'Acting is the assembly of experiences from various sources'

Farooque Shaikh made his debut as an actor some 32 years ago in the MS Sathyu-directed classic Garam Hawa. Soon to follow was an immensely successful romantic film, Noorie. Although the following years saw him achievemoderate success in a number of offbeat films, real stardom remained elusive. Not that he chased after it. One can never forget his wonderfully inspired performance in the hit comedy Chashme Baddoor, which was to pave the way for his later roles in sitcoms on television.

Some 12 years after he was first seen on TV, Farooque has created a niche for himself in this medium, albeit more as a comedian. For someone whose foray into cinema was not a planned move, Farooque has indeed come a long way. The
mantriji (minister) of Star Plus' new political satire Ji Mantriji (Yes Minister) took time off from his hectic schedule to speak to our correspondent, Amar.

What brought you to acting?

Well, it began with amateurish stage performances in school and college. While in college I was associated with the Indian Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA) where MS Sathyu was a senior director. While casting for his film -Garam Hawa - he offered me a role which I readily accepted and that's how my acting career started. But, to be frank I did not actually intend to be a professional actor. In fact, I am a qualified lawyer.

Farooque Shaikh with Varsha Usgaonkar in Alvida Darling, a Metro Film-produced serial which used to air on Zee TV.

Do you follow any genre of acting? Would you call yourself a method actor or do you go by your instincts?

See, from whatever little I have read and known about acting, there cannot be a fixed formula in it. Nobody can justify a particular method and call all other methods useless. For me, acting is the assembly of various sources - my memory of past experiences, my instincts, the feed I get from my co-actors, the script and the instructions of my director. I agree that when the method school of acting first gained prominence it aroused a lot of interest. It was as if an intangible thing had suddenly become tangible or come into existence. But for me acting does not involve any hard and fast rule.

As against your innings in movies, on TV you seem to have been typecast in comedy roles. How do you choose your roles?

People forget that I started my career on TV with a serious role in Shrikaanthwhich was Sarat Chandra's autobiographical novel. Even after that I did a serious drama - Aakhri Daao - with Deepti Naval. I have never been conscious of the type of role I'm doing or whether it is comedy or drama. My only criterion for taking up a role is my gut feel on whether I'm going to enjoy doing a role or not. I have also never craved for a particular role.

"Minister" Farooque Shaikh confronts "bureacrat" Jayant Kriplani in Ji Mantriji, the new serial airing on Star Plus.

Many actors are of the opinion that comedy is the most difficult part of acting. Do you agree?

It is not the most difficult, but yes, it requires a slightly better sense of timing. Performing a comedy scene is like narrating a joke. The joke may be wonderful but if it is not narrated with the right flair, the right expressions, the right timing, it will fall flat.

How do you work on your sense of timing?

One can't specifically work on it on his own. Your timing by and large depends on the feed you get from your co-artistes. The only way you can possibly improve on it is by striking a chordant note with your CO-artistes and rehearsing with them a lot more than you normally do.

Have you encountered a problem wherein your co-actor is very poor at comedy?

It does happen that some actors have a problem with comedy. At times, the problem is with the language and on other occasions it is with the content. As a co-actor I try to be as patient and supportive as possible. But cinema is a medium where these problems are more often than not eventually taken care of by deft editing.

The "mantri" tries to get one over the "bureacrat".

How did you prepare for your role in Ji Mantriji?

See, as a moderately educated city dweller, who is aware of the political situation in the country I didn't need any special preparation to enact a role like that. I think all of us more or less have a perception about our politicians. Moreover, I read a lot of magazines and newspapers and keep a tab on current political issues. Beyond that, no research has gone into the role. Neither has it been modeled on any particular politician.

What are the natural instincts required to be a successful comedian?

Some kind of inherent flair and liking for comedy, the sensitivity to imbibe the funnier and the more humorous influences from the atmosphere, a good sense of humour, the ability and the habit of playing with words and phrases.

Do you adhere to a given script or do you go beyond it?

Effective comedy is not possible without improvisation. I or rather we improvise as much as possible within the broad ambit of the script and the instructions of the director.

Many of the greatest comedians have been scriptwriters and producers of their own work. Wouldn't you want to be one?

No, no. I just don't have the temperament to write. And being a producer involves too much of a headache. Acting is more enjoyable.

Hasn't TV comedy veered more towards the slapstick in recent times?

It has, no doubt. And that's because economics is the overriding concern nowadays. I believe, in the perception of the channels, slapstick is less unsafe because it tends to evoke an immediate reaction. But with Ji Mantriji, we've tried something different. We've gone for subtle humour. We've pitched it at a less than 'loud' level and if this succeeds, it should set a new trend.

For someone who has done movies most of his career, don't you find TV taxing?

No doubt, TV involves much more hard work. We can some 23 minutes of an episode, which is about one sixth or one eighth of a movie in one and half days. If we shoot a movie at this rate, movies will get completed in twelve days. But again, the economics of the medium cannot be managed otherwise. The only solution lies in being selective about your work and enjoying whatever you do.

Who are your favorite actors?

Frankly, I have no favourites. Whoever has done well at a given point of time and has enjoyed doing that piece of work has impressed me. Invariably I have found that no actor or director can be an absolute perfectionist. Actors who have been exceptional in one role have looked quite ordinary in another. So I cannot think of any name or names I can count as my favourites

What is your advice to aspiring comedians?

(Laughs). They should have a better sense of the language. Without this one tends to limit his potential as an actor quite drastically.

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