Farooque Shaikh becomes first artiste to win Bimal Roy award upon his passing

Mumbai: In a very welcome development, Farooque Shaikh Sahab became the first artiste to receive the Bimal Roy Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award after his passing. So far in its 21 year history, this honour has always been presented to a living individual.

The awards were presented to Shaikh and other luminaries Asha Parekh, Jackie Shroff, Ananth Mahadevan and Amit Rai at Savarkar Auditorium in Shivaji Park, Mumbai, Tuesday January 8. Veteran actress Sulochanaji was seated among the spectators.

Shaikh’s elder daughter Shaaista (at left in pic) accepted the honour. She said, “All the nice things you have heard about my father, or read about him, are true. He would be embarrassed to hear a family member praise him in public like this. But all those things are true! It is a matter of honour for anybody to receive an award that is associated with the name of Bimal Roy. I am sure my father would have felt the same way. Thank you to the Bimal Roy Memorial Film Society, Rinkiji and RJ Siddharth.”

Farida Jalal who worked with Shaikh Sahab in ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ presented the award to Shaaista. She recalled the fun they had during the shoot of the film and said, “After I lost my mother and then my husband, Farooque Sahab began to keep in touch regularly, out of concern. That is the kind of person he was. He was also concerned about my son Yaseen. One day he said I will be in touch with Yaseen more than you. That was the day he stole my heart — and Yaseen’s too. We miss him terribly. But I take comfort in the knowledge that he is in a better place.”

This unique honour for Shaikh Sahab marked the start of the Bimal Roy Awards ceremony. The presentation was preceded by a brief audio-visual featuring vignettes of his films from ‘Garm Hava’ to ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’. Singer Sagar Savarkar gave a competent performance of his unforgettable song from Saath Saath, ‘Tumko dekha toh yeh khayaal aaya’.

RJ Siddharth, who was the host of the award ceremony, is evidently a fan. He recalled his two meetings with Shaikh Sahab. He echoed the impression that lakhs of viewers have of Shaikh Sahab when he repeatedly using descriptions like “masoomiyat” (innocence) and “saadgi” (simplicity) to describe him. He mentioned how Shaikh Sahab travelled by autos and taxis without a care for his star status.

Senior actor Pavan Malhotra who worked with Shaikh in ‘Peechha Karro’ and ‘Children of War’, praised him effusively. “Farooque Sahab was a genuinely grounded man who had no complex about travelling by autos and taxis. He would extend his arm and wave at you from afar if he saw you. Another time, we were shooting in Dehradun, and every other day, he would treat us to the choicest bakes from different local confectioners. I miss him deeply. He went away so young. I am so happy to see that you are honouring him here.”


House No. 28 in Memni Bldg still waits for Farooque Shaikh. Nobody has lived here since he left 30 years ago, says present owner

Mumbai: House No. 28 of Memni Building in Nagpada seems to wait interminably for a certain someone who left 30 years ago. Other houses have been fragmented into smaller units, sold, leased, sublet, changed hands multiple times. Not No. 28. Nobody has lived here since Farooque Shaikh moved in 1987.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day was observed Friday, December 28.

Memni Building is located at Nagpada Junction. It has approximately 90 houses, big and small, across five wings. There are five gates. The one leading to Shaikh Sahab’s second floor apartment is the furthest on the Duncan Road side. His house is likely the biggest in the building. The family is said to have lived here from the 1940s or 1950s.

That’s not all. House No. 28 seems destined to belong to owners with a large heart. In 1987 Shaikh sold the flat to Reyaz Shaikh whose son Nasir now manages it.

Nasir occasionally allows relatives and neighbours to use the apartment when they need to lodge wedding guests — without charging a single rupee. “He simply says, ‘Dua’a mein yaad rakhna,’ ” says next door neighbour Nishat Usmani. “Even we have put up visitors there on occasion.”

In fact the first day TOI visited, an elderly gentleman from another city was staying over with his kin, having just concluded marriage festivities the day before. A day after his departure, Nasir Shaikh kindly opened the house to TOI.

Nasir, 48, is an alumnus of Christ Church School and treasurer of its ex-students’ association. He has taken degrees in MCom and MBA. He is married with three children. His father Reyaz Shaikh is a businessman who owns several properties in Nagpada.

“I was in Class X in 1986 when Farooque Shaikh came to our house in Bait ul’ Aman building across the road as part of the negotiations for the deal. He had become a big star after Noorie. I remember he was so striking, I was awed. He spoke to me very sweetly although I was just a 16-year-old,” he says with a smile.

Reyaz Sahab did intend to live in Memni Building when he sealed the deal. But his wife found it cumbersome to climb the many flights of steep wooden stairs leading to the second floor.

House No. 28 is airy, expansive and beautiful, cross ventilated with windows opening out in all directions, giving a circular view of Nagpada. It is also tranquil because none of the ambient noise of traffic filters in. Quaint old world features, arched doorways, carved doors, high wooden beam ceilings, all remind one of a bygone, leisurely era. In fact the statue of the Khada Parsi was located at Nagpada Junction before it was shifted near Byculla bridge.

Right beside the main door is a dear little old mailbox topped by a hazy glass window which serves to screen visitors.

The main door opens onto a rectangular gallery with windows that look onto Duncan Road. There used to be a bird cage at the further end. To the left is a series of original carved doors leading to the spacious hall. Nasir has installed a folding partition in the hall which he uses when apportioning space to the wedding guests.

The hall leads to a long passage flanked with a series of windows on the left. “These are original teak wood,” Nasir says. The windows open onto the neighbour’s house across the floor. All the bedrooms and the kitchen are at right of the passage.

The load bearing walls are about 1 ft thick with much space between each room. The next door neighbour Farhat Hannan Shaikh describes how a large mirror hung in the centre of the wall. “Farooque Shaikh would stand here and do his hair. We would see him from our window opposite,” she laughs. This window interface also gave neighbours a chance to see film stars like Poonam Dhillon, Rekha, Deepti Naval, Rakesh Bedi and Satish Shah who visited Shaikh Sahab.

Leading the way, Nasir says the house measures 2,500 sq ft by built up area and has a carpet area of approximately 1,700 sq ft. “Despite the size, there are only two bedrooms, both with attached bathrooms. There is a third bathroom that is for servants’ use.”

“The kitchen is at the farthest end of the house,” he says. “This is the only alteration we attempted. My mother felt it was too far from the main hall so we installed a partition in the second bedroom and turned it into a kitchen. The original kitchen served as a store room. But now of course, all of it is unused.”

Two old doors leading to the bedrooms have been replaced and the hall floor is tiled with marble. But the whole house remains one contiguous unit, just as Shaikh Sahab left it, most features intact.

Some antique furniture, including a tall glass case which he owned, remains in the front bedroom – which neighbours say belonged to Shaikh. Nishat Usmani says the velvet sofas in that room are also a remainder of those days, but Nasir denies this.

Another highlight of House No. 28 is that the buyer owns the entire terrace right above. Nasir shows the way up through a beautifully carved spiral iron staircase. “We have relaid the floor of the terrace recently to prevent leakage through the roof.” The terrace itself seems to be 2,000 sq ft.

