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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Farouque Shaikh: Memories and musings on his 70th birth anniversary

Farouque Shaikh: Memories and musings on his 70th birth anniversary

My earliest memories of the fresh and confident Farouque date back to the time when he was a senior at the elitist St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and I was a junior at the then humble National College, circa 1970-72. Among his contemporaries were Shabana Azmi, Satish Shah (Farouque was rather close to Satish), Pankaj Udhas, Anuradha (Paudwal) and Sharada (Kavita) Krishnamurthy, all celebrities in waiting. The college had a robust reputation in extra-curricular activities, mainly music and drama. In the late 40s-early 50s, it had produced luminaries like Ebrahim Alkazi, Alyque Padamsee, Vijay (Goldie) Anand, Mahendra Kapoor, Akhtar Romani and Ameen Sayani, and the trend continued two decades later.

My guru and mentor, Ameen Sayani, was at the very zenith of his career when I came under his tutelage, around 1970. One of the earliest shows we co-compèred was the annual programme of Xavier’s Sangeet Mandal. Xavier’s was Ameen Saahab’s alma mater, and he did not charge any fee. But I was a student from another college, making an early entry into the professional world, at all of 19, and, to my delight, was paid a small amount. That is where I first met Farouque, and Farouque’s friends and batch-mates, some of who were immensely talented. We met for the last time on 21st December 2012, at Mr. Sayani’s 80th birthday surprise party, at the Bombay Yacht Club. The following year, I was in telephonic contact with him in relation to my reviewing his latest release, Club 60. And shortly afterwards, he had passed away.

Google Doodle remembered him on the 25th of March, his birthday, with a couple of sketches. I noted the fact and commended Google’s initiative on Facebook. Some 8 hours later, a TV channel posted a story on this tribute. Hours later, another website carried it. Google issued a Press Release about the paintings that said, "Today’s Doodle by Nimit Malavia is a tribute to Farouque Shaikh’s cinematic career in a style evocative of hand-painted movie posters of the 1970s, and especially Umrao Jaan. We see the wide-eyed romantic hero of the 1970s mature into a comfortingly familiar TV presence of the 1990s, bridging the gap between mainstream and art-house cinema in India along the way." A journalist colleague asked me to consider writing a tribute/memoir piece, to go with my acknowledgement by Google. It took me a couple of days to gather my thoughts. There are random memories spread across almost half a century, and culling them is a challenging idea, especially when you are at your age. But, finally, my fingers hit the keyboard, and here goes.

Farouque, with my guru and mentor, Ameen Sayani, at an event in Lucknow, 11 November 2011

Even before the college festival meeting, I knew who Farouque was. My late father, while passing a building not far from our own home in central Bombay, pointed out a building and said, “This is the place where Mr. Mustafa Shaikh, the Public Prosecutor, resides. He has a talented son, named Farouque, who is proficient in acting.”

Papa knew Mr. Shaikh, and I think we did visit him some time later at this building, called Memni Building. Whether or not I met Farouque, I cannot be sure. Of the Xavier’s meeting, I am more than sure. I also remember meeting Satish Shah and telling him that he had all the makings of a film actor. After initially denying any interest in the field, he confessed that he was a nephew of the famous actor, late Yakub, and was keen on working in films. Not too much later, he joined the Film Institute of India, in Poona, and became an actor, which he continues to be. But most of us around Farouque would have been unable to predict that he would join films.

We had a lot in common. Farouque was the anchor of a radio programme called Binny’s Double O’ Quits, a quiz with the points and prizes doubling or decreasing proportionate to the replies of the participants. It was an early sponsored programme, but Farouque did a competent job. He had done his law, and joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), so theatre was on too. On television, he was anchoring a show called Yuva Darshan (Look at the Youth), the TV equivalent of radio’s Yuva Vani (Voice of the Youth). I had already started writing and voicing radio programmes for Mr. Sayani. Coming to law, I studied it a little later, during 1977-80. When All India Radio (Akashwani, in Hindi) started its Yuva Vani format, in December 1970, I was on air, recommended by my college. Yuva Darshan was going to prove quite a kettle of fish.

It was produced by Suman Bajaj, and Farouque was anchoring. Out of the blue came instructions that I should replace Farouque. Why? Was he doing a bad job? Banish the thought. So, why? Because I was auditioned to read English news on Bombay Doordarshan, and approved. Since the commencement of English news from Bombay had been delayed indefinitely, Mr. P.V. Krishnamoorthy, the Station Director asked me immediately after the audition whether I could give another audition, an impromptu one, in Hindi. This was highly irregular, for India’s state-owned TV did not allow any one person to be given contracts for more than one language. I gave the audition and was approved in Hindi too. I was on cloud nine. Imagine being approved as a Newsreader in English and Hindi! I was already approved as a drama artiste in Hindi. Now, it would be me and only me on Doordarshan! Foolish dream it was.

English news wasn’t happening. Hindi news was denied to me because there was an unwritten, silly rule in Doordarshan that--men were not allowed to present the news. Why, on earth, not? All incumbent news-readers were women, and they were up in arms when told that I would join the elite panel. PVK’s orders were met with stiff opposition. Their displeasure and opposition worked, and I was shown the door after just one reading, but not before opening it for other men to take their rightful position in the news studio.

Trying to be accommodative, PVK sent instructions to Suman to put me on Yuva Darshan. After all, I had been part of Bombay Doordarshan’s first ever telecast, and an approved newsreader, in Hindi and English, and an approved Drama Artiste, to boot. The number of applicants under each head ran into hundreds, and I was the only person selected from my batch, thrice. So, I deserved some work, didn’t I?

Suman would hear nothing of it, and probably justifiably so. However, she did agree to a compromise formula, whereby I would anchor one or two shows, participate in a couple of others, as a guest, and then pack my bags and move on, which is what I did. Farouque took the move sportingly. Instead of becoming bitter enemies, he and I became even more cordial acquaintances. Sadly, we never got to work together again. Not in IPTA productions, where he acted regularly and where I declined an offer to direct a play. Not on radio, as Farouque moved on from radio to films very soon. Not on TV, where he anchored or acted, and so did I, but in different ventures. On stage, we compèred our own shows independently. And not in films, where my output has been infinitesimal, compared to that of Farouque. We met often, though, mainly at IPTA’s annual Inter-College Dramatic Competition, which was compèred by him, for several years, before he hit big time in movies, and Subhash Dangayach took over.

(Part II follows)

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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