Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval in film Saath Saath. (Express archive photo)
'I remember going to Nagpada (in south Mumbai) where Farooq Sheikh grew up. Director Raman Kumar, Satish Shah and Farooq took me there during the shoot of Saath Saath (1982). Of course, he later moved out. But the neighbourhood was so interesting and full of buzz. I thought to myself, 'Wow, there's such vivid life here, so many characters around you and a lot to pick up in terms of its people and environment.' In 1981, when we were working on Chashme Buddoor, I didn't know Farooq was Shabana Azmi's collegemate and they had done plays together. Farooq used to never talk too much about himself. He was always quiet, happy with his books (he was a voracious reader, as I am sure everybody knows about him). He was a famous prankster too, forever teasing somebody or the other and I was always at the receiving end because he would keep playing pranks on me. (Laughs) Actually, 'irritating me' would be the right word.
No method in his madness
'He was such a charmer. I knew his wife Rupa, the kids came one after the other. It was like a comfortable feeling and environment for me to work with Farooq. First of all, he was such a fine actor and throughly grounded as a human being. As an actor, I don't know what his method was. Though he was a theatre actor, there was nothing theatrical about him. I never saw him prepare for a role. If there was any preparation, it was internal, just like mine. We shared that in common. Our method of working was not visible, it wasn't out there for everybody to observe. I wasn't trained as an actor at all. I had studied painting in America and had no clue about acting when I came back. So, I had to find my own way of working. Eventually, you just learn on your own, and you find your technique. That's how I went about my career. I didn't see Farooq putting in too much effort in his performances either. We simply believed in the people we were playing and that belief comes across on screen, I guess.'
Deepti Naval and Farooq Sheikh in Chasme Buddoor. (Express archive photo)
No starry air
'Our on-screen chemistry comes very much from the roles we played and the scripts that came to us. We were two very believable people and natural actors, so it seemed like we belonged together. We were all down-to-earth people, the director, actor, the cast and crew were friendly with each other. Nobody had any starry airs. (Laughs) I was a star those days even though I didn't carry myself like one. We were all hanging out more like friends, kahin baith gaye toh saare log ek saath hi baith jaate the, sabhi kahin paidal nikal ke jaa rahe hai, old Hindi gaane gaa rahe hain. You know, joking and having fun with each other. I never played a prank on anybody but I wish I had. Basically, Farooq had a habit of making everyone laugh at my cost. I used to be pissed about it initially, but that was the cute part about him.'
Celluloid's most extraordinary 'everyman'
'The 1980s was special. Today's filmmakers and storytellers are highly competent and smart. We have gone way ahead in our cinema. But what's missing is the one-on-one warmth of that era, of having worked with Hrishida (Hrishikesh Mukherjee), Gulzar, Raman Kumar, Vinod Pande, Jag Mundra and of course, my all-time favourite Sai Paranjpye. I also worked with some of the greatest Bengali directors, namely Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghose and Rituparno Ghosh. I am not delusional, so I know not everything is worth talking about. (Laughs) From the 100 films I have done, I can easily write off about 60. I always say I would love to be remembered not just for Chashme Buddoor and 'Tumko dekha toh yeh khayal aaya' (from Saath Saath) but also for Amol Palekar's Ankahee, Sudhir Mishra's Main Zinda Hoon, Boney Kapoor's Shakti, Somnath Sen's Leela and Rituparno Ghosh's Memories in March. These are the roles that meant so much to me and all people talk about is Miss Chamko. I feel I worked so hard to go beyond that sweet, girl-next-door image — why am I still being looked at in such a limiting way? I think it's in a way my tragedy that people don't see me for the serious roles I have played. Not that I don't love Chashme Buddoor or Saath Saath. Both films are dear to me. I am often asked, 'Who would you get up there and thank for your career?' I'd give a shout-out to Sai Paranjpye for making Miss Chamko immortal. She is somebody who groomed me for the cinema I am best known for. Same for Farooq, I would say. The middle-cinema gave him so much. Today, he's remembered as the most natural and charming actor there ever was. He made the common person feel he represented them. You could see an average urban Indian saying, 'He is playing my life.' That's what he stands for. Personally, my favourite Farooq Sheikh performances are Bazaar and Garm Hava.'
Deven Verma, Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval. (Express archive photo)
The great reunion
When director Avinash Kumar Singh and producer Ashok Sawhny came to me with the Listen... Amaya's (2013) script they said, 'We know what Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval mean to audiences, that's why we have written the script just for the two of you to now come together in your middle age.' It was such a wonderful line to hear as an icebreaker. Farooq and I had moved away from each other. We did many films together early in our career, but later on, I did my own thing and he did his own. He was doing the TV show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, movies like Shanghai and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani while I had done about 80 other films. We worked with different people and were on our own journey. But for somebody to think of putting us back together after all these decades was so delightful. Listen... Amaya shows a huge soft corner that these two oldies (Naval and Sheikh's characters) have for each other, but in such a dignified way. Yet, when the daughter misinterprets it and doesn't feel the beauty of the relationship, the mother is hurt. Eventually, when the mother is ready to give up this relationship which has brought some joy in her life, the daughter realises, 'No, it means so much to my mother.' Such a beautifully-told film.
Deepti Naval and Farooq Sheikh in a still from Chashme Buddoor. (Express archive photo)
A friend and a reader
'I enjoyed working with Farooq all over again. This time, it so happened that I was in the final stages of writing my short stories collection. We were shooting in Delhi. That was the month I was supposed to deliver all my eleven anthology to the publisher. Because Farooq was there, I was making him read each and every short story before sending them to print. We sat during lunchtime in his make-up room every afternoon and after he finished reading, we would talk about it and he was delightfully surprised that I had evolved as a writer. He knew me as a poet from the early '80s, but now he was reading me as an author and he was so amazed. I would say 'very enamoured', if I were to take the liberty of using that word. Frankly, we had lost touch. We would meet here and there but never an in-depth conversation. It was always a hurried, 'Oh Farooq, how have you been' and then you go your way. Listen... Amaya, in a way, gave us a chance to reconnect. (Laughs) I was very happy that our association had outgrown all that ek doosre ki kheechai karna and that we had come to a stage in life where he could understand my mind and see my growth as a writer.'