Nasir’s boyhood impressions of Shaikh Sahab endure. “You know, my family also owns a fabrication shop. When Farooque Shaikh moved to Bandra, the grilles in his house were manufactured by us. He was a very nice man. We would invite him to our family weddings and he would come if he could. He came in 1998. Our last wedding was in the year 2000 but he could not make it for that one,” says Nasir.

He laughs and says, “I am not a movie buff. Not a movie buff at all, okay, so I won’t know much about his films. But I know that he was a star. And I know his play, ‘Meri Pyaari Amrita’. All the neighbours will jump in excitement if you mention Farooque Shaikh! Because he was a very nice man.”

Nasir has come into a part of Shaikh Sahab’s legacy through this house. Their temperament seems oddly similar too. He feels it is best to avoid the trouble and risk of allowing tenants and sub-tenants. “The monthly outgoings of the flat are Rs 2,000. So I pay Rs 24,000 each year and sit easy. Even if I were to paint the house it would cost Rs 1.5 lakh, which is no use since we don’t live here.”

“I am not an ambitious man. If I need Rs 100 and I make Rs 150, it is enough. I close my hardware store at 6.00pm. I don’t need to take money from people who utilise the house for a couple of days. I believe in the Islamic concept of Aakhirat (afterlife). All the good deeds you do in this life serve you well in the hereafter.”

The previous owner of the house thought exactly so. May Shaikh Sahab’s bank of good deeds be amply rewarded by Allah Almighty in Jannat ul’ Firdaus. Aameen.

Thirty years after he left Nagpada, Farooque Shaikh remains a favourite in the neighbourhood

Mumbai: Through his student days and well after he became a famous film star, Farooque Shaikh lived in South Mumbai’s Nagpada locality. He moved to Bandra in 1987. Yet to this day, 30 years later, shopowners and vendors are aware that he stayed in Memni Building along Duncan Road. As they offer directions, they remark what a good soul he was and utter a prayer for his well being in heaven.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day was observed Friday December 28. He was laid to rest at Four Bungalows Qabrastan this day five years ago December 30, 2013.

(Nida, Farhat Shaikh and Nishat Usmani)

Farooque Shaikh’s second floor apartment no. 28 in Memni Building remains one of the largest in the society. In fact, it equals the cumulative size of all three flats on the opposite end.

In one of those houses lives Nishat Usmani who married here and has two children in their teens. Nishat has heard wonderful stories about Shaikh Sahab ever since she arrived. “His house is kept locked because Reyaz Shaikh and his son Nasir who purchased it from Farooque Shaikh do not live here. They have other houses in the vicinity.”

(Shaikh Sahab’s terrace)

She says Nasir, who manages the apartment, has preserved certain items belonging to Shaikh Sahab over 30 years with dedication. “The plush velvet sofas you will see there and certain other items of furniture once belonged to Farooque Shaikh,” she says.

Nishat’s sister-in-law Farhat Hannan Shaikh has come visiting from Azamgarh, UP, where she is the principal of a school of 3,500 pupils. It is she who knows Shaikh Sahab’s family better. Farhatji spent her childhood and youth in Memni Building until she got married in 1983. Shaikh Sahab’s family moved in 1987.

She says, “We all grew up together as children. I would visit his place to play with his sisters. They are a lovely family, godfearing, namazi, well educated. Their father Mustafa Shaikh was a reputed lawyer. He wanted Farooque Shaikh to study law. He did not want him to join cinema. In fact, he passed away rather suddenly of a heart attack and Farooque Shaikh also went away similarly. It was such a shock to us.”

She remembers Shaikh Sahab as a softspoken gentleman who was never harsh or unkind. “He did not change even when he became a film star. I remember how Poonam Dhillon, Moushumi Chatterjee and Deepti Naval would come to his house. It was cause a stir in the building,” Farhatji laughs.

Both Nishat and Farhatji kindly showed TOI around that portion of the building, even the terrace that belonged to Shaikh Sahab’s family.

Farhatji said, “I remember his mother Faridaji was a very fine lady. Even after they left, she would come to visit a neighbour downstairs sometimes.” Shaikh Sahab’s mother passed away in February 2011.

If we did not invite Farooque Shaikh to a wedding or funeral thinking he had become a big star, he would ask, ‘Am I so big that you would exclude me?’ say old neighbours in Nagpada

Mumbai: Farooque Shaikh’s original family home in Mumbai was a spacious flat in the heart of Nagpada in South Mumbai. The sprawling L-shaped Memni Building is a landmark at Nagpada Junction. It has five gates leading to different wings. The Shaikh family lived on the second floor along the Duncan Road flank.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day was observed Friday, December 28.

Old neighbours still recall the fair, good looking youth who stood head and shoulders above the rest, literally and figuratively. They marvel at his “soorat and seerat” which catapulted their building to fame and drew leading film stars and directors there.

(Mazhar and Anees Shaikh at the entrance to Memni Building)

They miss his physical presence, not since the past five years but 30. The family left the locality in 1987.

TOI chanced upon a group of middle-aged gentlemen lounging on a bench at the entrance of Memni Building and they turned out to be Shaikh Sahab’s childhood friends.

Anees Shaikh has lived on the ground floor since 60 plus years. “Farooque Shaikh left this building in 1987. But the impression he made on us will last a lifetime. Each time the topic veers to ‘Second Floor Flat Number 28’, which is among the biggest houses in the building, we remember that it used to belong to Farooque Shaikh,” he says.

“His father Mustafa Shaikh was a famous lawyer. Farooque Shaikh had four brothers and sisters. Woh sabse bade the. His sisters were married from this house.”

Shaikh Sahab was about ten years older than Anees Shaikh and a couple of friends, but this was not the only reason they looked up to him. “He was a good example for all of us because he came from a good, honourable family, dressed well, conducted himself well, studied well and made a name in the world. And in spite of achieving so much, he never cultivated takabbur (arrogance) or seemed too busy to talk to us,” Aneesbhai says. “He never fell prey to the evils of stardom. But one thing we know. His father never wanted him to become an actor. He wanted him to be a lawyer like him.”

Shaikh Sahab did take a degree in law but found it was not suited to his temperament. He reportedly sought his father’s permission to act in Garm Hava (1973), and did not resume performing until Gaman and Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977).

But those films do not seem to have settled into the memory groove of Memni Building residents. To them Noorie (1979) remains the high point.

(The flat with shuttered windows on the second floor is Shaikh Sahab’s former home)

Another neighbour Mazhar enthusiastically says, “Do you know, when ‘Noorie’ released Farooque Shaikh brought us free tickets! One day when he met us as he headed out, we congratulated him. He said, Aap logon ne meri picture dekhi ki nahin? We said, Nahin Bhai. Ticket hi nahin mili. He said Batao, how many of you are there, I will arrange tickets for you. And he did. All of us youngsters went and enjoyed ‘Noorie’. Kaun karta hai aisa. In fact we saw many of his beautiful movies because he would bring us free tickets.”

Scholars of Islam often quote the importance of giving a good name to a newborn child for those traits permeate his personality. ‘Farooque’ means the discerning one, one who can distinguish between right and wrong. Shaikh Sahab lived up to his name. Just as he did not permit the negative influences of Nagpada to penetrate his psyche, equally, he islanded himself from the silvery web of glamour.

