BY MUSHTAQUE B BARQ
Passion is a verve, a resilient characteristic feature of a man who takes it seriously and sincerely. There is no annulment as an escape route, a valiant knows how to infringe the rulebooks approved by the impediments. He moves on beating the barbs and coppices to create his own way for the rest to follow. Any form of art needs such combatants for its promulgation as brave hearts perform heroic doings. When academic excellence is coupled with innate endowments nothing can intrude leading to the set goal. Requirements may vary, but all a passionate performer needs is to nurture his own buds, trim his own feeble projections and expose himself to the sunshine. One such artist is Farooq Sheikh who has not only created his own area in intergalactic vast but has also added flavour to comedy by being a part and parcel of another legend. Born in Srinagar in the year 1957, a science graduate who ended up at LLB at the University of Kashmir has never looked back to broadcast himself as a genuine comedian. His aptitude to perform on the stage never died in him for he recognized very early that an artist in him has to be given a chance to showcase his skills as a stage performer.
He joined Youth Cultural Forum in 1975 and Director Kashmir Cultural Society in 1979. He became a member of Kalidas Theatre to sharpen his skills and in 1975 to 77 he was a member of S.P. College Cultural Wing and from 1978 to 80 he was a member of Cultural Wing University of Kashmir. His performance in various plays like Wakhtuk Alav, Chete Gou Chong, Date of Expiry, Zolan, Az Nate Paga, Machama, Daastar,Be von Pouz, Tike Lal, Rath Vandai Maleno, Faisla, Khar Kale, Shakal e Gor was acknowledged by one and all. His unique style of dialogue delivery and natural acting became his trade mark for which he was always applauded. He was an integral part of weekly Kashmiri Tele-serial Shabrang in 1981 to 83. His fame and perfection in handling the role he was assigned framed him for TV where he acted Wutchpreng, Gulal, kuner, Lajawab, Hosha Hosh, Armaan, Poshe Gund, Neya,Nehle pe Dehla, Jate Hasai Vanai , Darlub Pandit, Zalur,Ye zehar Kus chei and Makbooli-e-Aaam. He is among a few actors of Kashmir who worked for Bollywood. Farooq Sheikh acted in a film Chinar Daastaan-E-Ishq written by Farooq Renzu. Not only for TV, Farooq Sheikh has but also worked in Radio dramas. He is an approved drama voice of Radio Kashmir. He has many awards and accolades in his credit, the following are worth mentioning. In 1979 he was awarded by J &K Information Department during International Year of Children and in the same year he was adjudged as the Best actor from University of Kashmir. In 1980 the actor was again awarded The Best Actor by J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in Drama Festival 1980 for Chete Gow Chong by Bashir Qadri. In Dr. Sohan Lal Koul’s play LOCAL TAXES EXTRA, he won Second Best Actor award from J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in Drama Festival 2008-09. And the most celebrated moment for the actor came in 2011 when he got Life Time Achievement Award from J&K Film Makers and Artists Coptv. Ltd. in 2011. His performance in Tike Lal was also acknowledged by experts as he was awarded Special Best Acting Jury Award for his comedy in a Festival organized by J&K Film Makers and Artists Coptv. Ltd. In 2012. He is credited to have received Best Actor Award from J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in Drama Festival 2013 for M.L Saraf’s Play Raath Vandaye Malineo and Amin Shakir/Aslam Bhat Lifetime Achievement Award. The actor was felicitated jointly by Radio Kashmir Srinagar and J&K cultural Academy as Namwar in 2018.
“Farooq Sheikh worked with me continuously for a year or so for the popular Serial Shabrang. A totally professional and dedicated artist. He played a central character in the serial and became very popular. He is a versatile actor with a great sense of timing which is an asset for any actor doing comedy.” Ashok Jailkhani, Former Additional Director General, Doordarshan (Public Broadcaster), India. Farooq Sheikh is a multifaceted actor. He is a genuine actor for the reason that he knows how to adjust his gestures, voice modulation and timing on different platforms. When you hear him on the Radio set, his texture of voice matches with the kind of setting we need in Radio plays. When you watch on screen, his command over comedy coupled with expressions, he looks a different actor and when he performs on the stage, he is what he is, superb and outstanding. He and Shadi Lal have created such a chemistry that the duo became super hit and in Shabrang. Ayash Arif, Actor director
“Farooq Shiekh is a born comedian and a versatile actor. Wutch e Preng was my first serial for DD Srinagar in the ‘80s and Farooq played a lead role with different characters in the same serial. Ganna of serial Shabrang was a household name He has worked in many serials and plays. Farooq is capable to improvise the scenes which prove favourable for play. He is a multidimensional actor with a natural and real talent to satisfy the needs of all three mediums like Radio TV and stage. I also remember a role he played in the Kashmiri play Damm e kutter written by Bashir Dada was masterpiece.” Shabir Mujajhid, Rtd. Deputy Director (Programmes) DD.
