Cinema: When writer Mehru Jaffer sits down with her mother, Farrukh, to watch her film starring Amitabh Bachchan – brunch feature


“When the camera starts whirring, I forget who the other actors are, who the director is. I talk only to the camera. I love the camera,” says 88-year-old actor Farrukh Jaffar who thoroughly enjoyed watching herself in Gulabo Sitabo, Shoojit Sircar’s latest film premiered online last week.

Watching the film at home with the octogenarian actress was a treat. Farrukh lit up every time her character, Fatima Begum, appeared on screen and she did not think twice about stealing a wink or two during scenes that may have crawled a bit.

Her response to the media comments the morning after the release of the film was no less entertaining. She feels that before its release, there was a plan to trick the audience into believing that the film was an Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer. The promos showed the two stars of Indian cinema squabbling on screen like the famous string puppets, Gulabo Sitabo, the competitive sisters-in-law of the popular traditional puppet shows performed on the streets of Lucknow.

Now Farrukh is amused that by singling out her performance and praising it sky high, the media has made her the proverbial kebab mein haddi in the performances of Bachchan and Khurrana.

Cinema’s pukar

At no point in her life has Farrukh Jaffar not had fun. At some stage, she realised that looking the camera in the eye was the most fun thing to do in life. So, she went for it and has not looked back since. At first, the thrill was just in watching films. Then when she was offered a role in a film without looking for one, she decided not to turn down that offer just because nobody from her conservative family had ever dared to be so bold.

Her affair with films started in 1939 when she saw her first movie, Pukar. She was about seven years old and had travelled with the family elders from her village in Jaunpur district to visit relatives in Lucknow.

She watched Pukar with the entire family at a local cinema hall. The silver screen took her breath away. She could not stop dreaming of Naseem Bano who had played the lead in Pukar. Back home, she waited impatiently to get out of the village and visit the cinema halls of Lucknow again.

By praising her to the skies, Farrukh Jaffar feels the media made her the proverbial kebab mein haddi between the performances of Bachchan and Khurrana

Farrukh did not have to wait too long. At 16 years, she was married. She had no idea what her responsibilities would be as a wife, but she looked forward to living in Lucknow so she could go to the cinema.

Every time she heard music playing on the main road, she would abandon her household duties to hurry to the terrace. From there she would look down on the street below, where a loudspeaker fitted to an open jeep announced the release of the latest film. In those days, the film often starred Nargis and Raj Kapoor.

Her journalist husband spent most of his time at the newspaper office or at the Coffee House in the company of poets, politicians and writers. He had no time to watch films with her. So she used his indifference as a good excuse to watch even more cinema, and to continue to dream of Dilip Kumar. She was clearly waiting for her time to come.

Farrukh with Shoojit Sircar, the director of Gulabo Sitabo

Farrukh with Shoojit Sircar, the director of Gulabo Sitabo

The fun one

To have shared screen space with Amitabh Bachchan in Gulabo Sitabo now is a matter of having arrived. Farrukh feels this is the culmination of her career. She has been working in films for over half a century, in the company of some of the best names in Indian cinema from Rekha to Shah Rukh Khan to Aamir Khan to Salman Khan to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. She did all this without leaving Lucknow for Mumbai and without the promotion of a manager or agent.

“Just imagine! Once upon a time I was a fan of Amitabh Bachchan and today I have shared screen space with the actor,” Farrukh says wonderingly.

The secret of her routine success on the silver screen is simple. She has so much fun once the lights and camera are focused on her, that action is seldom far behind.

Mehru Jaffer is an accomplished author and Farrukh Jaffar’s daughter

From HT Brunch, June 21, 2020

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