A day after Farooque Sheikh's birth anniversary, reflections on why the gentleman-actor should have lived on

Life happens by accident. Perhaps so does death. But are all the commas properly inserted, all the semi-colons shoehorned and all the parentheses paired before the final full stop is crafted? What about the unfinished endings? The hanging chapters in the script? The loosely-framed paragraphs? Who'll give them a sense of closure?

These questions flooded my mind like torrents when I reflected on Farooque Sheikh's sudden demise late last year. It left me with a tinge of raw nostalgia. The tale of his life was unfinished. He should have lived on to give it a sense of closure. Those who had spoken to him, met him, known him, said he was one likable, adorable, friendly person. He could make no enemies. Why, then, was Lady Death so cruel to him?

I can imagine him to be the kind of person he plays in Chashme buddoor — Siddharth, a modest, reserved, easy-going chap you would like to invite for a cup of tea and samosas do discuss, maybe, political issues. To discuss, maybe, why there are so few woman directors like Sai Paranjape in the Hindi film industry. Or, maybe, to ask him about his experience of hosting a television show where eminent personalities could just be themselves, sans the glamour quotient.

Jeena isi ka naam hai (This is how I define life). Wasn't that how his programme was named? Where he had candid talks with famous personalities on a host of issues. He was someone in the position of a veritable sutradhaar (curator) who talked about the meaning of life; one, who, poetically speaking, moderated stream-of-consciousness discussions. How could life end in such an abrupt manner for him? What poetic injustice? And what a travesty of an ending!

He played the kind of roles earlier essayed by Amol Palekar — in those middle-of-the-road films of the 70s — and added layers to them. His character was one that personified the typical middle-class educated individual of the times — barely-educated, barely-employed and barely-expressive.

A Ram and a Lakshman

If Sheikh’s performances could be zoomed in to two unique acts we would like to frame and preserve for posterity, they would be the ones he played in Chashme buddoor and Katha.

His Chashme buddoor performance is popular, where his character is one resembling the simpleton half of Amol Palekar in Golmaal — Ram.

However, less-appreciated is his performance in Katha, where he becomes Lakshman, the street-smart half of the Golmaal Palekar. On this is juxtaposed the affableness of Bawarchi’s Raghu (Rajesh Khanna).

Bashu (the name of Farooque Sheikh’s character) is someone who brings joy and excitement to an otherwise lifeless chawl, lying in some obscure corner of suburban Mumbai.

He becomes a role model for the inhabitants in the locality. He is the nimble-footed hare from the hare and the tortoise story, one the old lady in the chawl wants her grandson to emulate.

The tortoise here is Rajaram Purushottamdas Joshi (Naseeruddin Shah). The hare, the street-smart Vasudev 'Bashu' (Farooque Sheikh), enters as a bundle of excitement in a locality where lack of ambition, lack of opportunity and lack of attention dominate. He instantly wins its denizens’ hearts, impresses them and even guides them. He considers his very presence there their privilege rather than his and is welcomed like a gleam of light in a dark alley.

True to his name, his flirts with Gopis, including his boss's daughter and his boss's second wife. Not to mention the woman he floors over, the soft-spoken Sandhya (Deepti Naval).

Not many Bashus

Sheikh's career did not see many more Bashus. It took a silent pause because of lack of creative directors like Sai Paranjape who could extract extravagance even out of understatements.

Just watch the scene in Katha where Paranjape inserts double entendre — told by Bashu, who else? — with a wink and makes light of the Censor Board's iron hand by inserting a 'disclaimer'. It is a childlike warning, one that looks similar to the 'statutory warning' they use these days to sanitise scenes where protagonists smoke.

Playing middle-aged family person or affable patriarch in later years was not justice to Sheikh's talent at all. Perhaps had it been better-made, the serial Ji Mantriji (Indian version of Yes Minister) could have done some justice to his talent. Unfortunately, the serial ended up being a failure.

Sheikh was among the last of gentleman-actors. One who could be gentle-but-expressive on screen and equally gentle-but-fierce in real life. He deserved to live on. He should have lived on to narrate his own jeena isi ka naam hai chapter.