Unlike the conceited mainstream stars of Bollywood and the narcissist celebrities of parallel cinema, Farooq Sheikh represented the voice of India’s common people from classes and masses alike. Sudhir Raikar pays tribute to the selfless crusader.
Courtesy Sudhir Raikar, www.indiainfoline.com
Farooq Sheikh’s charisma defied every convention and belied every expectation. For a born Zamindar, he was unmistakably democratic in his vision and mission. A lawyer by qualification, he was never ever seen advocating his own case. A celebrity with mass appeal, he hardly ever hogged the limelight. Given these unassuming traits, he never received the kind of adulation which even an Amol Palekar bagged in unduly good measure. Not that he aspired for it for he was perfectly happy with his select strides that effortlessly stood out, just like his acting, amidst a largely boisterous galaxy of film stars clamouring for attention and admiration.
As an actor, he was undoubtedly one of our very best. But even in the art circuit, he played second fiddle (along with other great actors like Pankaj Kapoor) to Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri, the darling duo of offbeat makers during the 70s and 80s. But he carved a niche even in the constricted space offered to him. Take any role of his and you would invariably find it exactly in line with the psyche of the given character – whether the aspiring comrade of Garm Hawa, pensive cabbie of Gaman, flirtatious youth of Shataranj Ke Khiladi, congenial conman of Katha or the romantic Nawab of Umrao Jaan.
Comedy or tragedy, mainstream cinema or art film, leading man or character artiste, big banner production or small budget film, silver screen, small screen or stage, serials or reality shows, he etched his inimitable charm across every genre and media. For the majority however, he was best known for his light-hearted films with co-artiste Deepti Naval. And of course, the play Tumhari Amrita with Shabana Azmi remains one of his most notable success stories.
Thanks to his selective approach, his tryst with commercial cinema was intermittent but remarkable even in the middling zone. Whether as the hero in Yash Chopra’s endearing Noorie, Big Bachchan’s friend in the hugely forgettable Toofan or Ranbir Kapoor’s dad in the recent Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the shelf life of Sheikh’s contribution enjoyed more longevity than the films themselves in most cases.
The real tribute to Farooq Sheikh should come in the form of introspection: Why should a gifted artiste, having made an unforgettable debut, be denied commensurate opportunities to help unleash his extraordinary talent? Surely, we as makers and viewers are collectively responsible for relegating genuine actors to become petty role players. And some of Sheikh’s celebrated peers from the offbeat cinema can take a cue from his trademark humility and tranquility. If they do so, they will immediately refrain from blatantly advertising their activism and non-conformism. It will save them the consequential embarrassment of quitting films every second day only to appear in another mindless film the very third day.