“Soon big big stars started coming to the building to meet him. Noorie would come, Moushumi Chatterjee, Rakesh Bedi, Satish Shah, I think even Deepti Naval and Rekha came. But he never stopped being cordial to ordinary residents.”

Examples abound of his fabled humility. “Would you believe, he would actually carry his shoes to the mochi to be polished. That cobbler you see in the corner of the building, his father used to run the stall in those days. He would say, Sahab aap kyon takleef karte hain, main ghar aake joote le jaoonga. Farooque Shaikh would say, Nahin kyon. Main leta aaoonga na. He had no need for servants to fetch and carry for him,” Anees says.

Shaikh Sahab would carry his own bags to the taxi stand near Alexandra Cinema when he went outdoors on a shoot. When the youths of Memni Building sought his autograph downstairs, he would say, “Yahaan nahin, ghar pe aao, nashta karo.” They took him up on his offer, and were met with warmth and hospitality at his house.

Anees Shaikh says, “Say somebody did not invite him to a wedding thinking he was now a big man, or avoided mentioning a death in the locality thinking he was a film star so how will he join the funeral, he would come and say, Kyon mujhe shaadi ya mayyat mein nahin bulaya? Main itna bada ho gaya hoon kya? We were so overwhelmed. Such a humble, milansaar aadmi.”

(The hall of Shaikh Sahab’s home as it stands today)

Both men recall how Shaikh Sahab was particularly kind to little children, the chillar party of Memni Building. “Oh, they would make a loud noise sometimes. Other residents would scold them and order them to pipe down except Farooque Shaikh. Kabhi chillaye nahin. Hanske guzar jate the. Even we, as young boys, would sprawl our legs on the stairs and block people’s path. But never did he say, Step aside, or anything harsh. He would step around, find a way and go out,” says Anees.

Mazhar cannot prevent himself from repeating, “Imagine, he himself brought us tickets to Noorie. Kaun karta hai aisa.”

The family may have left Memni Building but Shaikh Sahab’s younger brother Fazal continued visiting for a few years.

Anees Shaikh says, “We were so shocked when we heard Farooque Shaikh had passed away. It happened in Dubai. One of his sisters lives there and he was visiting her for the New Year. He went away young. You will never hear a single negative comment about him because he did not hurt anybody. Kisi ka dil dukhane wali baat nahin ki. Kabhi apni position se ghalat fayda nahin uthaya. Not a hint of arrogance ever crossed his face.”

“His face comes to mind so vividly even now. When he headed out in the afternoon sun… fair complexion, long hair, white kurta. Aur bhi chamakte the!” he laughs.

Most old timers from Memni Building have left, either for the farther suburbs, or on the long journey which must culminate in a happy reunion.

In an era when Nagpada’s youth looked on gangsters as role models, Farooque Shaikh remained pure like the proverbial lotus, says Urdu journalist Saeed Hameed

Mumbai: The proverbial metaphor of the lotus that emerges from muddy waters and blossoms into a thing of beauty and purity is so aptly suited to Farooque Shaikh. The absolute gentleman was raised in the rough neighbourhood of Nagpada in South Mumbai in a time when gangsters like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Dawood Ibrahim drafted local boys to settle personal rivalry.

An environment that could have unsettled an impressionable mind failed to taint Shaikh Sahab who nurtured a steely resolve to walk the right path.

Senior journalist and author Saeed Hameed, who also lived in Nagpada, remembers Shaikh as the youth who never loitered about or engaged with wastrels yet always had a polite smile and Adaab for neighbours.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day is being observed today Friday, December 28.

(Saeed Hameed)

Hameed, whose latest book ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Aur Musalman’ was released recently, met TOI in his office in Nagpada, a short distance from Shaikh Sahab’s former home. Interestingly, Hameed became his neighbour again in Andheri. In the 1990s Shaikh Sahab moved to Lokhandwala Complex while Hameed shifted to Millat Nagar nearby.

From the 1950s until 1987, Farooque Shaikh lived in Memni Building on the Duncan Road flank of Nagpada junction. Now the road has been renamed Maulana Azad Road.

Hameed says, “I saw Shaikh Sahab during his student days in the 1960s though the family lived there well after he made Noorie (1979). His father Mustafa Shaikh was a reputed advocate. He passed away early.”

Shaikh Sahab was the eldest of five siblings. “He was a striking youth even then, very distinguished from the rest of the boys who lived in the area. He was very handsome, fair skinned, and he wore his hair long. He would keep running his fingers through his hair! He was always well dressed, with his shirt tucked into his bell bottom style trousers.”

“One must understand here that the Nagpada of the 1960s, 70s and 80s was a locality of churning influences. You had notorious gangsters of the underworld like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel. Several young lads in fact looked up to them because they had few role models to emulate. It was easy to get sucked into violence and crime for it was so common. The bordellos of Kamathipura were not too far. There were scarcely any graduates in the area, most dropped out after basic education.”

“But Farooque Shaikh was a different class of man. Very well bred, from a well educated, well-to-do family. We only saw him come home or go out. Na cigarette, na sharab, na koi aur lat. Unhone apne mahaul ko khud par kabhi haavi hone nahin diya. Never did he hang around with groups of boys or loiter about like the other youngsters. No stories of misdemeanour were spoken about him, let alone vice.”


There are two popular restaurants in Nagpada that still exist, one named Sarvi (pronounced Saarvi) in the next building which is famous for delectable seekh kebab. Dilip Kumar and other actors would visit this place. The other hotel Rolex was the favourite haunt of litterateurs, poets and journalists. “Eight out of ten” prominent Urdu newspapers were located in this area so this restaurant drew writers in the droves. “But we did not see Farooque Shaikh in either. He kept himself aloof from the influences of Nagpada,” says Hameed.

Yet, Shaikh Sahab was by no means cold even though he was detached. He would say Salaam or Adaab and smile at neighbours as he passed by, without engaging too much. He always seemed focussed and very busy.

Hameed knew Shaikh Sahab’s younger brother Fazal. “He was my junior in Maharashtra College. The family was clearly cultured and religious. Fazal, I think, was considerably younger than Farooque Shaikh but a five-time namazi like him. He was a boxer.”

As the days passed by, the youths realised that Farooque Shaikh had become a model. “We began to see his pictures in print advertisements in magazines like Illustrated Weekly and in movie theatres at the start of a film or during the interval. You remember, the slide show ads with a voiceover? I think he modelled for Lifebuoy also. Farooque Sahab became very famous in the mohalla. It was a wow moment because a young lad from our own locality had made a name like this.”

Here Hameed Sahab makes sure to mention actor-director Kadar Khan who lived some distance away. “I took admission to Saboo Siddik Polytechnic where Kadar Khan was my professor. He was very active on the theatre circuit with the Kal Ke Kalakaar (KKK) troupe. And Farooque Shaikh was an integral part of the St Xavier’s College drama team. Both these groups figured prominently in a prestigious inter-collegiate dramatic competition. In fact, Rajesh Khanna representing K C College, Amjad Khan from National College, Sagar Sarhadi, Jeetendra and Sanjeev Kumar all made their presence felt at this event. Shafi Inamdar and Mushtaq Merchant would rehearse with Kadar Khan in Saboo Siddik.”

