By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: On 14 December when Shabana Azmi performed the 21-years-old-still-going-strong play Tumhari Amrita in Agra against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal with her co-star Farooq Sheikh, she expressed to him a desire to end lifespan of the play.
Recalled Shabana, “I felt we had done it for long enough. And I told Farooq it can’t get any better than this. Farooq vehemently disagreed. ‘No we can do it for another 21 years.’ He then did a very strange thing. He asked for a picture of the two of us on stage. Why did he do that? We had been performing it for 21 years. He had never asked for a picture.”
Voice choked with emotion, Shabana says, “Farooq going so cruelly is the biggest blow. He was not just a fine actor. He had the finest sense of humour, a sharp sense of repartee. I met him for the first time in 1969. He made his movie debut in Garam Hawa which my father (Kaifi Azmi) was associated with. I was in college with him. And he was the most popular boy on the campus, always helpful always ready to lend an ear to everyone’s problems. Throughout the three years in college he won the Best Actor award in our theatre group. Even when he passed out he continued to be associated with our college. He was very popular on the campus even when he had passed out.. His wife Roopa was then his girlfriend. He was the star of the college. He would sit down with students of both the gender and give them tips and lessons before their exams.”
Shabana wanted Farooq to join the Film Institute in Pune when she joined. “But he said no. His father was a lawyer and he wanted his son to take up the same profession. Eventually he did M. S. Sathyu’s film Garam Hawa. I don’t know how he convinced his father to let him take up acting. But Farooq became an actor. I can’t begin to express what a fabulous co-star he was.”
Shabana says there was a bit of a yin and yang about Farooq and she. “We complemented each other’s presence perfectly. He was always the cool type while I was nervous and anxious. Before every exam and every stage performance I’d be a bundle of nerves. Farooq would be absolutely calm and composed. Before exams Farooq would sit me and my best friend Parna down and coach us.”
That was’t the end of Farooq’s generous consideration. Shabana’s voice fills up with memories of another day as she says, “I had once walked out of an exam. The very next time Farooq accompanied me to the examination hall, filled my pens with ink and stood outside the hall until I completed my paper. Kaun aisa karta hai (who does this kind of thing for others)?”
With a choked voice, Shabana saysm, “Rehne ko sada dehr mein aata nahi koi, Tum jaise gaye aise bhi jaata nahi koi”… Abba (father Kaifi Azmi)’s couplet seems as though it was written for Farooq. Farooq Shaikh my friend, colleague, well wisher has left us..his countless friends fans and admirers are shattered and devastated. My heart is with the family. Roopa has been my college friend and both daughters Shaista and Sana I’ve been aunty to you through these years…”