Shabana Azmi recalls her association with the much-missed Farooq Sheikh with much fondness. “We were friends before we became colleagues. At St. Xavier’s College we formed the Hindi Natya Manch where we inevitably won all inter collegiate drama competitions for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, all amounting to the princely sum of 150 rupees! After the shows Farooq would drop me home in a cab with one cab piloting us and one following us! We felt we had conquered the world.”
Shabana and Farooq set a new world record by performing the same play together for 22 years. “We did Tumhari Amrita directed by Feroz Abbas Khan for 22 years and travelled the world with it. Even today I have people walk up to me, stating what a special experience it was for them to have watched the play. I keep asking Feroz to revive it with 2 new actors because for me it is inconceivable to play Amrita to Farooq’s Zulfi… Gone too soon I miss him deeply.”
On December 14, 2013 when Shabana Azmi performed the 21-year-old-still-going-strong play Tumhari Amrita in Agra against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal with her co-star Farooq Sheikh, she expressed to him a desire to end the lifespan of the play.
Recalled Shabana, “I felt we had done it for long enough. And I told Farooq it can’t get any better than this. Farooq vehemently disagreed. ‘No we can do it for another 21 years.’ He then did a very strange thing. He asked for a picture of the two of us on stage. Why did he do that? We had been performing it for 21 years. He had never asked for a picture.”
Voice choked with emotion Shabana says, “He was not just a fine actor. He had the finest sense of humour, a sharp sense of repartee. I met him for the first time in 1968. He made his movie debut in Garam Hawa which my father (Kaifi Azmi) was associated with. I was in college with him. And he was the most popular boy in the campus, always helpful, always ready to lend an ear to everyone’s problems. Throughout the three years in college he won the Best Actor award in our theatre group. Even when he passed out he continued to be associated with our college. He was very popular on the campus even when he had passed out. His wife Roopa was then his girlfriend. He was the star of the college. He would sit down with students of both the gender and give them tips and lessons before their exams.”
Shabana wanted Farooq to join the Film Institute in Pune when she joined. “But he said no. His father was a lawyer and he wanted his son to take up the same profession. Eventually he did MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa. I don’t know how he convinced his father to let him take up acting. But Farooq became an actor. I can’t begin to express what a fabulous co-star he was.”
Shabana says there was a bit of a yin and yang about Farooq and she. “We complemented each other’s presence perfectly. He was always the cool type while I was nervous and anxious. Before every exam and every stage performance, I’d be a bundle of nerves. Farooq would be absolutely calm and composed. Before exams Farooq would sit me and my best friend Parna down and coach us.”
That was’t the end of Farooq’s generous temperament. Shabana’s voice fills up with memories of another day as she says, “I had once walked out of an exam. The very next time Farooq accompanied me to the examination hall, filled my pens with ink and stood outside the hall until I completed my paper. Kaun aisa karta hai?”