In the film, LISTEN…AMAYA, Farooque converses with an old watch-smith as he photographs him and asks the wise old man how he could tell the right time, seated as he was amidst so many clocks and watches. Farooque’s question was jesting; the old man’s answer was not. The watch-smith replied, ‘Who knows what’s right or wrong. It is only a moment but it could be a celebration for some and a funeral for another.’
Ironic that this bit of dialogue in one of his last movies would sum up his untimely demise…
Farooque had gone on a holiday with his wife and his two daughters to Dubai and the holiday soon became a dirge for his demise. A massive cardiac arrest claimed this immortal actor known for his zest for life and Farooque, ever dignified, wrested with death for a mere 45 minutes and called it quits!
It was a moment of despair for his family, and his wife Ayesha, who was his college sweetheart, is devastated by it as are his daughters. All his friends from the industry shed tears of disbelief and despair at the news. Yet Farooque seemed to have spent his last months spending quality time with all the people who meant something to him… On December 14, he performed Feroze Khan’s ‘Tumhari Amrita’ with Shabana Azmi in Agra with the Taj as a backdrop. The play turned 21 years old with this performance and when Shabana said that this last show would be a fitting end to the play, Farooque replied that the play could easily run for another 21 years! Shabana prizes that last performance with him and finds talking about him in the past tense an aberration.
Deepti Naval, his co-star in films like KATHA and CHASHME BUDDOOR, was reunited on screen with Farooque in the film LISTEN…AMAYA after 28 years. Deepti too had just met him at the Sharjah Book Fair and rues the loss of “the secure wali feeling” she had with Farooque around.
What was astounding was that Farooque relived the UMRAO JAAN magic with his co-star Rekha on stage in Dubai at the ‘I Am Asha’ concert on December 16.
It was almost as if he bid his leading ladies a fond farewell and spent his last days with the three heroines of his life, his wife Ayesha and his two beloved daughters. His personal equations apart, he had even spent time fulfilling his professional commitments and insisted that they finish shooting all his scenes for YOUNGISTAN, before he left for Dubai.
Even death and its suddenness couldn’t rob him of the gentleman’s word he had given to life. And reaffirmed all that he was… a loving and loyal husband, a wonderful father; an amazing co-actor and friend: an actor par excellence and a truly exemplary human being who never compromised with life!
Several of his close associates pay tribute to the man whose brilliance shone through on screen in films like M.S. Sathyu’s GARAM HAWA, Muzaffar Ali’s GAMAN (’78) UMRAO JAAN (’81) and ANJUMAN (’86); Satyajit Ray’s SHATRANJ KE KHILADI and Sai Paranjpe’s popular movies CHASHME BUDDOOR and KATHA which made of Farooque a youth icon.
“I knew Farooque from the time when we worked for Air India. He was a flight purser and I was part of the ground staff. We shared a mutual passion for cinema which, at that time, we never knew we would be able to put into practice,” said Ali, who was shocked by the actor’s sudden demise.
Muzaffar Ali admired the vulnerable quality present in Farooque’s acting, which was required in all the roles that Farooque played in his films. The two worked together in all of Ali’s three films and in each of these, Ali said he needed a certain vulnerability in the characters that Farooque possessed. Recall the scene in UMRAO JAAN where Farooque comes to tell Umrao that he is getting married and Umrao tears his achkan in her distress. The Nawab just stands with an expression which surrenders to her despair and his helplessness is for all to see. Helpless he is, for he is not man enough to stand up for the woman he loves before his mother. GAMAN was his first break as a leading man. Before that he had done a role in M.S. Sathyu’s GARAM HAWA. I saw him and I cast him immediately. I knew he had the quality of innocence and vulnerability that I needed in GAMAN,” said Ali, who thought Farooque was pitch-perfect as the migrant from a village in Uttar Pradesh, earning a living in Mumbai driving a taxi.
“Farooque possessed that quality of unalloyed honesty and transparency that made him look so completely credible on screen.
“In UMRAO JAAN I cast him as a Nawab. Though the role was culturally far removed from GAMAN, I still needed that quality of vulnerability which Farooque again projected in UMRAO JAAN. In my ANJUMAN too he played an innocent man free of artifice and the manipulative spirit. He was like that in person as well.
“We had a wonderful time working on all three films. All the three films were shot in and around Lucknow. So, I think the credit for introducing Lucknow to Farooque goes to me,” he said.
It was Lucknow that introduced Farooque to the Chikankari kurta which was to be his signature outfit and he was appalled at the plight of the kaarigars and did his best to help them, in his own discreet philanthropist way.
M. S. Sathyu
“I saw Farooque during some drama. I was looking out for actors from the theatre world. I had cast names like Balraj Sahni and A.K. Hangal. I wanted to cast someone new for the role of Balraj’s youngest son. The innocence of Farooque’s face was necessary for the role, and so he made a perfect fit,” recalled the 83-year-old Sathyu.