(Shaikh Sahab’s house on second floor of Memni Bldg; the one with series of closed windows)

Hameed points out an interesting similarity. Both Shaikh Sahab and Kadar Khan made a prominent entry into the world of cinema in 1973, Shaikh with Garm Hava and Khan with Jawani Diwani.

Hameed meanwhile went on to make a career in journalism in daily newspapers like Aaj and Urdu Reporter, and the weekly Akhbar E’ Alam.

In the late 1980s, Shaikh moved to Bandra where he lived in Rafi Mansion, which was earlier Mohammed Rafi’s bungalow. The family then went to Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri.

In 1992-93, Mumbai was engulfed by two horrific waves of communal riots in the aftermath of the martyrdom of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. The traumatic aftermath of the demolition shook the social conscience of all right-minded citizens. Shaikh Sahab could hardly remain insulated given his strong moral fibre.

“The largest relief camp was set up in Millat Nagar by Ziauddin Bukhari. Particularly, there were 300-400 Muslim families living in Pratiksha Nagar whose safety was threatened amid growing violence. Abu Asim Azmi set up a small facility in Colaba. Bukhari got the families evacuated in trucks with help from Sharad Pawar. The Aman Committee pitched in too. Smaller camps were set up in Nagpada also,” says Hameed.

(Shaikh Sahab’s Memni apartment as it stands today)

But there was nothing to equal the scale of relief work in Millat Nagar. This is a vast colony with a few score buildings. Some were still under construction, others unoccupied. It soon came to shelter 2,000-2,500 people. Sunil Dutt, then the Congress MP for North West Mumbai came to help. Johnny Walker and Shaikh Sahab who lived nearby also helped. Shabana Azmi would call in too.

Hameed says a control room of sorts was installed on the top floor of Sagar Malkani Tower located on S V Road, Jogeshwari, which is about five minutes’ drive away from Millat Nagar, to monitor the welfare of the displaced people. He says Shaikh Sahab would visit to inquire into their needs and offer assistance.

Hameed was an active member of this monitoring group. As a journalist, he had a curfew pass and could travel across affected areas to gather information in an era when there was no satellite TV, no cellphones and no Internet. So he was an active source of news for the team. Every evening he would come, often walking miles, to Sagar Malkani, and give updates.

“We did not require funds because help was arriving from various sources. But Farooque Sahab proved useful because he had very good relations with senior politicians in New Delhi. Rajesh Pilot was the home minister of state then, so Farooque Sahab could tell him about their problems and grievances and seek assistance. Shaikh would personally shuttle between Bombay and Delhi to expedite matters. Local authorities spring into action only when higher-ups in government put in a word, and here Farooque Shaikh’s contribution was very valuable.”

Rajesh Pilot even came to Bombay and visited Millat Nagar to offer assurance.

Hameed is also aware of Shaikh Sahab’s patronage of Lucknow’s chikankari industry. Most women who embroider chikan kurtas for SEWA, his regular supplier, are from broken homes and often the sole earning members of their families. And Farooque Shaikh knew in his heart that his costly purchases of white kurtas went into a good cause.

It is hard to think of a celebrity other than Shaikh Sahab who seemed to have made it his mission to be of use to people he met. Hameed recalls how he tried to help him gain assignments in the film industry. “He was acting in a serial named Chamatkar where they needed a good writer. He recommended my name but they chose somebody else. He went to the USA shortly afterwards but when he returned and realised they had not selected me, he was so apologetic. Is qadar ma’azrat ki. Another time Subhash Ghai’s team was seeking a dialogue director for Anil Kapoor. Farooque Sahab trusted my Urdu diction and suggested my name, but it did not work out. Both times he felt so sorry but I understood. What could he do? He tried for me twice.”

I can still hear Farooque Shaikh’s uniquely beautiful voice, his most polite tone and his Urdu zabaan, says Nandita Das

Mumbai: Noted actor-director Nandita Das is known as much for a feeling heart and thinking head as her talented contribution to the film industry. She is a good 21 years younger than Farooque Shaikh but they shared a warm friendship that transcends mundane details like these.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Smriti Din will be observed tomorrow Friday, December 28.

He shared common association with Nanditaji as well as veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar which resulted in a fruitful partnership lasting decades. In 1996, Nayar took Das to Lahore as part of South Asians for Human Rights, in 2002 he prompted her to visit Gujarat after the riots, and shared recollections of his meeting with Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto, which helped seed Nanditaji’s recent film that is making waves. Shaikh Sahab, who held an abiding love for Urdu literature, would have relished watching Manto.


Nandita Das made time from her busy schedule to write this tribute to her friend.

“I first met Farouque Shaikh in New York at the screening of ‘Fire’ at the famous Lincoln Centre. Shabana Azmi, my co-actor, had invited him. I remember the post-film dinner that was filled with much laughter and stimulating conversation.

“We were re-introduced soon after that by Kuldip Nayar, the senior journalist and parliamentarian. Since our first meeting, the three of us met together many a times, and had heated discussions on socio-political issues. We made a strange threesome! Three different generations, three different temperaments and three different personalities. Yet we were very compatible and if I may be immodest, also complementary.”

“There was humour, playful banter and at the same time, intense discussions. As (I was) the youngest, they indulged me. They also ensured I ate well! They became my friend, philosopher and guide. Farouque Sahab, in particular, loved food and feeding everyone. I lived in Delhi then, so we would eat road side kakori kebab in Nizamuddin and also the Thai food at the Habitat centre.


“Farouque Sahab and I independently also met many a times, both in Bombay and Delhi. He was known for his warmth, generosity and graciousness. He used to send me boxes of alphonso mangoes that I relished in the summer heat of Delhi. I can still hear his uniquely beautiful voice, his most polite tone and his Urdu zabaan. He was full of stories, but also listened with interest. It is not always that the goodness that shines through an actor’s work shines through his or her life too. But with him it did.

“As with all of us, he had some contradictions. But today I am choosing to remember him with the affection and respect that he always showered on me. And for that I am grateful. May his soul rest in peace.”


Farooque Shaikh did a rare double role movie with Surinder Kaur. The popular nazm ‘Taj Mahal mein aa jana’ was also filmed on them

Mumbai: “Farooque Shaikh was the most beautiful person among all the people that I worked with. He had a beautiful soul,” says senior actress Surinder Kaur.

Surinderji earned two unique achievements in the two films she made with Shaikh Sahab. Their 1984 comedy ‘Yahan Wahan’ featured the enduring nazm ‘Tum mujhse milne sham’a jalakar Taj Mahal mein aa jana’. The song was drawn from a private album by Nina and Rajendra Mehta. In fact the singers also played themselves in this film, performing in a mehfil where Shaikh Sahab and Surinderji were among the spectators.

Their second picture together was the unreleased ‘Banvaas’ in which Shaikh Sahab had a rare double role, playing both father and son.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day comes up Friday, December 28.

Surinder Kaur made her debut with Rajshri Films’ Payal Ki Jhankar’ where she enacted the heroine’s sister. Before this, she was a classical dancer of repute who performed the role of Sita in a dance ballet that toured worldwide. “Director Satyen Bose who made classics like Jagriti and Dosti spotted me in Delhi and I arrived in Bombay. My next film was Rakta Bandhan with Mithun Chakraborty and this was directed by Rajat Rakshit.”

