DUBAI // Tributes have been paid to the Bollywood actor Farooq Sheikh, who died after suffering a heart attack on holiday in Dubai. He was 65.
“He was one of the rarest of his kind because he was an extremely gentle soul,” said Renu Singh, a friend of Sheikh since college who runs an event management company in Dubai and helped to stage his play, Tumhari Amrita, in the city last year.
“He reached out to even the common people. He was very down to earth and was very kind.
“His family is in a state of shock. They are just numb now.”
Sheikh came to Dubai this month to moderate I Am Asha, a show to celebrate 70 years of Bollywood cinema, with the Indian singer Asha Bhonsle. He was joined on stage by the actress Rekha. Sheikh went back to Mumbai, but returned to Dubai last week on holiday with his wife and daughter.
He suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on Friday.
Sheikh’s body is expected to be repatriated on Sunday. “The family has already got in touch with us,” said a spokesman at the Indian consulate. “Whenever they want to approach the consulate and complete the process, it will done.”
Born on March 25, 1948, Sheikh, a lawyer by training, made a tremendous contribution to Indian theatre, cinema and television over four decades. He began his acting career in plays and made his debut in Indian cinema in 1973 with the classic Garam Hawa, set in post-partition India.
It was his performance in films such as Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Chashme Buddoor, Kissi Se Na Kehna, Noorie, Bazaar, Saath Saath and Umrao Jaan that catapulted him to fame.
The unassuming actor touched the hearts of millions of Indians with roles that reflected the common man’s travails. Known for his comic timing, Sheikh performed in a range of films from comedy to classics and romance.
“He was one of the finest actors we had,” said the actress Deepti Naval, who was Mr Sheikh’s co-star in several films.
Sheikh’s performances stood out amid Bollywood potboilers and he was known for his immense contribution to parallel cinema in the 1970s and 1980s.
He worked with legendary directors such as Satyajit Ray, Muzaffar Ali, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Ketan Mehta. Sheikh has also acted in many TV serials and shows and performed on stage in famous plays such as Tumhari Amrita, alongside the actress Shabana Azmi. The play completed 20 years last year and was performed in Dubai last year.
In 2004, he stepped into the director’s seat for Azhar Ka Khwab, an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
He has hosted popular shows on television such as Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai, in which he interviewed Bollywood celebrities. Sheikh brought a keen sense of humour and a humble approach to the show.
He returned to acting in films in 2008 and continued to do so until his death. Recently, he acted in films such as Saas Bahu Aur Sensex and Tell Me O Khuda. His films this year included Club 60, Listen Ameya and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Sheikh was awarded the 2010 National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for Lahore.
Indian expatriates were shocked to hear of Sheikh’s death. “He was the last of an era,” said Narayanan Nair, 52, operations manager at a chemicals company.
“They don’t make his kind of movies any more, it all commercial now. It’s a big loss for the industry. He was a true artist, nowadays there are no people of that calibre in movies.”
Mr Nair remembers Sheikh best in the 1981 romantic comedy Chashme Buddoor. “He was one of three students at Delhi University trying to court the same girl. He didn’t do blockbusters, he did art. I’ve seen most of his films.”
“I was shocked to hear of his death,” said Shiv Kumar, 55, who runs a logistics company in Jebel Ali. “You will never find another Farooq Sheikh.”
Mr Kumar was most fond of the 1979 drama Noorie. “I’ve also seen him on stage in many of his plays, but unfortunately I missed his last appearance in Dubai. I was in India. He had a unique identity on the stage, much better than what you see in his movies.
“I met him and got to talk to him and take a photo with him on one of his visits to Dubai. He was a very down to earth person, not like these Bollywood actors you see today.
“I wanted to know if he was starting a drama troupe in Dubai, as my daughter loves acting, but I didn’t get a straight answer from him.”
Sheikh is survived by his wife Rupa Jain and their daughters Rubina, Shaista, and Sanaa.