I do not usually get affected by the death of celebrities. Occasionally, I may feel a bit for them or their families out of a normal human reaction, but that’s all. However, this was not the case for two actors who passed away recently – Farooque Shaikh (FS) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (PSH) – actors who I have loved, admired, and respected.
This two part post is my little tribute to these two men who have left an indelible mark on my movies-loving self. Without comparing the two in their craft, I want to highlight a few similarities in their work – they were unconventional looking as per the showbiz definition of how an actor should look like (or at least how a lead actor should look like), they seemed to not care how big or small their character was in the overall scheme of the movie, they almost always rose above the material given to them -no matter how inconsequential their roles were, and they managed to leave you with a feeling of having seen a whole person, a person with a life, and a story of his own in any character they played . You could believe that the characters they played went about their lives even after the movie had ended.
My earliest memory of FS is from Chashme Buddoor. I remember watching it in the early 1980s in Aurangabad – I may have been 6 or 7 years old and am sure was unable to understand the movie, given my underdeveloped acumen for lives of adults. However, there were two scenes that stayed with me – the Ms Chamko scene and the song “Kaali ghodi dwaar khadee“. Once in my teens, I rewatched the movie on Doordarshan and have loved it dearly and watched a number of times since then. During these same years, I watched a number of FS’ movies on Doordarshan - Katha, Kisise na kehna, Garam Hawa, Noorie, Saath Saath, Umrao Jaan, Rang Birangi, Bazaar, etc. Remember, these were the late eighties/early nineties, a time when Hindi movies were all about mindless action oriented revenge sagas or over-the-top social dramas. You can very well say that it was an era of an absolute nadir in overall cinematic creativity. FS’ movies were in the opposite spectrum as compared to these movies – they were mostly about light-hearted escapades of the everyday man. The revenge or social dramas – we mostly watched them in the theaters, but FS’ movies were reserved for the television screen. My logic for this was: the big stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, etc. were too big to fit on a TV screen (i.e. the characters they played were too big) and hence needed the big screen, while FS (and Amol Palekar) were like my uncles or the two brothers in their early twenties from next door who were just beginning their independent adult lives. There was an immediate familiarity with the characters FS etched - they were people I knew, and hence regular enough to fit on the Dyanora TV set we had and safe enough to be welcome in our living room. I also remember I used to be terrified of the movie villains of those days – Amjad Khan, Ranjeet, Ajeet, etc. In FS’ movies, there was nothing to fear for, there was never a sense of danger or darkness in them - they had a homely, comforting feel to them.
After the 80s and the 90s, there weren’t many movies that FS featured in. In the recent past, he was having a second coming of a sort. In this phase he etched characters which were quite different from the movies of his younger days :
- The manipulating secretary to Supriya Pathak’s Chief Minister (a contemporary from his younger years) in Shanghaai . This was such a different character from what we expected of FS. It was a departure from him being the naive/likable guy in his earlier films to being the sinister one. Of course, he was stellar in this small role and brought out the right amount of bureaucratic sliminess that is required of this character.
- The soft-spoken photographer Jayant from Listen…Amaya: He was paired with Deepti Naval after many years. I doubt if anyone will disagree with me when I say that FS and Deepti are one of the most endearing on screen pairs we have witnessed. Their chemistry was effortless and when they were on the screen together, the lightness they conveyed was unparalleled. The Ms. Chamko scene I mentioned above is just one of the scenes that is a testament to an effervescence and lightness that many actor pairs (and even real life couples) can only wish for. In Listen Amaya; this chemistry was still very much present and as effortless as it was in their first movie together. Them two were just two peas in a pod.
- The father to Ranbeer Kapoor’s Bunny in Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani: His role is quite miniscule. In the few scenes that he has with Ranbeer you can tell what a seasoned actor like him can do with mere gestures. Watch the scene where Ranbeer insults his step-mother (played by Tanvi Azmi). FS and Tanvi just look at each other after Bunny has left the room, a look that conveys that they get why Bunny is the way he is, without having to say a single word.
In his younger days, he didn’t always play the every-day middle class youth of the pre-globalization urban India, but also etched some serious roles, mostly in Muslim social dramas:
- Sarju in Bazaar with Supriya Pathak: Everyone from the 90s had an audio cassette of Bazaar and Saath-Saath in their college days. The Bazaar side of the cassette had some dialog preceding each song. Having listened to them a million times, I can’t imagine the songs of Bazaar without the preceding dialog. Prior to the song “Fir chiddi raat“, the cassette had a flirtatious exchange between FS and Supriya Pathak where he is being a chudiwala(a door-to-door salesman of bangles – a profession long lost) who is trying to woo Supriya’s Shabnam. His enunciation of the Hyderabadi Hindi in “ab dhaani chudiyaan kahan se laaon, yehich itti mushkil se mili” still echoes in my ears.
- The lovelorn Nawab in Umrao Jaan: How does one portray a complete smitten-ness when one is a Nawaab without coming off as lecherous or juvenile : well, watch him yearn for Umrao in “In aankhon ki masti” (of course only if you can take your eyes off the luminous Rekha’s portrayal of Umrao Jaan Ada).
I believe he would have played a number of interesting characters in his second phase. Hindi cinema is dishing out films on a plethora of interesting subjects and I am sure it would have made good use of him. But, that’s not to be and the loss is entirely ours.
Not dwelling on what cannot be - he continues to live in his characters with me just like he does in those who grew up watching his films. Wouldn’t you agree that there isn’t a dull afternoon that cannot be cheered up by re-watching Chashme Buddoor or Katha? Dear Farooque Shaikh – Shukriya for all the heart-warming memories. I miss you.