Rakshit was a less known but talented film maker whose comedies seem to be cast in the mould of Basu Chatterji. Of course the two were contemporaries. Rakshit directed Damaad, Meri Biwi Ki Shaadi, Bin Phere Hum Tere — and Yahan Wahan with Farooque Shaikh and Surinder Kaur.

Surinderji met TOI at her apartment near Lokhandwala Complex, a short distance from Shaikh Sahab’s home in Highland Park, to recount warm memories of the time they worked together. In a gesture of rare generosity, she processed several sepia tone prints of old film stills for this tribute.

“I knew Farooque Shaikh of course. I had seen films like Noorie and was already a fan. I was fascinated by his work. And I had heard so much about him that was so positive, I was naturally very excited and happy at this chance to work with him.”

Yahan Wahan was shot in a flat in Colaba. It was this apartment which was at the heart of the comedy. Surinderji pretends she owns the well appointed house in Gulistan Apartment in a bid to impress the wealthy Shaikh Sahab, not knowing that the place actually belongs to him! He likes her but cannot figure the reason behind this falsehood.

The songs were filmed in Madh Island. It was completed in a year and a half. Sattee Shourie was reportedly involved in the production, Surinderji says.

“I was a newcomer and Farooqueji had done many films. But looking at his serious personality, one would never guess that he can make you laugh like mad! Such a pleasant co-artiste! Yahan Wahan was a comedy so humour was inherent in the script, but even when we were not filming we were laughing so much because of him. He would crack such funny jokes.

“There was an element of kheench taan in our interaction in the movie, and that would extend to the scene as well. If you remember, there is a scene where I am dreaming that he walks into my decrepit house and turns up his nose saying, “Aap yahaan rehtin hain?!” Farooque Sahab would actually look so disgusted while performing that we would break into laughter and the director had to call cut. After three or four retakes, Rajatji threw up his hands and halted the shoot. He said, take a 10 minute break, finish laughing and then we will resume. Each time I think of that scene, it brings a smile on my lips!”

Writer Javed Siddiqi had recalled a similar incident during the shoot of Shatranj Ke Khilari where Shaikh Sahab is caught in the boudoir with Farida Jalal. As her husband Saeed Jaffrey walks in on them, Shaikh Sahab dives under the bed and begins to fumble for an excuse. Each time this scene was being shot, the actors would begin to laugh so hard that director Satyajit Ray called for a break so they could settle down.

Surinderji recalls the simplicity of this star. “I was in awe of him thinking he is a star, will he talk to me. Instead I saw a man who was paying an autorickshaw driver for driving him to the set. When he waved goodbye at the end of the day, he would just walk down the road to hire a cab home. Farooqueji had such a natural demeanour in an industry that is driven by glamour. No star vanity. He did not feel the need to flaunt his status by having a big, chauffeur driven car. It was very inspiring.”

She agrees that public adulation comes with the profession. “But one has to keep the bigger picture in mind. If you allow yourself to be driven by this adulation, there is the danger of becoming arrogant and of leading a superficial life.”

“But Farooque Shaikh seemed ever mindful of this trap. How could one not be moved by the beautiful serenity on his face? Such a glow! He had a peaceful visage. No stress showed on his face because he had a simple mind. He never felt the need to show off or to complicate matters. His smile is contagious. It brings a smile on your face.”

Interestingly, Surinder Kaur did one more film named ‘Banvaas’ with Shaikh Sahab which failed to get a release. “It was a beautiful movie which had Moushumi Chatterji in the female lead. Farooque Sahab played both father and son. The father is a reputed, self-respecting man who walks the path of righteousness. He expects his son to do likewise. However, a misunderstanding develops between them and the son leaves the house. That is when I come into his life. I try to work s reconciliation. The father angrily thinks how can my son stray in this manner, but he is mistaken in believing the worst. The son meanwhile is deeply hurt, and wonders how can my own father mistrust me so.”

“The youth seeks shelter in the house of Moushumi Chatterjee who lives alone, and apparently makes a slip. The honourable man that he is, he owns responsibility and decides to stand by her. And I support his decision because after all, he is trying to do the right thing,” Surinderji says.

She smiles at the recollection of his grey haired look as the father, then wistfully adds that Shaikh Sahab never lived to attain a ripe old age in real life.

Like several friends, Surinderji would also receive birthday cards from him. “You know, on set he had nicknamed me Sardarniji. He would say Sardarniji aaiye! Sardarniji, shot ready hai! Sardarniji this and Sardarniji that. So one day I said, Farooqueji, please stop this Sardarniji. So you know what he did? He changed it to Starniji! Even his birthday cards were addressed ‘Dear Surinder (Starniji)’! “

It could not have been easy to keep a calm smiling visage in a profession filled with stress and competition, and everyone who knows Shaikh Sahab marvels at his unique ability. “I never saw him angry or even offended. He was only one of two things — either smiling or laughing! Even when he was making jokes he would never disrespect anyone. Kisi ka dil dukhaya ho, aisa kabhi nahin hua.”

Shaikh Sahab was in the habit of reading a lot, and several co-actors and directors have gauged how well read he was from the insightful conversations they shared with him. Surinderji did not fail to notice either. “He was very fond of reading good books, classics I think. Urdu was his language and there is no doubt over his mastery there, but his vocabulary in Hindi and English was also very impressive.”

They occasionally kept in touch over the phone. Surinderji discovered the merits of Buddhism 30 years ago and had invited Shaikh Sahab to an exhibition in Mahim. “He did come. He appreciated the presentation and said thank you for inviting me.”

“His death was such a shock. For days on end, I could not bring myself to believe it was true. I attended the final viewing at his apartment building in Highland Park, and the number of peoole who had come to pay regards was astonishing. I realised then how many lives he had touched by his good nature. When I saw him laying there, I could not believe it. I almost felt like he would stand up suddenly and say this had all been a joke.”

Surinderji still has old photographs of their films in her phone and feels his presence each time she browses them. “You know, some people influence your life so deeply that you never feel they aren’t there. Farooque Shaikh’s effect still remains although it is 35-odd years since we made movies together. I am so happy that people want to remember him and talk about him. This is how one should live life!”

Shaikh Sahab had hosted a TV show by the same name. The title suits him best of all.

When men become successful, they stomp over you. Farooque Shaikh was an exception, says Himani Shivpuri

Mumbai: Actress Himani Shivpuri was merely a young student of the National School of Drama (NSD) while shooting her first film ‘Ab Ayega Mazaa’ in 1983. She was too reticent to express admiration for the handsome Farooque Shaikh, who was the hero of the picture. In fact she still nurses a shy nature. Yet interestingly, in their last film together, Club 60, Himaniji had to play the saucy coquette who embarrasses the shy actor instead.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day comes up Friday December 28.

Himani Shivpuri, veteran of scores of films including Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai apart from serials like Star Bestsellers, Hasratein and Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi, described the everlasting impression that Shaikh Sahab left upon her in the three assignments they did together, two films and TV serial ‘Chamatkar’.

In fact the two movies they made together bind them by an odd coincidence. Himaniji’s first film was ‘Ab Ayega Mazaa’ (1984) whose hero was Shaikh Sahab. And his last film to release during his lifetime was ‘Club 60’ (2013) that featured Himaniji.

