Aug 03 2014 : Mirror (Mumbai)

How did the ravishing late actor manage to make the ordinary man so extraordinarily memorable? Did the women he romanced on screen have something to do with it?

Farooque Shaikh was one of the great unsung pleasures of growing up in the 1980s. It’s become a little too easy to diss the decade, but filled as it was with coy Jeetendra-Sridevi mahadramas and ceaselessly gory vigilante movies, with even Amitabh Bachchan sliding down a slippery slope from Naseeb and Coolie to Aakhree Rasta and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, it is hard to counter the general low impression. It seems sometimes unimaginable that there continued to be, during the same period, a little corner in which gentle, middle class romance and even gentler humour was allowed to exist. Farooque Shaikh was a permanent occupant of that corner.Sachin Kundalkar’s Aiyyaa has a superbly revealing scene where the movie-mad Meenakshi (Rani Mukherjee) shocks the good, middle class young man who’s come to `see’ her by confessing that she has no idea who Deepti Naval and Farooque Shaikh are. In disbelief, Madhav tries to sing “Tumko dekha to yeh khayal aaya“, hoping to jog her memory with the Jagjit Singh song from Saath Saath that defined romance for countless sincere teenagers. But Meenakshi is unmoved.
What was so special about them, she asks him.
Nothing special, says Madhav ­ the whole point of these people was that they were so normal, so un-starry, so much like us. Meenakshi, whose entire dreamlife consists of herself dancing filmi-ly through her favourite Madhuri-Sridevi hits, has no idea what to make of this. If it is regular people you want to watch, she asks in some confusion, why on earth would you go to see a film?
Most of Farooq Shaikh’s cinematic appearances would indeed not have made Meenakshi happy. Whether he was playing the studious economics student in Chashme Buddoor, or the socialist young man who walks out of newspaper offices in Saath Saath, or the boy at the bus stop in Ab Aayega Maza, Shaikh was almost always cast as the quiet, unflashy, committed type. He was always middle class -a bright student trying to make things work with scholarships or articles or tutions, or a salaried young man, worrying in an everyday sort of way about money. The grand gesture was not for him ­ neither right for his temperament, nor for his pocket. He might be the young man who was so clearly in love with the girl that it was written all over his face -but he wasn’t going to do anything foolish to try and impress her.

But this non-wooing behaviour had a side effect that was also crucial to the Farooque Shaikh persona. It meant that his heroine -charmed by this bumbling, unusual sincerity, or even by the sometimes embarrassing moonhphat quality ­ was almost always the one to make the first move.
Or at least she would make it clear that she was as interested as he was. This was certainly the case with Saath Saath, where Deepti Naval plays the idealistic rich girl, it is she who falls for the stubborn grit of the leftwing poet ­ and makes it apparent. Shaikh’s college idealist may be opinionated and confident in his political views, but he is not the one to openly profess things like love.

In Chashme Buddoor, too, Naval’s Nisha is a su perconfident girl, amused and almost sly when faced with the exaggerated ridiculousness of Rakesh Bedi and Ravi Basvani. She does seem much more tongue-tied when she first meets Farooque Shaikh’s Siddharth. But they’re both a bit shy, and she makes it fully apparent that she likes him. Even the circumstances of their first meeting are interesting ­ it is she who appears at his doorstep, and not the other way round.

Even in the lesser-known Ab Aayega Mazaa, directed by Pankaj Parasher, Vijay’s (Shaikh’s) first accidental encounter with Anita Raaj’s Noopur -at a Delhi bus stop, no less ­ is turned into an extended conversational opportunity not by him but by Noopur. It is the businessman’s daughter who insists on giving him a ride in her chauffeur-driven car when it finally turns up. At a later scene at the same bus stop, Noopur deliberately misleads an older woman into believing that she is a gullible girl who needs protection from an advancing “goonda“­ only to walk off arm in arm with Vijay when he arrives.

As the rare male hero who was comfortable and believable as someone attracted to strong, demanding women, Shaikh got some roles where he was going to turn out to be the weak one. There was Umrao Jaan, of course; there was Sai Paranjpye’s Katha, where he was the sharptalking winsome cad; there was Kalpana Lajmi’s affecting portrait of an adulterous relationship, Ek Pal, where Shaikh loves and leaves the unhappily married Shabana Azmi.

Even in the lightest of comedies, like Ab Aayega Mazaa, Shaikh is the guy whose girlfriend gets to tell him not to try and boss over her -“rob mat jamao“. In Saath Saath, too, when the financial pressures of domesticity drag Shaikh’s character over to the dark side, it is his wife (Naval) who remains captain of the ship, guardian of his conscience. It is this rare ability to portray equal romantic partnerships ­ and unequal ones tilted in favour of women -which made Farooque Shaikh truly unique. TAKES WEEKLY STOCK OF WHAT’S IN AND OUT AT THE MOVIES Liked/hated this column? Write to Trisha Gupta at [email protected]