Actor Farooque Sheikh Headlines Second Annual DC South Asian Film Festival

Farooque Sheikh: “Great films will be made when we have great audiences”

By Geeta Goindi

Rockville, Maryland, May 10, 2013 – Squarely putting the responsibility of good films on viewers, acclaimed actor Farooque Sheikh has categorically stated that they are liable for the quality and caliber of cinema.

Addressing an erudite audience on the opening night of the second annual DC South Asian Film Festival, he underlined, “If you want good films to be made, you will have to be a good audience”. Quoting a line inscribed on a box of Hollywood films in his collection, he said, “Great films will be made when we have great audiences”.

The brilliant and seasoned actor, who is renowned for his role in films such as ‘Umrao Jaan’, ‘Chashme Baddoor’, ‘Noorie’ and ‘Saath Saath’, to name a few, implored the gathering: “Demand more from film-makers for your time and money. When you become a discerning audience, then there will be better film-makers”, he said. “All the ravings and ranting against cinema are also because the audience is not doing the right thing. Hold the film-makers liable for what you see. Things will change because a film-maker is staking his all”!

Speaking to us, at INDIA THIS WEEK, Sheikh noted that “there is a largely ‘educated’ audience here. So, you cannot dish out just about any rubbish and expect it to pass”, he said, with candor. “They will scrutinize it a little more than the audience back home”.

Warmly commending Manoj and Geeta Singh for organizing the film festival, Sheikh said, “They deserve a huge round of applause”.

The event was another feather in the cap of Manoj and Geeta Singh, of Ceasar Productions. Over a weekend packed with meaningful cinema, some 40 films were screened from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, in keeping with the festival’s theme: ‘Experience different cultures through films’. From India, the regional reach was expanded to include movies in Hindi, Urdu, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, Punjabi, Assamese and Kannada.

Not surprising, the festival drew its fair share of distinguished guests and celebrities including: Indian Ambassador Mrs. Nirupama Rao; Kumar Barve, Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates; acclaimed actors Farooque Sheikh, Sarita Joshi and Sanjay Suri; fine film-makers Goutam Ghose, Avinash Singh, Jaideep Verma, Nitin Adsul, Leena Jayaswal and Meher Jaffri; actress and model Pooja Batra; ghazal singer Poojaa Shah Talwar; and Miss India USA / Miss India-DC Priyam Bhargava. Mrs. Nilima Mehra, Global Television Network, served as the emcee. Opening night featured a special Bharatanatyam performance by Medha Swaminathan, a student of Natananjali School of Dance, founded and directed by Lakshmi Swaminathan.

Farooque Sheikh was here in the US specifically to attend the DC and New York South Asian film festivals. Speaking about such events to us, he said: “It is people who are living here (US) who are from there (India) connecting with their cultural roots. Nothing connects as nicely as the art form, and cinema is the amalgamation of all the art forms that we know. It really brings back happy and warm memories for people who are here”.

The 65-year-old actor is not only well informed about his field, he possesses a keen observation and a pleasing magnanimity. He told us: “What is more interesting, I find, this time is that there are young people who are interested in cinema of their own. They are based in the US, but they are interested in their own kind of cinema which is a very encouraging sign. So, that is one thing which I am enjoying this time”.

Sheikh hoped “the festivals could tap into the regular ticket-buying audience somehow, so that they develop an interest in this off-the-mainstream cinema. The interest in mainstream cinema is perennial and thank God for that”, he said. “But, if they (movie-goers) develop an interest in this other cinema as well, then I think it would benefit cinema and it would benefit them as well. It’s a different kind of cinema that also needs to be seen”.

About independent cinema, he stressed, “I think it is something that they (the audience here) need to get more of so that they understand there is the mega-budget, multi-star cinema coming from India and there is also this other cinema coming in which probably meets their standards more because this kind of cinema gives you something to think about. You leave the auditorium with a thought. That’s very important and that’s very nice”, he said.

The actor noted, “When you go to a festival, educated people, nice people, sensible people come with a certain sensibility that they are going to watch a serious film, then they are that much more patient and indulgent. How the average ticket-buying audience reacts to this kind of film, that is the acid test. And how much the exhibitor allows them the time and space to enjoy such a film is another very tough acid test”, he said.

We queried Sheikh about the film, ‘Listen Amaya’, in which he plays a protagonist. “It’s a first-time writer, editor, director, producer combination of Mr. Avinash and his wife Geeta Singh”, he told us. “It’s an interesting film, a new look at how an emotional relationship can happen at any age and how people who are not of that generation look upon that relationship”, he said.

Again, with candor and magnanimity, he stated: “Much as an actor would like to flatter himself, an actor stands on the shoulders of the writer and director. If they are nice, strong, sturdy, then the actor looks to have some stature. If they are not, then he looks like a midget”.

Sheikh observed , “Generally, first-time film-makers are willing to go the extra mile and then some more because it is something that they are very passionate about. ‘Agar main yeh nahin karoonga, toh meri zindagi kharaab ho jayegi’ (If I don’t do this, then my life will be spoilt)”, he said, to laughter from the audience that was clearly charmed and impressed by the actor. “That’s the kind of passion they have”, he said about film-makers making their debut. “So, that’s contagious. And they allow you a lot of leeway”.

But, he lamented, “We are losing the habit of enjoying films. Our attention span has diminished. To enjoy a film, particularly a film (‘Listen Amaya’) with this kind of sensitivity and emotion, you need a little pacing”, he said. “You need to have it slowly. I have no such thing against such films, but we are in the habit of seeing the ‘Dabanggs’. After every two minutes, there is a bang, which is good. But, if that’s the only thing that is happening in cinema, then that is not so good”.

He hoped that “potboilers” and independent cinema could both thrive together. “It is so heartening that there is this process of osmosis between the two kinds of cinema”, he said. “You can find good people from both sides”.

A highlight of the festival was a musical tribute to Jagjit Singh by Richmond-based ghazal singer Poojaa Shah Talwar, with ‘Shayari’ (Urdu poetry) by Farooque Sheikh. “I had a fabulous weekend performing for a great audience at DCSAFF, meeting all the esteemed guests and film personalities, actors, directors, interviewing with TV channels, watching classic short films and much more”, gushed Poojaa, a disciple of Jagjit Singh. She thanked Manoj and Geeta Singh for giving her the opportunity to perform at the festival and Farooque Sheikh for his introductory remarks, a testimony to his “amazing insight on the essence of Urdu poetry”, and “encouraging the audience to embrace and applaud ghazals just as heartily as any other art form”.

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