The director remembers paying the actor a mere R750 for his role. “I was in debt. I couldn’t pay any of my cast once the film was made. But 15 years later, when I could, I paid s750 to Farooque. Of course, when I paid him that amount, he had become a known name. But that was the promised amount,” laughed Sathyu. “I had a beggar’s budget,” commented Sathyu at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival where GARAM HAWA was screened earlier this year.
“Farooque was fantastic and deserved more work. He didn’t get as much work as he should have got. Less talented actors were enjoying more popularity during his time, I feel. He was very talented – he was as good for serious roles as he was for comedy, and his comic timing was wonderful,” said Sathyu.
As a person he was a “respectful, good gentleman, who was very fond of good food,” he said. “A lot of good food!”
“Farooque used to really be fond of kebabs and biryanis and that could be one reason for his heart attack.” He apparently loved food so much that every city that he went to he knew exactly where to get the right dishes from.”
Sathyu remembers the actor for his humility and down-to-earth demeanour, with fondness.
“I had seen Farooque when Muzaffar was doing GAMAN and honestly wasn’t overly impressed, so when Gul Anand suggested him as an actor for CHASHME BUDDOOR, I wasn’t terribly overjoyed. However, as we started shooting, my apathy changed to absolute admiration of his insight and his intelligence. Farooque was a very special man and a gifted actor. He was a delight to work with and a welcome change from the shallow people who infest filmdom. He was cultured, well read and forever thirsting for knowledge. “He was an amazing human being. During our shooting a light boy had been injured. I learnt later that Farooque would go to see him in hospital and had taken care of his bills and medicine. When I asked Farooque about it he merely laughed it off.
“He was very charming and had elevated flirting to a fine art. His brand of flirting was extremely gentlemanly and he made a woman, any woman, feel very special. What was more he spared no one! Be it a make-up artiste, a production assistant, my daughter Winnie or even me! When I asked him how he could flirt with women of any age he smiled mischievously and replied, ‘Aapke maa jo nahin hai aas paas,’ in his usual poker face style.
“Success never got to his head and when I asked him if he would do KATHA he simply replied, ‘If you are directing it I will act.’
“Both Naseer and he were surprised by my casting. Farooque expected to be the bhola Rajaram and Naseer, the wily Bashu but I wanted to challenge them as actors rather than have them play characters which were an extension of their persona. Farooque later remarked that I was the only director to cast him true to his type!
“We did keep in touch through smses but we hardly met socially. I have only one question for him: Why were you in such a hurry?”
Feroze Abbas Khan
“There was always so much to be learnt from just a conversation with Shaikh. It enriched you. He was politically and socially aware. He would read a lot, think about it and give it a new dimension,” said Khan, who directed the long-running epistolary play ‘Tumhari Amrita’, starring Shaikh and Shabana Azmi.
“In fact his character in the play, the sensitive and cultured Zulfikhar Haider, embodied this real life Farooque.
“Farooque brought a royalty, that khaandaanipan to Zulfi’s character.”
“To speak about Farooque in the past tense seems like a grammatical error, an aberration of language. He was my friend, my colleague, my well-wisher of 44 years. I first set eyes on him in the corridors of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He was the most popular boy in college. We became friends instantly and together formed the Hindi Natya Manch. All the money for the production would come from Farooque’s pocket because the college ran an English theatre group and had no funds left for our efforts. We inevitably won all the inter-collegiate drama competitions – Farooque for Best Director and Best Actor and I for Best Actress. But, over the years, the pattern remained the same: I would be anxious and nervous before the curtains went up and he would be un-rattled and cool as a cucumber!
“In many ways he has been Zulfi to my Amrita (our characters in the play), the stabilising factor in my college years. I used to get very nervous before my exams. He has sat up night after night taking my lessons, filling ink in my pens, waiting outside the examination hall till I completed my paper. And yet, in all the years I’ve known him, he has never said a kind word to me! He has always pulled my leg and made cheeky comments. Once, during college, we were walking down the street together when he gave eight annas to an old woman asking for alms. ‘Bhagwan tum dono ki jodi salamat rakhe!’ she said gratefully. Farooque turned around in horror and retorted, ‘Lao mere paise wapas, agar aisi baddua deni hai toh!’ At other times he would say, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining like Shabana has Roopa (his girlfriend, later his wife) for a friend!’ And yet when I fell ill he would be the first one to rush me medicine and ask after my well-being. He knew I liked mangoes and would always send me dozens of them from his village in Gujarat.
“The world knows him as a fine actor, equally at ease in comedy and drama. Few know he was also a bare-back horse rider and loved horses with a passion.
“His biggest weakness was his daughters Shaaista and Sanaa – they had him eating from the palms of their hands and Roopa and I used to tease him endlessly about that.
“Farooque appeared to have never done any homework and never obsessed over his parts. He was a natural; admired Dilip Kumar as an actor and was influenced by him. He was fluent in Urdu and English and had a beautiful voice.
