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Gentleman actor Farooq Sheikh dies at 65

Isn’t it ironical that on the day a middle-class votary grabs all eyeballs taking over as chief minister of the national Capital, a person who best personified the ‘aam admi’ on silver screen is not there to see it happen. He passed away in Dubai on Saturday. One doesn’t know if Farooq Sheikh approved of the politics of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). However, in his youth, and before him Amol Palekar, were favorites of the middle class.

Sheikh played characters which nobody could really hate, even though his roles in Katha and Ek Pal had shades of negative. He was a favourite with the urban Indian middle-class, which would continue to remember his ‘non-heroic’ delivery of characters with equal ease on stage, television and 70 mm screen.

Farooq Sheikh’s presence on screen, which expanded over four decades, was infectious, so was the assurance with which he played characters incapable of wronging anybody. No wonder when he played the character of a pretender in Sai Paranjape’s Katha, he surprised many with the easy portrayal of a charlatan. Deepti Naval and Sheikh under Paranjape’s baton a few years earlier had given Chashme Buddoor, which went on to become a cult movie of its time.

In the era when Amitabh Bachchan ran rampage on ‘masala’ plots scripted by Salim Javed and put to action by Manmohan Desai, Chashme Buddoor, directed by a woman with unknown cast created ripples in the industry and made people sit up and take notice. This film went on to inspire several remakes in Tamil, Telugu and Malayam and finally its sequel was made in 2013.
Chashme Buddoor
was followed by his portrayal of a helpless poor suitor in Bazaar, whose love interest, played by Supriya Pathak (Ba of Ram-Leela), is married off to a rich Arab Sheikh.

Though many think Chashme Buddoor to be Sheikh’s debut film, he had already been in the industry for 10 years before Sai Paranjape’s film. In fact, he had made his debut in commercial films with Yashraj film Noorie, which saw Poonam Dhillon making a debut. His first break came in 1973 with MS Sathyu’s Garm Hava where he played a young Muslim student in post-partition India yearning to be part of the Indian mainstream, as circumstances pushed his family towards migration to Pakistan. He rather cut his teeth into acting by matching veteran Balraj Sahni step-for-step.

Garm Hava came the same year (1973) as Shyam Benegal’s Ankur, sounding the beginning of a new age for parallel cinema. However, unlike his contemporaries Nasiruddin Shah and Om Puri, he did not get type-caste as an ‘art cinemawala’. But that did not stop him from excelling in stupendous parallel cinema productions like Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman and Umrao Jaan.

Sophistication, finesse and cultured performance were his trademark, be it portraying an Awadhi aristrocrat Nawab Sultan in Umrao Jaan or Bengali Bhadralok in Sarat Chandra’s magnum opus Shrikant (adapted as a serial on Doordarshan). The streaks of versatility and adaptability of his personality got crystallised when he returned to stage in 1992 with Shabana Azmi doing Tumahari Amrita, which has staged across the globe with equal élan as its first production at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai.
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