A thinking actor (1948-2013)

Farooque Shaikh, an actor deeply embedded in the world of cinema, was completely devoid of the razzmatazz that dominates Bollywood. His career spanned over four decades. He was not smitten by awards, festivals or money. His career remained understated though he worked with some of the most eminent directors. He was best known for his work in Hindi films from 1977 to 1989 and for his work on television between 1988 and 2002. He returned to acting in films in 2008 and continued to do so until his death on 27 December 2013. He won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Lahore in 2010. His latest films Shanghai (2012) and Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani (2013) are befitting signatures of an underrated actor. Other significant films in his career are Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan and Sagar Sarhadi’s Bazaar. In Umrao Jaan, he plays the scion of a Nawab family who falls in love with Umrao, but cannot marry her because there are class differences he does not have the courage to defy.

He also hosted a reality show on television, Jeena Isi ka Naam Hai, that had a unique structure as it brought feedback from the celebrity’s immediate family, childhood friends, and peers in the industry. Repeat telecasts of the show still draws couch potatoes who love to watch it again.

Farooque was an active member of the St. Xaviers’ College theatre team and graduated to formal theatre. He performed in one of the longest running plays in Hindi theatre called Tumhari Amrita, an Indian adaptation of A. R. Gurney’s American play, Love Letters (1988) opposite Shabana Azmi, a college mate. He followed graduation with a law degree intending to follow in his father’s footsteps who came from an affluent zamindar family. But Farooque gave up when he discovered that most cases were struck through deals outside the court and did not even reach the court.

In 1973, a friend introduced him to M.S. Sathyu for Garm Hawa. He played Sikandar Mirza, the younger son of Saleem Mirza (Balraj Sahni) who does not wish to move to Pakistan following the Partition. The film was based on a story by Ismat Chugtai. His next big film was Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) based on Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name. Farooque played a short but very interesting cameo of Aqueel, Mir Roshan Ali’s nephew who has a clandestine affair with his aunt.

Farooque was never typed as a glamorous romantic hero or even an action hero and this gave him the fluidity in performing off-beat roles in commercial films too. He played negative characters in Sai Paranjpye’s Katha and Kalpana Lajmi’s Ek Pal very convincingly. Paranjpye’s Chashme Baddoor, a frothy tale of romance and friendship began a successful pairing with Deepti Naval. They formed a good and saleable pair in seven films beginning with Chashme Badoor followed by Katha, then Saath Saath, Kisise Na Kehna, Rang Birangi, Tell Me Oh Khuda and recently, Listen… Amaya.

In Gaman (1978) directed by Muzaffar Ali, he played a young family man forced to migrate from Badaun in Uttar Pradesh to Bombay due to family responsibilities and financial pressures. But homecoming remains a distant dream. He portrayed the goodnatured, docile and naïve husband of Maya in Ketan Mehta’s Maya Memsaab, driven to deep debt because of his wife’s extravagance. His last film was Club 60 (2013).

Farooque‘s only fully blown commercial film produced by Yash Chopra was Noorie (1979) which paired him with a very young Poonam Dhillon. Among his television performances are Shrikant, based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel, Chamatkar and Ji Mantriji. Mrityunjay Devvrat’s The Bastard Child is perhaps Farooque’s last film. Based on a true story, the film focusses on the Bangladesh genocide in 1971 when nearly 400,000 women were raped and three million people were killed.

Shoma A Chatterji

The writer s a freelance journalist, film scholar and author, who has won the National Award for Best Writing on Cinema.