In Club 60, Farooque Shaikh plays a doctor named Tariq Shaikh while her character is named Nalini Doctor. “Thode bohot doctor toh hum bhi hain!” she laughs when she meets him in the club for the first time. As Shaikh Sahab balks, she turns to Raghuvir Yadav who introduced them and says, “Yeh aapke Doctor Sahab muskurane mein thodi kanjoosi karte hain.” He responds, “Hamare Doctor Sahab sab par mehrban nahin hote.” She laughs and rues, “Kaash hum sab mein nahin hote!” Shaikh turns red and clasps his palm over his mouth. Himani teases him saying, “He’s blushing! He’s blushing!”

She laughs as she recalls that scene. “I have warm memories of ‘Club 60’. This particular portion was shot in Pune. Farooqueji was the lead member of the cast. But even the producer was astounded to see that a stalwart like him was so humble. He arrived on set in a taxi. No swanky cars, no glamorous mobile phones. He was so grounded. Nowadays actors tend to hire Ola and Uber cabs but six years ago, it was unheard of.”

She says Farooque Shaikh was fond of food. More so, he loved feeding people. He would entertain the cast and crew to treats all the time. “In Delhi also, while shooting for Ab Ayega Mazaa way back in 1983, I noticed that he was aware of all the good joints. His generosity was pronounced even during ‘Chamatkar’. Farooqueji would surprise the whole cast by bringing goodies like pastry, chaat, doughnuts and sweets for everyone. We had some young actors also who really appreciated his warm, wonderful gesture.”

Although it released in 1984, Ab Ayega Mazaa was shot in 1983 while Himaniji was still a student in NSD. “Now during the course, we were not allowed to work outside. So would you believe it, I would actually scale the wall to go to the shoot! In fact I was once caught by a make-up teacher named Sadhu. He too was doing the film! I said Sir please don’t tell on me, after all you are here too!” she laughs.

This picture was directed by Pankuj Parashar and he was assisted by Satish Kaushik who had been Himaniji’s senior at NSD. Alok Nath the producer was also from NSD. He was two years her senior. “Girja Shankar and Alok Nath were co-producing the film. We students wanted to gain a foothold in cinema and they were looking for cheap labour. So it suited everybody. Satish and Alok had seen me act in plays and that is how I got the part.” The climax was shot in Mumbai.

Even as a newcomer she realised that Shaikh Sahab was not one to impose on anybody. “He had such a sweet tongue, both in terms of what he said and how he said it. One thing I noticed was that his spoke a language in pure form, be it English or Hindi. The rest of us tend to lapse from one into the other, or we speak Hinglish. His zubaan was Urdu which was certainly beautiful, but he had such a grip over English also. He was a connoisseur of she’r o’ shayri also, and we would just sit by in awe and see him speak perfect Hindustani or Urdu.”

“From the very start, I felt he was very good looking. He would wear his white kurta and look so charming. I reserved my opinion though because I was very shy. I still am. I never grew out of my small town modesty (Himaniji hails from Dehradun). Also, in 1983, our relationship was one of mere acquaintance not friendship. We never really socialised since I was a struggler who spent time looking for work, and he was a star. Later I was working and managing the house, rushing from studio to studio, so there was no time to have a social life.”

Her voice drops. “He passed away very suddenly. We were so shocked. I got a call from the producer of Club 60 to convey the news. I remember Farooqueji often. So fair, very soft always, never using a bad word, a rare gentleman. Otherwise when men become successful, they stomp all over you. Only a few maintain their humility and politeness. There is also Mr Bachchan. Of course there must be others. But Farooqueji was unique.”

She gathered that he was a devout Muslim. “He performed namaz regularly. But there was depth to his devotion. Farooque Shaikh truly understood the essence of Islam. He was not just skimming the surface. Such a wonderful man. May God rest his soul.”


Farooque Shaikh ran from embroidered outfits saying I will look like a bandwallah, laughs director of Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai

Mumbai: Fans of Farooque Shaikh all enjoyed watching him anchor the television series Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. Few failed to notice the irony that the title was most suited to Shaikh Sahab himself, yet no episode was made on him.

Jeena’s director Smriti Kiran, who had a three year long association with him, might agree. The series spanned 2001 through 2004, and catapulted Farooque Shaikh into the league of India’s best television hosts ever.

Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day will be observed Friday, December 28.

Smriti Kiran, creative director of MAMI (Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image) met TOI at her office in Santacruz, which was throbbing with activity for the Mumbai Film Festival a few days before. She along with film critic Anupama Chopra was one of the main organisers of the festival.

The articulate, efficient lady was merely 23-24 when she started directing Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai in 2001. It was filmed in two seasons, the first was 52 episodes the second 26-27. A brief revival was aired with Raveena Tandon but it did not sustain.

She said, “It was just 15 years ago but that was a very different era. Twitter and Facebook did not wield the enormous influence they do now so there was no publicity. Also there was no reality show of this kind. People had little access to a star’s life. If you wanted to do an interview with Deepika Padukone, you would have to visit her on set or wait for her to give interviews around a film’s release.”

Smritiji was young and new in the system. “NDTV was also undergoing a transition. We had a five year alliance with Star News for news content when that channel started. But we were not yet a full fledged production house. Zee TV came up with a proposal asking us to produce content for them. So this is how Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai was conceived. If you remember, it was telecast on Zee not on NDTV.”

“When the idea germinated of exploring the life story of celebrities, we were sure of one thing. That whoever hosts the show has to put himself in the background and surrender to the celebration of the star’s life. It was as if he was organising a surprise party for the celebrity. If the anchor begins to think ki main hi star hoon then he will gobble up the invitee.

“For this reason, it was important to select the right host who could do justice to the star, who could turn the conversation in a unique direction. After all, the celebrity is only as good as the host. If the interviewer is pedestrian or the questions are dull and predictable, the interaction will collapse. I have seen artistes transform when the interviewer knows his job.”

The instant that Farooque Shaikh’s name came into the reckoning for anchor was a moment of realisation. “Farooqueji already shared a cordial relationship with NDTV because he had acted in Ji Mantriji which was also their venture. Clearly, there was no better person to do Jeena. He fit the part like a glove. Choli daaman ka saath ho jaise. Fortunately, he liked the concept and agreed.”

The team would shoot in NDTV’s Studio 10 in New Delhi since they did not own a set-up in Mumbai. So Shaikh Sahab had to travel to that city. “It was practical and cost-effective to build a ready set, a standing space, in our own premises rather than hire a studio in Mumbai and fashion a set which would need to be dismantled after every shoot. Later we shifted to Mumbai because immense cost and time was involved in arranging travel for so many guests every time.”

Smritiji says she was lucky to start her career with an easygoing star like Shaikh Sahab who never demanded special privileges. “We would put him up in a regular decent hotel, he had an Innova car at his disposal, but he never said I want a Mercedes S Series. He was a team player. Of course we treated him well and with respect because we all loved Farooqueji. Who hasn’t seen his films. I particularly loved Chashme Buddoor. Oomda insaan the. He was a jovial person who made clean jokes. He would come impeccably dressed in his simple white kurta pyjama, always wearing a smile.”

“Personally he always dressed in white. For the show, we would offer a selection of sherwanis or kurta pyjama with a stole. He would choose the sober, elegant outfits. He would run away if he saw embroidery! He’d say what is this gold zardozi, I will look like a bandwallah!”

