I vividly remember my first meeting with Farooque Shaikh. It was in 1975. I had just returned from New York after completing my graduation and was looking for opportunities to begin a career as an actor. We met at the Doordarshan office where we were both invited to meet the production team, which was keen that we co-host a show. A single-episode programme, it marked the beginning of my screen career as well as an association that would last for 38 years.
We instantly connected during the making of the show. He was an experienced actor and a known face already — having worked with Indian People’s Theatre Association and acted in films Garam Hawa (1973) and Mere Saath Chal (1974) — yet, he was so easy to talk to. He displayed great confidence in my talent and assured me that I would do well as an actor. In fact, it was he who suggested my name to director Vinod Pande for Ek Baar Phir (1980). It would have been my first film with Farooque had his dates for shooting Noorie not clashed with our schedule for Vinod’s film.
It was Sai Paranjpye who first cast us as a couple in Chashme Buddoor (1981). There, I met Rakesh Bedi and Ravi Baswani, and through them Satish Shah and Raman Kumar. We became a close-knit group and Farooque’s girlfriend and later wife, Rupa Vakil, was also part of this group. Had it not been for them, especially Rupa and Farooque, I would not have been able to deal with the filmy lot.
Together, Farooque and I were part of many films that would be remembered as landmark films in Indian cinema, such as Katha (1983), Kissi Se Na Kehna (1983) and Rang Birangi (1983), but hardly did we recognise the fact at that time. Working with him was so easy because he was always so encouraging and witty. That’s perhaps the reason behind our on-screen chemistry, something I realised only when we did Raman’s Saath Saath (1982).
Over time I realised that he wasn’t only a fine actor and a great friend but also kind-hearted person and a family man. He was dedicated to his wife and two daughters Shaista and Sanaa. He put them before his career.
The reason why our friendship stood the test of time is because Farooque and I were similar in many ways. We both wanted to be part of commercial cinema but of the sensible kind. We chose the same kind of films, we were both instinctive actors who didn’t rehearse before giving a shot and neither of us carried back home the mood of the scene we had just shot.
When we were offered the opportunity to came together on screen after 25 years in Hema Malini’s Tell Me O Khhuda (2011), we both were excited but neither of us jumped at the chance. The roles we were offered weren’t extraordinary but Hemaji wanted to recreate the magic he and I brought to the screen in the 80s. I thought Farooque would have sobered down and would no more tease me as he used. But I was wrong and he ribbed me throughout the shoot. It was just like the old days and he was the only one friend whom I allowed the distinction of doing so.
It was also his faith in my talent that often nudged me into writing my own scripts and making my films. So great was his trust in my work that he had readily agreed to act opposite me in my next film. We were to play parents to a homosexual boy and the film would have spoken about how they fight for their son.
I wanted to shoot this film in New York at my late father’s house. Had I made the film before Farooque died, I would have been able to capture moments with two very important people in my life. But now he’s gone and I feel a part of me has slipped away with him too.
(As told to Dipti Nagpaul-D’Souza in 2013)