“Right from the beginning of TV Srinagar, I know Farooq Sheikh. He has tremendous potential and his contribution to Radio, TV and stage is unforgettable. Farooq Sheikh has his own style of acting and dialogue delivery. He is one of the leading actors of our Valley.” Zameer Ashaie, Actor-director.
“Farooq Sheikh is one of my favourite Television Radio and Stage Artist. We have a few qualified actors in our State. Farooq Sheikh is at the top. He is famous for performing Comedy Characters, but he has proved his range of acting by performing very pathetic roles. We have acted in a TV Drama, Dum Koother written by me and Directed by Shabbir Mujahid. To be very honest I felt very inferior to him in acting. He Played a negative Character in Dum Koother , role of a cunning thief Habbaeh Azarvun. I really started admiring Farooq Sheikh after I Watched a Hollywood movie Papillon. I watched that film more than thrice just to see the performance of actor Destin Halfman and after analysing the mannerism acting style dialogue delivery and body language of Destin Halfman. I realised that our Farooq Sheikh is born at a wrong place. He is no way less than Hollywood artist Destin Halfman. May Almighty Bless our artists.” Bashir Dada, Actor- director.
Q:- Share with us your acting journey
I joined Youth Cultural Forum wherein, I met Mahraj Kishan Koul and Mahraj Kishan Bhatt. They both encouraged me but suggested that I should not give up studies. In 1975 I passed my matriculation, and in 1976 I joined S P College where we performed Waqtuq Aalav, of Bashir Ahamd Qadri. In this play I was playing a role of a lawyer. I remember how we manage to get the black gown, we took black Arabic burqa and made a gown out of it. And in the same year I joined Kashmir Culture Society founded by Qadri and our head office was situated at Batmallo. Ali Mohammad Lone, Sajood Sailani and other reputed writer would visit that place frequently and I was encouraged by the legends to continue my acting. In 1977 I passed my B.Sc. and joined KU in 1978, wherein, I joined LLB department participated in University Cultural Club and during welcome ceremony for newcomers we perform Sone Chiochur and Insaan my own play casting Jinab Mushtaq Sahib and Tanveer, my batch mate besides me. I got second position in my LLB. After that we would perform in exhibition shows and on demand of Information Department we would also perform at different schools and colleges. At the advent of TV comedy was not as much exposed as it is now. I met late Shadi Koul and we created an aura of excellence in comedy. He and I were considered an incredible team and we performed and provided so many hits. I am lucky to explore the acting talent within me and very early I nursed my needs and worked hard for it besides keeping a track to my studies.
Q :- In which Play you got to know as Ganna among the audience
SHABRANG, a weekly serial performed in the year 1981 to 83. The trio Shamas ud din (played by late Shadi Koul), Begun Salalal played by (Usha Tickoo) and Ganna (played by me) . It was Shabrang where from I got my pubic name. Other actors who worked in Shabrang were Late Bansi Matoo (Akbar Cha-cha) , Vijay (Ashok Zalpuri), Dolly (Reeta Jalali), Rashid (Qazi Faiz), Late Bashir Mansoor and Ayash Arif as Ayash Pagal. Some characters give you fame and name and Ganna was such a character which was liked and admired by one and all. People would out of love called me Ganna and for an actor it is appreciable that he is being named as a character he has played to the satisfaction of his viewers.
Q:- Can you share with us a few memorable moments that you late Shadi Lal experienced?
Late Bashir Mansoor had to perform the Haj pilgrimage and invited all of us (SHABRANG team) to his home for a courtesy call and for a cup of tea. Initially, Shadi and I were reluctant to attend him because of being apprehensive of public enthusiasm to meet us. However, Ashraf Dildar convinced us and we decided to pay him a visit. We all three boarded a Govt. transport bus from Lal Chowk to Zainakadal. However, we got down at Pather Masjid to avoid being spotted by passersby as we proceeded through lanes but Shadi Ji was spotted by a child who was playing in a narrow lane. This was the beginning of what turned out a nightmare for us. From Shah and Shah Sons, we were pursued by a huge gathering up to Ali Kadal Chowk. There was a commotion and we found ourselves surrounded by people old and young. Everybody forcing his way to meet us. People were hugging and kissing us, making it hard to move on. Somehow late Mansoor Sahib came to know about the incident and he requested the son of late Tibetbaqal Sahib to rescue us.