One small indulgence he had was that he liked to have “meetha”. “Black coffee and meetha! More than he loved eating, he loved feeding people. We were all a bunch of youngsters, a chaandal chaukdi, and he would take us all out to eat.”

The team was successfully able to maintain secrecy about the star’s acquaintances who would arrive on the show. That was an innocent era, so even the star would be agog with excitement to see which of his friends and colleagues would be there.

“Our research team would do intense travel and fact finding. They would gather reams of information about the star and use that as background material. Farooqueji had a unique way of preparation. He would say, give me the research document, so we did. But I don’t know if he read it. He would ask me to narrate the life story of the star and I would sit with him for two hours sometimes. He would take notes on his cue cards, the ones that you see in his hand.”

Jeena had no written script, it was all impromptu. For this reason, the host had to have a perfect command over language. With Shaikh Sahab, that was easy because he was so eloquent. Be it English, Hindustani or Urdu, his diction was infallible, his vocabulary rich. The episodes were shot in real time. The duration of telecast was 40-45 minutes and they would complete shooting in two hours maximum.

Smritiji says, “We never had to tell him what to do. The only time we whispered over the Talk Back (the contraption attached to the host’s ear) was to say that a certain guest may be late so extend this segment, or cut this conversation short lest we overshoot time. Otherwise it was just record, record, record — break! The break lasted barely 10 minutes on set.”

The sharpness of Shaikh Sahab’s wit and intellect was never more in evidence than when he led into a break. Unlike other anchors who repeatedly call for interval, Shaikh Sahab would swiftly draw from a line said by the guest or employ a smart turn of phrase.

Smritiji laughs. “Yes, so although we did not shoot too much, editing Farooqueji’s portions was so problematic! We did not know where to cut. Koi qissa yaad ata tha unko which was either funny or so interesting. I think that is the best compliment to an artiste’s talent that you do not know which portions to leave out.”

Shaikh Sahab’s colleagues like Vineet Kumar often say that no one who met him for the first time felt he was meeting him for the first time. Jeena’s viewers felt the same way. Right from the start, they began to enjoy and look forward to Shaikh Sahab’s humour, banter, repartee, spontaneity. Most of all, he allowed his guests to speak without interrupting them.

As with all good things, the advantage of a brilliant, easygoing host was also taken for granted. Until a rude shock occurred. Shaikh Sahab stepped aside from Jeena. Suresh Oberoi took his place.

Smritiji says, “Farooqueji had already informed us that he would not be available to us for three months from September through December, because he was scheduled to tour abroad with his play ‘Tumhari Amrita’. We could not record so many episodes in advance so Sureshji was invited to conduct the show.”

Oberoi’s baritone was famous, no doubt. But that old warmth, the wit, that disarming smile, was palpably missing. Viewer interest plummeted. And NDTV decided to approach Shaikh Sahab to restore what he had built.

Smritiji says, “Yet it is not as if Farooqueji jumped at the offer. Instead he said, I will not accept until Sureshji signs a letter saying he is giving up the assignment. For me, this opened a window to his personality. Earlier he was nice, now he was sublime. He could have taken Jeena.. back with a snap of a finger. But he chose the honourable path.”

Among his many virtues was his fabled hospitaity. “Woh ek behtareen host the. After Jeena shifted to Mumbai, he took us to restaurants like Gajalee. When we went to his house to discuss work, his wife and he would lay out a full spread of chocolate cake, namkeen, samosa and other treats. On festive occasions like Eid he would bring kheer, sevaiyan or mithai. He even sent it home.”

Like other friends, Smritiji says Shaikh Sahab was consistently the first to greet them at festivals. Well before anybody else, his message would come.

How could she fail to notice his flawless speech. “Unka bolne ka lehja oomda tha. His words were honey dipped in tehzeeb, tameez. He was graceful and always gave respect to the other person. He would never indulge in gossip. Balki unke moonh se phool jhadte the. Any man who wears a facade is sure to let it slip after a certain familiarity sets in. There was no such danger with Farooque Shaikh for he was 100% genuine. In all the years that we worked together, I never caught sight of him forsaking tehzeeb. Also, most people are polite to important people or those who can help them in some way. But Farooqueji had a sweet tongue even for assistants and humble workers. That is the litmus test.”

“Not to say that he never made his point. He was no pushover. But his saleeka (grace) was his strength. If something happened that was not to his taste, he would not ‘deal’ with it, he would ‘reason’ with it. He kept life simple and did not complicate matters by exaggerating their importance. Why are you worrying, he would say, we can solve it this way.”

She describes Shaikh Sahab as a content man who did not allow ego to become a road block. “A lot of art film actors get overcome by angst. He was such a great actor, he could also have become bitter. After all, far lesser actors made crores of rupees and came to own big houses and fancy cars. But he lived modestly even though he was well off. He never said I deserved so much better but look what I got.”

He kept in touch with her always. “We last met to seek his guidance for Anupama Chopra’s TV show ‘The Front Row’. He was very reassuring. In fact his Christmas message arrived just two days before he passed away December 28. I actually sat down and began crying when I heard. I had not yet replied to his greeting. I miss him so much. I feel I should have met him more. Why do we take life for granted. All I had to do was to say Farooqueji, I want to come over. And he would have responded in five seconds, come for biryani.”

Farooque Shaikh was a scholar of Islamic theology who could counter myths about polio vaccine, says UNICEF officer

Mumbai: There is something to be said for the constancy in Nature. Time does not expend the fire in the sun or dim the brightness of the stars. Time does not diminish the glow of men of distinction either. Their good deeds echo their name long after the song is over.

Farooque Shaikh’s fifth Remembrance Day will be observed Friday, December 28.

By the Islamic calendar, the day of his passing was 25 Safar 1435.

Shaikh Sahab’s commitment to India’s battle against polio was as steadfast and sincere, not mere obligation like the 2% share of profit that corporate firms must invest in CSR.

UNICEF’s former chief of communications for Uttar Pradesh, Augustine Veliath, who worked closely with him on this campaign, had written this touching tribute to Shaikh Sahab a week after he passed, on January 3, 2014.


Recently, Veliath spoke to this reporter for approximately two hours, reliving memories of his old association with Shaikh in 2006-2007. “During that time, there were four countries where polio was still prevalent, which had earned the acronym PAIN — Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria. Now India is out of this group. And I feel we have Farooque Shaikh to thank for this in great measure.”

Shaikh Sahab and Veliath made many journeys together to several places in UP like Meerut, Moradabad and Benaras for UNICEF’s anti-polio campaign. The state was the hotbed of the disease not just in India but indeed the whole world.

“That is when Farooqueji’s character really shone forth for me. We travelled together in the same vehicle. He never insisted that I am a celebrity, I want you to arrange a big, fancy car for me. He would sit with us and have chai at humble inns just as we did. He was so easy to talk to.”

Veliath says Farooque Shaikh was not a man who needed a script to speak. He was spontaneous, natural, easygoing. His words were well crafted, his language so refined, and for this, Lucknow loved him even more. “Of course he was very fair skinned and good looking. Plus he always had a smile on his face. He was never angry or annoyed. His manner and demeanour was respectful to all, be it the religious scholars we met or the common rickshaw puller.”

