A gentleman first, an actor later

Sunday, 29 December 2013 - 9:56am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Ananth Mahadevan, a close friend and colleague, pays a personal tribute
Hrishikesh Mukherjee once said to me “When I am no more, I want Farooq Sheikh to carry me to my funeral”. That, in one line, described the reputation Sheikh had earned in an “industry” that was an infamous cauldron of people out to achieve ends through any means. It is heartbreaking then, to pen an obituary to a man who was first a gentleman and then an actor. If one were to describe honesty in a performer, it flowed from the sinews of Sheikh’s heart.

Though under the shadow of the venerable Balraj Sahni in Garm Hawa [1973], he made a promising debut to carve a niche in the Hindi film world battling clichéd stereotypes. He could charm his way through in Katha and Chashme Buddoor, while attracting the attention of Satyajit Ray in Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

My first encounter with him was on the sets of the comedy series Chamatkar on Sony TV. Fresh from his film achievements and television forays (Srikant), I was quite in awe of the man, but his accommodating nature would put any new director at ease.

The sublimity of his performances was carried forward to his social life. The philanthropist that he was, he did everything, from sending over a bottle of German honey to fight your flu to attending rural seminars and contributing to social causes. I would often ask him in jest, “Why don’t you enter politics? We wouldn’t mind a good-looking PM who is politically savvy and has the interest of the common man in mind.”

His biggest lament was the dearth of writers. “Who will write it?” was his perennial question whenever someone bounced a good concept. That was the reason one saw so little of him in the last decade. His humility would not let him go beyond a “You are very kind” to a congratulatory message for his National Award as a boxing coach in Lahore.

Sheikh had no qualms travelling by the humble autorickshaw. He saw it as a great saver of fuel and an antidote to parking woes. For me, the man was a teacher, philosopher and friend. He would often chide me on taking on too much work and spreading myself thin. His handwritten letters would often call me a “mall of talent” with a need to be exclusive. It was a lesson well learnt over my years with him.

The foodie that he was, we would often meet at the local South Indian restaurant and speak about everything under the sun. A session with him was rejuvenating. Like meeting a therapist.

The good doctor, unfortunately, is no more. The country and humanity have lost a good man. They don’t make them like him anymore. It’s a legacy that we could do well to carry forward.

Goodbye, sweet prince, thanks for the entertainment, wonderful memories and simple philosophies. Sleep well... for the rest of us though, it is darkness at noon.

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