He managed to pull us out of the unprecedented crowd. The love and respect from the public was unimaginable and we were lost in this frenzy. We reached late Mansoor’s house who offered us a cup of Kehwa and requested us to leave at once. He expressed his inability to ask us to stay for some time for the reason not to complicate the situation. With the help of late Tibetbaqal’s son, we were taken out from the rare end hoping that there will be no gathering but to our surprise, people were waiting to receive us. With great difficulty, we boarded the auto but someone pulled the auto and it could not move. The hood of the auto was torn but the driver managed to force his way through the crowd and thank God we reached Kani Kadal safely. The driver did not accept the fare and that was an added value.
I will share one more interesting episode with you. As per the script, I and Shadi and Mansoor Sahab were on one side and Bansi Mattoo and Gurtoo Sahib on the other side had to organise a musical party. Late Mattoo had a melodious voice. When he was asked to start by Nazki Sahab (Producer,) Mattoo Sahab sang with a beautiful voice that unnerved us. We could not match his voice. We left the DDK disheartened. As usual, we went to our usual destination, Hollywood Hotel for a daily routine cup of tea. We were nervous, sure to be defeated the next day. Bansi Ji was thrilled as he was to open the episode.
After leaving the hotel, we walked down the Pratap Park road deeply concerned. During those days the song: Pyar dey was very famous. Shadi jee began to sing it and suddenly I play the Tabla with my mouth and Shadi was thrilled. We practiced our song from Lal Chowk to Bahauddin Sahab. The next day was a camera rehearsal and as usual Nazki Sahab was eager to see our performance. After our performance, he decided to open the episode with our act. This was such an excellent performance that the then Deputy Director, Mr. Gosh enquired as to wherefrom I had learned the Tabla. When I revealed the truth he was all praise for me.
Q:- Why are theatrical performances declining in Kashmir ?
Theatre in Kashmir has been a traditional means of amusement and expression. It thrived well under the patronage of elites although it was a strong instrument of people’s resentment to the governance. It was initially represented by Bhand (folk theatre) who would visit far and wide in the Valley amusing people at the same time creating awareness among the audience about bad customs, dowry, corruption, etc. It is said that marriage ceremonies were incomplete without their presence. However, with the passage of time, the theatre became a regular feature when Pandits had to play Ram Lila’s, and other festivals of historical and religious importance. Gradually, it shifted to the contemporary theatre with stalwarts like Sudhama Ji Koul and others followed by likes of Trilok ji, M L.Saraf, H N Gurtoo in the late fifties. With the establishment of JKACL, theatre activities got a fillip, various plays were written by local writers like Som Nath Sadhu, Ali Mohammad Lone and Sajood Sailani came to be staged besides plays of outside writers were either adopted or translated. Annual Drama Festivals came to be organised by the JKACL. This further strengthened theatre. The theatre was recognised as a Storehouse of artists for TV and Radio. The artists were dedicated, punctual, and showed a great inclination towards theatre. With the introduction of TV in the Valley, there was a great shift. Artists preferred TV over the stage as it paid them besides fame and name. Still, some die-hard artists continued their preference to the stage. Despite unfavourable conditions, theatre activists are actively connected with theatre though with no healthy financial property. The artists still show great interest and dedication towards theatre. Since to feed their families they have to look for alternatives also. The apathy of the authorities towards theatre is another reason. The artists of the territory are passing through difficult times with no tangible source of income. Theatre can be strengthened through proper planning and time-bound action. It should be introduced at the primary level in schools. Cultural wings to be created in every school/college to provide a platform to the talented students so that they prove instrumental in strengthening theatre in the Territory. Regular Theatre workshops on playwriting, stage production be organised to train artists, also providing them stipend during the workshop. Talented artists deserve to be encouraged. Despondency among the artists needs to be cured with a pragmatic approach. A Theatre complex must be established to accommodate various theatre groups. Moreover, facilities of set designing, costume designing, and preparation thereof. With these steps, it is expected that theatre will again be at the forefront of amusing people besides acting as a bridge between the masses and the authorities.
Q :- What is your message for the budding artists of Kashmir?
I am a pragmatic man and believe that hurdles are part and parcel of life. There are so many challenges for contemporary artists but one thing is sure that is they can utilize the theatre as multimedia which was not possible when we started. In my opinion, all the budding artists must read, learn and carry on with their good work on the stage or any other medium. Nothing is unachievable, I suggest them to be serious and sincere and experience the role they ought to play on the stage for themselves. I wish them luck and hope that comedians must equip themselves with intricate features to bring the best out of their performances.
Mushtaq B.Barq is a Columnist, Poet and Fiction Writer. He is the author of “Feeble prisoner, “ Wings of Love” and many translation works are credited to the author like “ Verses Of Wahab Khar” and “ Songs Of Sochkral”