Shoojit Sircar’s latest comedy-drama, Gulabo Sitabo, available on Amazon Prime Video, opened to mixed reviews. Though not everything about the story resonated with the masses, the one thing, or rather character, that has emerged as the undisputed star of the film is Fatto Begum.
Yes, Mirza’s (Amitabh Bachchan) wife Fatto Begum, with her sassy dialogues, mischievous smiles, and clever machinations, found a fan in every person who saw the movie.
And the credit for bringing alive a character as adorable yet brazen as Fatto Begum goes to actor Farrukh Jafar.
86-year-old Farrukh Jafar, who entered the world of movies in 1981 with Umrao Jaan, has been a part of TV shows, short films, and blockbuster hits like Swades, Sultan, Secret Superstar, etc.
In conversation with ScoopWhoop, she talked about her journey into the world of movies, working with Amitabh Bachchan, and the changing face of India.
A role for which Juhi and Shoojit personally convinced her, Farrukh Jafar is enjoying the success that has come with Gulabo Sitabo, though she never expected it to be so well received.
Shoojit aur Juhi humaare ghar aaye the aur samjhaya (about the role). Director hai iss kaabil ki usko pyaar mile. Shuru main toh nahin laga tha (that role will become popular). Lekin baad mein laga toh humne bhi socha ki haan, kuch kia hai.
To be true to her character, without consciously keeping success in mind, is perhaps the very reason why Fatto Begum had everyone cheering for her. And even when Farrukh Jafar explains her acting process, she gives due credit to the writer and director.
Prepare kya karna. Yeh toh director, writer ne kia – woh picture dekhte hain, aur dekh ke tay karte hain aur main samajhne ki koshish karti hun. Main uss kirdar mein kho jaati hun. Aur mere saamne bas camera hota hai, aur kirdaar hota hai, jismein na umr ki baat hoti hai, aur na kisi aur cheez ki. Mujhe director aur superstar ki parvah nahi rehti. Apne role karti rehti hun, aur mujhe bas camera dikhai deta hai.
By her own admission, when the camera starts rolling, she ignores the superstars to focus only on the character she is playing.
But, that does not take away from the fact that she has worked with almost all the superstars, including all the Khans and a star whose films she’s always been a fan of, Amitabh Bachchan. And while she likes them all, she does have her favourites.
Experience bahut acha tha (on Gulabo Sitabo). Yeh (Amitabh Bachchan) mera bahut hi favourite kalakaar tha. Maine isko Silsila ke times se pasand kiya tha, jab yeh Rekha ke saath kaam kar raha tha. Aur Kabhie Kabhi film jo thi, woh achhi lagi. Mujhe toh sab (co-stars) achhe lage. Mujhe Aamir khan bahut pasand aaye. Usne bhi mujhe pasand kiya.
Though she has worked with some of the most talented directors and actors, her heart still longs for a dream that will, unfortunately, never see the light of day – a desire to work with the late Irrfan Khan.
Arey bhai, mera mann toh tha Irrfan Khan ke saath kaam karne ka tha, lekin woh malum nahi kahan chala gaya. Mujhe toh hasrat reh gai uske saath kaam karne ki.
Though that’s a dream that never materialized, movies have given her the chance to portray diverse roles in both shows and movies.
Because, contrary to popular belief, Swades wasn’t her second project after Umrao Jaan. Her medium was TV and shows and short films on Doordarshan like Neem Ka Ped, Adha Gaon, etc.
It was through these shows only that Ashutosh Gowariker discovered her, and decided to cast her in Swades.
Though when he first approached her, she thought it was a prank call. As her daughter, author Mehru Jafar shared, she never expected a director like Gowariker to directly call her.
She (Farrukh Jafar) did not differentiate between acting on stage, for the small screen and the big screen. She was not looking at TV as a stepping stone to the silver screen. It happened organically. Ashutosh saw her on TV and called her. And she said, “Bakwaas mat karo, yeh Gowariker nahi ho sakte, yeh prank call hai”. He had to convince her, because normally secretaries call, or some representative, not the celebrity himself. Swades was the first encounter with a big Bollywood production.
Swades was her first brush with working on a large-scale production, despite starting her career with the 1981 Umrao Jaan, because, for her and her family, director Muzaffar Ali is less of a celebrity and more of a family member.
As Farrukh Jafar states, he is also the reason she turned her nascent mimicry into full-fledged acting.
Humare yahan ek naukar tha uski nakal karti thi aur log sunte the aur pasand karte the. Ek jagah khana tha, 100-150 logon ka raha hoga. Wahan par mujhe ek shaqs ne kaha, “Farrukh bi aapke yahan mulazim tha, woh kaise bolta tha? Sunaiye agar kuch yaad ho toh.” Main chalu ho gai. Balcony mein Muzaffar baithe hue the. Unhone dekha aur kaha, “aap meri film mein kaam karengi?” Maine kaha, “tumne toh mere pe bomb phenk dia. Main uss khandan se hun jahan aadmi log picture nahi dekhte aur tum mujhse keh raho hai ki film mein kaam karengi? Hum dekhte hain film, dikhate nahi. Beherhaal uske baad phir maine unki film Umrao Jaan mein kaam kia. Aur phir, filmon mein aati rahi.
Initially, she mostly worked with Muzaffar Ali only. But for decades now, without ever employing an agent, or promoting her work, she has continued to be a part of the film industry.
Ask her if she’s ever had trouble finding roles, and she is quick to respond in negative while appreciating the filmmakers who continue to find her work valuable.
Mushkil mujhe kabhi nahi lagi. Koi bhi character ho, pehle main samajhti hun usko. Yeh toh director aur writer ki tareef hai ki woh role ke liye mujhe pasand karte hain, aur main usko kar leti hun.
However, for her, Radio is the medium that deserves her complete gratitude because it is here that her journey into the world of entertainment first started. She was the first female announcer for Vividh Bharti in Lucknow.
Vivid Bharti channel jab yahan khula, toh uska pehla announcement mera gaya. Bahut acha tajurba raha. Hazaaron salam karti hun radio station ko, ki mujhe jo kuch mila sab vahin se mila. Jo maine film mein kaam kia toh maine naukri chhodi thi vahi, radio station ki.
From international projects like What Will People Say to underrated projects like Photograph, Farrukh Jafar has definitely had an enviable filmography. But there is still one character she dreams of playing – that of writer Ismat Chughtai.
Haan agar mujhe mauka mila aur bani Ismat Chughtai pe (film) toh zarur karna chahungi. Woh badi baaghi kisam ki aurat thi. Aur mujhe apni challak usmein nazar aati hai.
There is no denying that she is a courageous woman, who has lived life on her own terms. And it is with a heavy heart that she reflects over the way the country has changed over the years:
Yeh badlaav aaya hai samaaj mein. Yeh badlaav bahut aaya hai. Badlaav yeh lagta hai ki pehle jo bhaichara tha, ek chhat ke neeche sab rehte the, usmein ab aap log yeh chah rahe hain ke phut aaye aur log titar-bhitar ho jaayein, jabki ekta sabse badhi cheez hoti hai. Aur hum ko yeh laga ki hum ek chhat ke neeche rehte hain, bhaichare ki feeling leke, woh alag karna chahta hain log. Toh yeh kaise mumkin hai? Bilkul nahi hona chahiye.
This is a question that has no easy answer. But what no one can deny is the warmth in her tone as she talks of her experiences, the modesty with which she accepts the love coming her way, and the youthful spirit with which she still looks forward to more roles and movies.
Here’s hoping that her zest for life and work continues to charm us.