“In all the work we did together (both films and theatre) I inevitably had the stronger part but he never grudged me that – there was a quiet confidence to him. I also feel he never demanded space for himself either as an actor or as a human being but, when he passed away, the space seemed to have expanded and embraced the world… I have not seen such overwhelming goodwill for anyone in recent times.
“He was extremely well-read, articulate, deeply involved in socio-political issues. He would often surprise me with his take on current national and world affairs. His was a moderate sane voice in these trying times…
“I have a string of his smses stored in my cellphone. The last one was on December 24. I had just returned from my village Mijwan and asked if I should send him some rasaval (a porridge made of sugarcane juice and rice) Prompt came his reply, ‘Neki aur pooch pooch?’
He couldn’t get to eat the rasaval because he had left for Dubai for a family vacation and the rasaval lost its flavour… My world too has lost its flavour to a great extent, Farooque, dear friend, with your departure…”
“It was not the time for him to go away. In fact, this was the time for him to work. We have worked together in so many films KATHA, SAATH SAATH, CHASHME BUDDOOR, KISISE NAA KEHNA and LISTEN…AMAYA. He is a natural actor. When he was in front of the camera, you would never feel he was acting. We had a comfort zone together. Our rapport was very magical. I have never experienced that rapport with anyone.
“The last film we did together was ‘LISTEN…AMAYA’. And we were very excited to work with each other again. We were planning to do a play and even travel together since we were both not immersed in work. He would tell me, ‘Deeps, you must do more work, you are very lazy.’ But so was he. He would work very selectively.
“I told him to watch his weight, get leaner and fitter, but he would discard it all saying, ‘Main toh tandurust hoon.’ He was fit and very energetic during our shooting and we had not the slightest hint that his death would be so sudden. I am speechless. I have had such a nice and long association with him, that I feel so lost.
“He was a very happy-go-lucky person. His sense of humour was strange and wacky. He would always pull my leg. He would joke on the sets and I was the butt of all his jokes. When I got angry he would pacify me and say, ‘Why are you bothered when everybody is enjoying and laughing?’
“Farooque was very well read and was always to be seen with a book.
“Our last meeting, in fact, was two months ago at the Sharjah book fair, where we were both invited. I read short stories and poems from my books and Farooqueji interviewed me. We were there for two-three days and it was a very good experience. After that, we would just text each other. Whenever I had any problem, I would only have to call him. But he hated answering the phone and would send a text message, asking ‘Khairiyat?’ (All okay?).
“I will always regret that this reunion was such a short-lived experience. He was the best friend I had. You don’t realise how attached you are to a person. I grew up with him through our films. He was a trained actor who knew his craft but he never talked down and only encouraged me to perform better.
“And boy, was he charming! I would joke, ‘How come I didn’t see you when I was young’ and he would say, ‘Tab aapki aankhon pe pardah tha.’
“Farooque was this amazingly positive person and one of the few people I’ve met who are so complete in themselves.
“I don’t know which aspect of his personality I should talk about because he was so complete. You could talk to him about anything, from politics to films.
“Yes, he was a foodie. In fact, our last SMS was planning our next ‘food’ outing. We were discussing restaurants where we could all go and it was mostly between him and his friend of over 40 years, Satish Shah.
“Farooque’s sense of humour had us in fits of laughter with his many stories during the shooting of CLUB 60. I don’t regret not working with him earlier because I think it was our destiny to work together in CLUB 60. His death is indeed a great loss!”
“My first reaction was of disbelief. How can a man so full of life be snatched away like this from amongst our midst? Steeped in Hindustani tehzeeb, an adaab and a smile from him was all it took to bewitch people.
“Everything about him suggested gentlemanliness and great upbringing. He came from a family of well-to-do zamindars of Amroli, but never once did you find him even raising his voice. You should see how much izzat and affection he would put into speaking either on the sets or at home. That, for me, is the real indication of the great human being he was.
“Farooqueji would praise the silken soft feel of the song – ‘Zindagi jab bhi tere bazm mein laati hai hamey…’ (UMRAO JAAN) and truly made it his own.
“We worked again in Sagar Sarhadi’s BAZAAR in 1982. This time, his Sarju came from a really poor background and the pain Farooque sa’ab depicted with his eyes was amazing. Again, the number I composed drew a lot on his refined gentle persona. Even today, ‘Phir chhidi raat baat phoolon ki…’ never fails to enthuse listeners and I will always give credit to Farooque and Supriya, who brought the sentiment of the song alive. I met him at Muzaffar Ali sa’ab’s son Shaad’s wedding nearly a year ago, and he came by to say salaam. We promised to catch up with each other for a longer chat soon. Alas, that will never happen now!”
“All I can say is I have lost a great friend. We were constantly in touch through sms. We were such close friends since college!”
“Farooqueji lived life king-size, travelled first class, savoured the best of meals… He wasn’t born to die but was born to be remembered.”