Farooque Shaikh: Poster boy of middle-of-road cinema

FarooqueFarooque Shaikh. (Express archive photo)

'Adaab. Is this the number of Ms Shubhra Gupta who writes for Ind Exp (The Indian Express)? Farooque Shaikh". With this text message, I began a series of conversations with one of the finest actors that Hindi cinema has had the privilege of hosting. He had nice things to say about a piece I had written, and ended that exchange with: "Allah karey zor-e-kalam aur zyaada".

Our last phone conversation happened earlier this month, after the release of his Club 60, in which he said, "for actors like us, we need sensible, sensitive opinion, to tweak our ears and keep us on our toes". From any other actor who had been on the job for over 40 years, it would have seemed like a humble brag, a reverse I-am-so-regular-even-when-I-know-I'm so-great-kind of comment. From Farooque Shaikh, it came across as exactly who he was: an actor of ineffable gladness and a gentleman of civility and nuance, who brought a vanishing nazaakat to his lines. With his death, after suffering a fatal heart attack in Dubai on Friday night, Hindi cinema and theatre has lost a terrific artiste, and a lovely man.

Farooque came to Hindi cinema when actors like him were given the parts they deserved. The mid-'70s and some of the '80s were the years when middle-of-the-road was not just a smart phrase. They produced a kind of cinema which addressed, with a great deal of gentleness, sharply-observed humour and excellent writing, the needs of an audience which was happy to see their own stories. Along with Amol Palekar, he became the poster boy of that kind of filmmaking. As Hindi cinema turned into Bollywood, and began coasting on crass and vulgar content, he found himself on stage (the play Tumhari Amrita, a two-actor dialogue between him and Shabana Azmi, was an unforgettable experience), and television, as a genial and engaging host. His film appearances became fewer, but they invariably lifted the projects he said yes to.

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