Farooq Sheikh, an Indian film, theatre and television actor whose style of acting was noted for its effortlessness, was born on 25 March 1948 in Gujarat’s Surat district in a Muslim zamindar family.
His father, Mustafa, was a lawyer based in Mumbai. Farooq had four younger siblings.
He studied at Mumbai’s St. Mary’s School and St. Xavier’s College. Following his father’s example, he studied law at Siddharth College of Law, but did not find the profession interesting.
During college he met Rupa, whom he later married. Sheikh was attracted to theatre early on. He participated in plays by the Indian People’s Theatre Association. In 1973, when he was still in law school, he was approached by M.S. Satyu for a role in the film Garam Hawa. Sheikh played a supporting role in the critically acclaimed film.
He went on to act in such memorable films as Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Chashme Buddoor and Umrao Jaan.
The 1981 Chashme Buddoor, a gentle romantic comedy which also starred Deepti Naval, is considered to be a classic. In it Sheikh plays the role of Siddharth, an earnest student who falls in love with Neha (played by Naval).
Remembering the film in April 2013 after it was re-released, Raja Sen wrote in a post on rediff.com: “Siddharth is the straighter one, the studious one mostly willing to foot the bill for his freeloading friends. There’s Gandhi on his wall and his shelves, and even the chair he sits in happens to be marked Aristotle. [Sheikh’s] artlessness is remarkable: he patiently picks out a whole new outfit and then, when his girl is impressed and comments on it, he smugly says he’s just been shopping. And he’s just waiting to be told to quit smoking.”
Naval and Sheikh worked in several films together.
In Umrao Jaan, Sheikh plays the role of Nawab Sultan, who takes a liking to the courtesan Umrao Jaan (played by Rekha). In an interview in 2006, Sheikh said: “Nawab Sultan is not a man of strong character, and can be manipulated one way or the other. He can be made to act against his will and he has this great desire not to displease his mother because she has had a bad time with his father. I had to work on making Nawab appear weak, and not capable of taking a stand. In spite of enjoying the kind of social status he did, he never exercised it.”
Sheikh’s other films include Bazaar, Saath Saath, and Kissi Se Na Kehna. He worked with the actress Shabana Azmi in films like Lorie, and Anjuman.
After 1990 he acted in fewer films. He took to television, both as actor and presenter.
He told The Times of India in December 2009: “I’m a lazy actor. I don’t enjoy working on more than one project at a time. If I’m doing television, I just stick to that till my assignment is over. If I’m doing films, I don’t take up other work till that's finished . . . I was never keen on buying a mansion or a stretch limo or having a huge bank balance. These were never my driving factors.”
Sheikh and Azmi acted in the play Tumhari Amrita, directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, for the first time in 1992. In 2012, the play, a story of a love affair carried out through letters over a lifetime, completed a historic 20 years.
In an article on Tumhari Amrita in the Mint in March 2012, Shreya Ray wrote: “The standing joke between the two actors and the director is the nervousness of Khan and Azmi before and during a show versus the infuriating composure of Sheikh. ‘Farooq is always telling us: kabhi toh tum relax karo (why don’t you relax for a change?), and we say, kabhi toh tum stressed ho (why don’t you get stressed for a change?),’ says Azmi.”
A private person, Sheikh would quietly involve himself in philanthropic and social causes.
Farooq Sheikh died unexpectedly of a sudden heart attack in Dubai on 27 December 2013, his death coming as a huge shock to friends and admirers. He was 65.
After his death, Deepti Naval, a close friend, said: “He was a natural and sensitive actor . . . He wouldn’t ponder over a scene too much. He would simply come and study the scene and give a perfect take.”
Also on this day:
1958 — Yograj Singh, Indian cricketer, was born
1971 — Aashish Kapoor, Indian cricketer, was born