No Method, No Madness: The Subtlety of Farooq Sheikh

seene mein jalan aankhon mein toofan sa kyon hai
is shahar mein har shaks pareshan sa kyon hai

(Where is the loneliness headed to
as far as one can see there is nothing beyond)

Farooq Sheikh was probably nobody's favourite actor. Few parents might have looked upon him as an ideal son in his early days, and few women swooned at the sight of him, and few children tugged at his shirt imploring, and few peers felt threatened by his image.

Yet, why is it so easy to remember the characters he essayed, as though they are etched deeply in the heart? Some might think he played the man-next-door, and was therefore identifiable. I do not agree. In fact, there was a touch of stardom to his persona, for every ordinary bloke he was on screen there was the Farooq Sheikh stamp — a slightly hurried manner of speech, the way his hair flopped over his forehead, the shuffling gait, and the thehrao...there are quite a few words in English that would explain this, but none has the quality to stop us for a few seconds in pause mode to pause. I'll settle for tranquil.

He died at 64, and his last film Club 60' was about a couple of senior citizens coping with the loss of a son. It has been on my "to watch" list, but I already know how he would have dealt with it.

Does it mean that his performances had no surprises? No, it is just that they came with added sheen and finesse. For someone who cannot be slotted as a method actor, his spontaneity shone. He was the unheralded mascot of directors like Sai Paranjpye and Muzaffar Ali. In the former's movies about everyday trial and tribulations, garnished with humour and charm, he fit in as though to the manner born. In Ali's 'Gaman', who can forget the helplessness, the silent ache of making a living in a big city, connected to love through the crossed cable wires beyond reach? Who can forget him as the reluctant nawab in love with a courtesan in 'Umrao Jaan'? Who can forget him again as a sidelight in Satyajit Ray's 'Shatranj ke Khilari' (the chess players), as a pawn in the bigger scheme? Who can forget him as the unkempt, unemployed youth who cannot save the girl he loves from being sold to a rich Arab in 'Bazaar'? Who can forget him in this year's huge hit 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani', where as the father of an errant son his love pores out of every extra fold in his face and brightens a room that seems always so dark?

In many ways, his film journey was like the start of 'Katha', based loosely on the hare and tortoise fable. Pitted against no less an actor than Naseeruddin Shah, who was the tortoise here, Sheikh took on the hurried hare with a disarming rather than a devious smile. His cocky twirling of the keychain, the languid moves, the showing off, all like a pinch of extra salt. He did not need poison.

His own career was more tortoise-like, slow and steady. He did not win any race, for he participated in none.

In the past few years, he was added to the list of panellists on news channels always looking for that elusive 'nice Muslim'. Except for maybe one occasion when I did not like the way he allowed himself to be projected, I felt that however much the fake moderate/liberal cultural Indian Muslim bogeys tried to co-opt him, he stood apart. He lived a pluralistic life, and did not feel the need to shout about it or even see this as something unusual.

It was so like his performances. He was not celebrated, he was not dismissed off. Perhaps, this was a good thing. Subtlety leaves no marks, but is something you remember without even trying for it does not fade away.

© Farzana Versey


From 'Bazaar':

"Dekh lo aaj hum ko jee bhar ke
Koi aata nahin hai phir mar ke"


  1. FV,

    The second last paragraph of your obituary deserves a rebuttal. His oeuvre notwithstanding, Mr Sheikh was no liberal or pluralistic Muslim - whatever the terms may mean. He married a Hindu who had to not only convert to Islam but also had to perform Hajj at Mr Sheikh's insistence. He brought up his children as Muslims and gave them Islam-compliant names. It is amusing to see your readiness to somehow fit him into your own stereotype of "The Muslim Who Stood Up To" while simultaneously scoffing at corresponding stereotypes of another kind.

  2. F&F:

    I am not one who believes in don't speak anything against the departed, but I truly am quite flummoxed that you decided only on one bit. If I recall, you seem to be quite a cineaste, so if for nothing else at least a response to other aspects too would have been in order.

    Be that as it may, I do know that he married a Hindu, who has been referred to as Rupa in all news reports, so her conversion was probably a technicality. We live in a patriarchal society where children do end up taking up the name of their father and following religious/cultural tenets. I do not know as much as you do about his private life, and certainly was unaware that he "insisted" his wife perform the Hajj. Would you have a link to this bit of news?

    Someone like Shahrukh Khan, whose wife is Hindu and has not converted, whose children don't have Muslim names, is still faced with some amount of suspicion. So, what are you trying to say?

    {It is amusing to see your readiness to somehow fit him into your own stereotype of "The Muslim Who Stood Up To" while simultaneously scoffing at corresponding stereotypes of another kind.}

    I don't need to fit him into my stereotype, for I have none. He was not co-opted by the same Muslims who you lovingly refer to as "sikulars". Your newfound concern for them wrt my scoffing is surprising.

    This has been my stand always, and what I know of Farooq Sheikh in the public sphere.

  3. FV

    1. Whatever information I quoted in my comment is also culled out from public sources.
    2. I do not usually approve of the usual tendency of overstating an actor's importance. The "end of an era" kind of tributes annoy me.
    3. My comment was in response to your decision of including his so-called secular off-screen face in the obituary. Had you kept that bit out, I wouldn't perhaps have commented at all.

  4. FV

    QUOTE: "... her conversion was probably a technicality. ..". 

    It is only a pro-Islam surreptious sekulaar who will dismiss rejection of Hinduism as a mere technicality. Is demolition of Babri also, then a mere technicality, since no namaz was being offered there?

    Did I satisfy the "communal Hindutvawadi" stereotype?

  5. This is pretty sickening.

    I want your sources that Farooq Sheikh's wife was forced to perform the Hajj.

    I doubt if you are so concerned about praise as this other aspect. I don't do hagiography...that is the hallmark of the devotees of some politiians.

    And I can bring in anything in a piece, obit or otherwise. You are free to comment, but do provide some evidence if you make blanket assertions about somebody's personal life.

    It might surprise you that Muslims have converted to Hinduism after marriage, and even when they don't they are culturally expected to become part of the mainstream. Why, it does not even take a marriage for that.

    Now, the end of this discussion.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.