Born on 25 March 1948 in Vadodra, Gujarat, to a zamindari family, Farooq Sheikh was the oldest of five children and his father was a lawyer in Mumbai (then Bombay).
Sheikh went to St Xavier’s College and studied law from Siddharth College of Law, also in Mumbai. It was when he was in his final year of law school that director M.S. Sathyu approached him to play a supporting role in what is now a seminal Partition movie, Garm Hawa. This is because even while studying, Sheikh was active in the theatre circuit, especially with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and with well-known directors like Sagar Sarhadi.
Sarhadi later went on to direct him in movies like Bazaar, in which Sheikh worked with Naseeruddin Shah and Smita Patil, and Noorie and Faasle. Sheikh also worked with directors like Muzaffar Ali (Umrao Jaan and Gaman), Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khiladi) and Sai Paranjape (Chashme Buddoor and Katha).
Later in his career he worked in movies like Saas, Bahu Aur Sensex and Lahore, for which Sheikh won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2010. He also played Ranbir Kapoor’s loving, progressive father in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, and starred in Club 60 and Youngistaan, which released after his death.
Popular in the theatre circuit, he starred in the play Tumhaari Amrita with Shabana Azmi which was first performed in 1992 at Prithvi Theatre and ran for 21 years worldwide in countries all over. And he hosted a television show called Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai.
In a career spanning over four decades, he developed strong partnerships with two of his co-actors — Shabana Azmi and Deepti Naval.
On his 6th death anniversary, ThePrint looks into his body of work through the eyes of these veterans.
A partnership spanning 30 years
Actor Deepti Naval and Farooq Sheikh worked for the first time in Chashme Buddoor in 1981 directed by Sai Paranjpe. It was this movie and its success that lead to them being cast in eight other films together: Katha, Saath Saath, Kissi se Na Kehna, Rang Birangi, Ek Baar Chale Aao,Tell Me Oh Khuda, Faasle and finally Listen… Amaya in 2013.
In an interview during promotions for Listen… Amaya, Naval said, “It (Chashme Buddoor) is a movie which you can never get tired of. Even if it is playing on television, you cannot switch channels.”
Their equation, however, extended beyond their professional lives. Just after he passed away Naval said, “When we worked together again in ‘Listen….Amaya’ after 26 years, he was still pulling my leg. I said, ‘Ab toh sudhar jao’. He was adorable. He never changed. The only change I saw in him during ‘Listen…Amaya’ was that he would not sit with the rest of the unit after a shot. He would go back to his book. He was always reading.”
After his death, Naval remembered Chashme Buddoor fondly and said, “Sai Paranjpye, I, Rakesh Bedi, Ravi Baswani, Saeed Jaffrey… What a team it was! We made a film that just happened. We were all having so much fun while making it. On a flight, I saw the Chashme Buddoor remake. It did nothing to me. It had no impact. Watching the remake, I missed the original team even more. Now, Ravi Baswani is gone, Farooq is gone. We also did Sai’s Katha together, in which Farooq played this incorrigible flirt. I used to tease him that in Katha he played his real self,”
Even this year, when she was honoured with the Excellence in Cinema Award at the Jio Mami Festival in Mumbai, she remembered her friend Farooq Sheikh, saying, “Farooq was a wonderful co-actor. The cinema that we made together was kind of middle-of-the-road cinema, which was neither very artsy nor very formula-driven commercial… but they were entertaining films… Farooq always used to say, ‘You deserved so much more from Indian cinema, Deepti’. He was very fond of my work and he did always make it a point to tell me in case I didn’t know.”
When asked about the secret to their chemistry, Sheikh answered in an interview, “I think the main thing is that we are extremely comfortable with each other and enjoy each other’s company.”
From college theatre to the silver screen
Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh’s tryst with theatre began in 1969 when the two were in St Xavier’s college.
“We always won the best actor and best actress awards which got us Rs 50 each. Farooq got another Rs 160 for best play. With the prize money, we’d hire an escort cab and travel to Juhu where he’d drop me home, like a raja and rani, since on other days, we took the local train,” said Shabana Azmi.
In 1992, the two acted in a play, Tumhari Amrita, which was inspired by A.R. Gurney’s Love Letter, which is a story about two people who exchange love letters over a span of 35 years and come from very different backgrounds.
The play ran for 21 years with its final show in 2013 in Agra against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal. Shabana Azmi recounts one of the many times she and Sheikh acted together. There was a time when she was arrested with 16 slum dwellers and refused bail. It was then that Sheikh and director of the play Feroz Abbas Khan rushed her out of the Colaba police station to NCPA where they had a play and the audience were patiently waiting for 2 hours to watch the show.
In another funny incident, Azmi recalled that they showed up two hours late for their play in New Jersey because the taxi driver lost their way and the audience was angry. She said, “Farooq calmed them down, promising a refund if they were unhappy. But when the curtains came down, we got a standing ovation.”
The pair also acted in movies like Anjuman, Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Lorie.
Aside from acting, Sheikh was also a philanthropist. He supported the education of two sons of a maintenance worker of the Taj Hotel who was shot dead during the 26/11 terror attacks after reading about the case in The Indian Express — but on the condition of anonymity. The national daily would call him at the start of each academic year and tell him the amount of money required and he would promptly send a cheque to the family, without ever asking how much money was spent.
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