By Lata Jha:
Every so often, when one watches a film nowadays, one has to make an effort to like the performances. It’s a strain, and sometimes a struggle. After all, you’ve paid some 300 bucks to be sitting in that dark, air conditioned room. There is so much that makes no sense, and so many people out there who are either outrageously indifferent or so over-the-top that you’d want to curse yourself for existing.
It’s sad that Indian celluloid has to give space to such undeserving faces today. But long ago, when the baton was in different hands, movie viewing was quite a pleasure. It’s ironic that you will derive great happiness out of some of the oldest, dustiest, most low quality DVDs the guy at the store will probably take days to hunt for. These DVDs will be able to take you back to the era when actors like Farooq Sheikh gave flesh, blood, life and soul to characters that could very well, have been you or me.
The aam aadmi may have garnered the spotlight today, but Sheikh became the face of the common man at a time when angry, young, macho men and lover boys in knitted sweaters ruled the roost. When revenge was the calling, females were relegated to showpieces and painful sounds blared in the garb of music, he brought a slice of life to his films and performances and carried forward the legacy of alternative, arthouse cinema that had begun in the 70s.
His first on screen performance was in M.S Sathyu’s Garam Hawa (1973), considered a milestone in its genre for its storytelling, performances and impact. He went to make a mark with Noorie (1979) and came into his own with Chashme Buddoor (1981), Saath Saath (1982), Rang Birangi (1983), Bazaar (1982) and Umrao Jaan (1981).
He had been performing the immortal play, Tumhari Amrita with Shabana Azmi, directed by Feroz Abbas Khan for 21 years. After their last performance at the Taj Mahal on the 13th of this month, when Azmi suggested they call it a day, he apparently said he could go on for another 21 years.
One remembers him last as the endearing father in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (2013)and the bureaucrat in Shanghai (2012). His last film, Club 60, (2013) an amazing, unnoticed little piece of work that deserved a lot better was released earlier this month. Dependable was probably the one word for him. He could be the brooding, intense nawab in Umrao Jaan or the middle class father in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, but he was just as convincing. Farooq Sheikh was incapable of giving a bad or half-hearted performance.
One recalls him in a screechy, hammy, ridiculous film called Mohabbat where he played older brother to Madhuri Dixit who loses the guy she loves, and didn’t have much to contribute to the narrative. But thankless roles were never a deterrent for Sheikh. One can only say that not for a nanosecond could you make out that his concern for the girl was put on. It was like his heart went out to her, and yours to him, in turn.
On a bit of a personal note, I can add that my generation pretty much grew up on his television shows, Chamatkar on Sony, Ji Mantrij on Star Plus and of course, the delightful Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai on Zee TV, whose reruns one can watch even today. For an actor of his stature, it is remarkable how comfortable he made the celebrity guests on that show, how genuinely interested he seemed in their life and career and how dextrously and effortlessly, he glided through their darkest, toughest phases, making an entire episode complete and fruitful. Aspiring journalists should certainly watch this show on how to make sure one person talking about himself doesn’t seem like a drag.
There is no doubt Farooq saab was a legend, one of our finest, most unassuming and unsung heroes. He apparently had once regretted not being commercially saleable. But I don’t see why he should have. He’s carved a bigger space in the hearts of movie lovers like us than any actor who churns out 100 crore hits.
But what is truly sad is how indifferent we are to the unglamorous entities of our industry. The more passionate among us might rent old DVDs or watch out for them in the miniscule roles they do. But do we realise how tough it is for them? Sheikh apparently never owned a house or a car in his life. After his death in Dubai, his wife and two daughters went through hell trying to get the body back to India. For someone who managed to make us smile, laugh and cry, and sometimes, all of it together, didn’t he deserve better?
A Farooq Sheikh doesn’t happen too often. He certainly won’t happen to the screen anytime soon. But let’s just hope actors of his calibre leave us, when they have to, a little better.