“Farooqueji would wear spotless white chikan kurta pyjama, speak Urdu and Hindustani with shades of Arabic, and he became a big hit wherever we went. You know, most celebrities only like to address large audiences. They become disappointed when small numbers of people come to listen to them. But to Farooque Shaikh, it did not matter if only 50 or 500 people showed up at the drive. He was as enthusiastic and sincere as he was before a crowd of 10,000. The message was important, not the messenger.”

Veliath discovered other hidden layers, especially when they travelled to Benaras. “Farooque Shaikh was a scholar of Islam. His knowledge of Islamic theology was very profound. So when we approached the Muslim community in Benaras for polio immunisation, he turned out to be the right person to convince them because he could speak with authority and knowledge. Another celebrity may not have been as effective.”

In Benaras, Veliath stood by in awe and watched Shaikh Sahab employ reasoning and theology with the maulvis and the masses. “We walked down to a Muslim colony that had been particularly resistant to the anti-polio drive. Farooqueji asked them, where did you get the idea that Islam is against vaccination? There was silence. Nobody knew how that myth was seeded.”

Shaikh met the imams and ulema and requested them to make announcements about the polio awareness campaign in their Friday address. “Believe me, there was not a single maulana who did not support our immunisation drive. I am not talking about the odd cranky organisation which issued a fatwa, but the grain of well-meaning clerics who are concerned about the welfare of common Muslims. Each of them came on board.”

Resistance presented itself also, on occasion. “We went to individual homes to convince people to bring their children to the vaccination camps. In one house that we entered, there were only women because the menfolk had gone to work. The women saw Farooqueji, invited him and asked him to sit down, and sent for their husbands. The men arrived, he spoke to them, and they said, Shaikh Sahab, we respect you very much and appreciate that you have taken the time and effort to come here, but we will not give our children this vaccination,” recalls Veliath.

There was a misconception that had spread within the Muslim community that the polio drops were a ploy to bring down their fertility rate. “They thought that the dose takes effect in later years when the boys and girls turn 20 years old or so. Now there was no logic in that but I will tell you where their doubts arise from. One Muslim woman in Lucknow expressed herself clearly before one of our doctors in Farooque Shaikh’s presence. She said, ‘How is it that when we come to your hospitals and clinics to seek help for typhoid, pneumonia or TB, you make us sit for hours or turn us away, but you come to our very doorstep urging us to take this polio vaccine? When we come to you ordinarily, you shoo us away saying we smell bad, we only produce babies. Now why are you taking the trouble to save us from this one disease named polio? That is why we feel there is a conspiracy. You are implementing somebody else’s agenda.’ “

“We were dumbstruck. Farooqueji said slowly, I respect your views. But do see that Farooque Shaikh has come personally to your house, with love and affection, and is asking you to immunise your children. And Farooque Shaikh has nothing against you.” The community saw the truth of that statement and became more amenable.

At certain places Shaikh Sahab would even administer drops to some babies himself. “It is not a difficult thing to do. One can pick up the method quickly. The parents were elated, you could see it in their eyes. Of course him doing so was essentially a photo opportunity because the media would come in droves to cover our campaign whenever he was there. He disarmed the media which was hostile to local government officials, and therefore towards our campaign which they supported.”

The fabled charm brought extra curricular benefits too. “One day we were free by lunchtime. Farooqueji knew a lot about local cuisine everywhere. He took us to a particular sweet shop in Benaras that was known for its ethnic delicacies. He said, I am staying at the Taj which also serves good food, but I want you to try this because it is extraordinary. So we sat down, and he ordered the specialties of that restaurant. The shopowner recognised him, and eagerly plied us with a few more items saying try this, eat that, you will like it. Now at the end of the meal, he would not accept money! Farooqueji tried hard to persuade him but he said, aap aa gaye hamare yahan isse badi gift kya ho sakti hai. The next day, Farooqueji sent him a lovely cake from the Taj confectionery. He made sure that that gentleman’s generous gesture did not go unrewarded.”

Veliath remembers how they were once invited to the VIP seats in a gathering to watch the spectacular evening Ganga Aarti on the banks of the Ganges. “It was an unforgettable experience. Another time the commissioner of Varanasi, a gentleman named Agarwal and his wife Aarti, organised a big reception for Farooqueji. Their hearts were filled with respect for him. And rightly so, for Farooqueji was such a humble man despite his talent and stature. In Sarnath near Benaras one day, the chief monk of the Buddhist shrine showed us around. We had a great time. Farooqueji was quite a favourite with everybody.”

It was a privilege for Veliath to gain such proximity to an artiste he had loved and admired on screen. “I have enjoyed many of his films in my younger days, especially Rang Birangi. I had gone to watch this picture without any expectations. I remember I was injured and limping after a tennis match and somehow took an auto to the nearest theatre. I didn’t even know which picture was playing. It turned out to be Rang Birangi. How I loved that film! It was hilarious, and Farooqueji was at his best!

“I mentioned this incident to him once I got to know him, and he told me the back story of this movie. The producer had signed a superstar of the 1970s for an earlier film, but it was ruined. The star allotted dates, the poor producer lifted finance from the market, but then the actor left him in the lurch. The poor fellow went from loss to loss.”

Veliath learnt that director Hrishikesh Mukherjee decided to rescue this beleaguered producer. “He approached the cast and crew of the prospective Rang Birangi, saying here is this man who is in dire straits, we have to save him lest he take some untoward step. He said to them, I want you to work in this film for free. If we make a profit I will pay you something. So Amol Palekar, Deepti Naval, Parveen Babi and Farooqueji, none of them charged a penny for Rang Birangi. The producer recovered his losses, and thankfully gained his footing. We often think that people who work in the film industry do not have a heart, but this incident proves they do.”

The officer tells another beautiful story whose final scene involved Farooque Shaikh. Veliath says, “UNICEF once decided to involve the students of mass media of Amity University, who were all from wealthy privileged homes, to do a photo shoot in the impoverished interiors of Lucknow. Their subjects were Muslim children whose fathers worked in the orchards that grew Dussehri mangoes. I tell you, the frames when they came were so impressive they reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali.”

“We made an amateur film using these shots, and felt that the children’s work needs to be acknowledged on a higher platform. So we decided to invite Farooque Shaikh and Sharmila Tagore to a screening. Farooqueji agreed immediately. He came, saw it and loved it. He complimented the students wholeheartedly and shared an engaging conversation with them. One of them, Divya Balyan, is now an articulate young communication graduate from TISS. Sharmilaji saw it too. She was so impressed that she volunteered to do the voiceover. This was a film that the faculty of Amity University had declined to watch! See the stature it acquired.”

Veliath says Farooque Shaikh was a great personal friend also. “Every Christmas the first greeting I received came from him, no matter where he was. Occasionally, I came to Mumbai. I remember he once came to meet me at Hotel Sea Princess in Juhu, I was so surprised to see him alight from a three wheeler (autorickshaw). Such a big actor, I thought, would arrive with great fanfare in a chauffeur driven car. But there he was — simple with no airs.”

He remembers Shaikh Sahab as the “most ideal person”. “He lived life with a sense of value and purpose. I learnt through common friends that he had passed away. I cannot tell you how sad I was. He had said to me that I have two daughters, you should guide them. I regret that I could not do that because I did not come to Mumbai.”