…tab to yahan kuch bhi nahi tha!”

In a still from The Photograph.
In a still from The Photograph.

She joined radio in 1963. “Don’t know why people address me as the first female radio announcer. I was the first when Vividh Bharti station began in Lucknow. Along with Parveen Talha and one Sinhaji, we were selected in the first lot. I worked till 1966 and then in AIR Urdu in Delhi till 1970. I was the senior-most announcer there but Delhi ‘humko raas nahi aai’.” Jaffar was an A1 category announcer even though she had no formal training.

However, she left it all due to personal reasons. “Kuch gharelu masle the…So, I had to go my mother in Chakesar (Jaunpur) to sort out things in my nanihal (maternal grandmother’s house).” She left radio and got busy with family and life.

Her husband was a freedom fighter and journalist. He switched to politics and was MLC for two terms. They have two daughters Mehru Jaffer (an author) and Shahein.

A still from Peepli Live.
A still from Peepli Live.

PLAYING UMRAO JAAN’S MOTHER

Farrukh played Rekha’s mother in Umrao Jaan, a role that landed in her lap from nowhere. “We had a help Purdil Kaka who used to talk in a ‘dehati’ (rustic) dialect. He called family members with names like ‘karia’, ‘bachwa’, ‘banmanus’ and so on. At a private gathering, someone asked ‘Farrukh bi, woh aapka mulazim kaise bolta hai?’ and I started extempore in his typical style (mix of Bhojpuri and Jaunpuri dialect). Muzaffar (Ali), who was also there, was listening to it from the balcony, and he came and offered me the role.”

“It was like someone has thrown a bomb on me! In my family, even the men did not watch films and he was asking me to work in one. Thankfully, my family is very progressive and has always supported me in whatever I have done. I liked the role and agreed to work.”

Inspired by life, Farrukh wrote her own dialogues for the films. “Bas, jumlon ka her-pher kar ke bolna hota hai. Woh ek samay tha, ek junoon tha…ab bhi yehi kafiyat rehti hai ki script ho, dialogues hon, aur hum boltey rahen (It is just a play of words. That was a different time and passion…but even today, the hunger is for scripts, for dialogues, and that I continue to mouth them)!”

She also acted in TV shows Husn-e-Jana, Adha Gaon, The Shawl and Neem Ka Ped.

SECOND INNINGS

She made a comeback with Swades (2003), Peepli (Live), Amma Ki Boli, Barefoot to Goa, Parched, What Will People Say, Sultan and Secret Superstar, almost 23 years after her debut. “I have always tried to improvise with dialogues on the spot. I infuse a slice of my own life experiences in them and my directors have been kind enough to accept the additions,” she says.

Also read: Kareena Kapoor, producer Rhea Kapoor are waiting for lockdown to end: ‘On our way to get some cocktails after the lockdown’

She has worked with all three Khans--Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan-- and have been very sweet to her. “During Sultan, during the marriage scene of Salman and Anushka, I blessed him saying may he get married soon, to which he said with a laugh, “Aisi bad-dua mat dijiye…kabhi-kabhi bola hua sach ho jata hai (Don’t curse me like this…sometimes, words spoken do come true).”

(This article was first published in January 2019)

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