Farooque Shaikh: A Passionate Actor But A Content Star
Farooque Sheikh dressed in a Lucknawi chikan kurta, one of his favourite attires.   
Farooque Sheikh dressed in a Lucknawi chikan kurta, one of his favourite attires.  

Farooque Shaikh: A Passionate Actor But A Content Star

There was a huge buzz when JP Dutta’s Umrao Jaan remake starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai was to release in 2006. There were comparisons to the former version of Muzaffar Ali’s Rekha-Naseeruddin and Farooque Sheikh starrer Umrao Jaan (1981). However no one had approached Farooque to comment on it yet. He was on a self-imposed exile from the film industry and was meeting few people.

It wasn’t easy to find him. He didn’t own a mobile phone in 2006. Even people who knew him hadn’t heard from him in a while. So for a story for a website, I was working for then, I decided to try to talk to him. I found his address and landed up at his residence in the heart of Andheri, Mumbai. His family was surprised. Unlike other filmy people, they didn’t shoo me away but explained he won’t be meeting anyone for interviews. I left a handwritten note on how I found his address and why I wanted to speak to him. Before I reached the main gate of the building, the security got a call to send me back upstairs. In that instant, I knew I was going to get an interview.

Dressed in a white Lucknawi chikan kurta and pyjama, 25 years later, he still looked every bit of Muzaffar Ali’s Nawab Sultan. Except he wasn’t young anymore and he didn’t wear a topi (cap) as his character in the film did.

Farooque Sheikh as Nawab Sultan in Muzaffar Ali’s <i>Umrao Jaan </i>(1981).
Farooque Sheikh as Nawab Sultan in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan (1981).

But his characteristic innocence and sharp quirks were very much there and so was his tehzeeb in the way he interacted. Not for once did he run down the remake by JP Dutta, like most old timers do when their films are remade. But his sarcasm even at the cost of self deprecation couldn’t be missed.

When asked about his role and what he thought of his replacement in the remake he said, “I wish I had done the role better and looked less like a halwai ka beta and more like a nawab ka beta. I think it will not take much to better my work in Umrao Jaan as I am not happy with what I did. Abhishek is a competent actor, and I won’t be surprised if he portrays the role much better than I did.”

Farooque saab came across as a content man. To find people like that in the film industry is a rarity. He knew he had done selective good work but he was neither on the moon with it nor did he pine for the usual things actors get trapped into. He however had a grouse about not being offered better. He said, “I would love do more films if I get the kind of work I enjoy doing. I get offers that put me off the moment I read the script.”

Rekha and Farooque Sheikh from a still in <i>Umrao Jaan.</i>
Rekha and Farooque Sheikh from a still in Umrao Jaan.

His demeanour that day had a very calming effect. He was collected and spoke of the work he had done so far with a lot of passion and detachment at the same time. When I read about his demise, I didn’t feel sad because I knew he didn’t go with any regrets. He had lived a full life in every sense of the word. Like only a man of his calibre could… you get the drift from his reply…about what he thought of his success in the film industry: “Hum to bas chalti gadi mein nazar aa rahe thhe. (We were just seen in a bus that happened to be running well)”.

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on November 4, 2016. It is being republished to mark the actor’s death anniversary.)

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