Photography & styling: Hussain Piart Grooming: Nomi Lawrence | Coordination: Umer Mushtaq
Photography & styling: Hussain Piart Grooming: Nomi Lawrence | Coordination: Umer Mushtaq

We all feel like we know Jawed Sheikh in some way or the other.

Many of us connect him with favourite TV dramas and movies that we’ve seen over the years. He’s larger than life; Haseena Moin’s hero from many years ago when he first turned a dimpled smile towards the TV camera and from thereon, the star of countless dramas and films, blessed with eternal good looks and charm.

He’s been known for his exceptional performances within Pakistan, his work in a number of A-list Bollywood movies, his continued presence in almost every other local cinematic release and a slew of TV dramas. He’s also always been equally well-known for his personal liaisons — his name has been connected with various famous leading ladies and he, with characteristic candour, has never denied the relationships.

Yes, through his acting roles, his occasional interviews, the headlines he’s made for both professional and personal reasons, we all feel that we know Jawed Sheikh, to some extent.

I had interviewed Jawed Sheikh a few times before but I met him after a long time for this particular conversation. He walked in briskly, sunshades on, immediately asking me how long the interview would be. About an hour, I assessed. Half an hour should be enough, he said, adding, “Once we start talking you’ll see, the conversation will just flow.”

He’s been around forever. And he still seems as fresh and unjaded as he always has been. “I don’t think there is any retirement in the work that I do. And I love it,” says the celebrated veteran TV and film actor

The interview wrapped up in slightly less than an hour, after which he said to me, “You see? That didn’t take long.”

He may have estimated the timing wrong but he was right when he said that the conversation would just flow.

Jawed Sheikh is a very interesting interviewee. He comes armed with a wealth of candid recollections, doesn’t mind the occasional personal question and is refreshingly honest. Now and then, he shrugs, his face half-tilted or gives a wide smile or splays his arms wide in order to explain something. These are all such familiar gestures, not just to me, a journalist who has interviewed him several times, but to anyone who has seen his work on screen.

He’s also very energetic. If you thought that the young lot of actors have busy schedules, a look at Jawed Sheikh’s current timetable would prove to be an eye-opener.

“I have an all-night shoot for a movie today,” he outlines, “and I’ll end up sleeping around five or six in the morning. Then, at 12 noon tomorrow I have to be on the set of a drama that I am working in. Its shooting dates could not be adjusted, so I have to fulfil my commitment. I’ll be there till 7pm and, after that, I’ll be going to the movie set again for another all-night shoot.”

It sounds exhausting, but I observe that he doesn’t look tired at all. He nods and smiles, pointing to his head. “It’s all in the mind. I sometimes work for 18 hours at a stretch. This past Ramazan, I worked day and night while fasting. I would come home and just collapse in bed. But while I am on the set, I remain alert. I don’t eat any food that would make me feel lethargic. And I mentally tell myself that I have to shoot for another 10 hours.”

His process works well, I tell him, especially since he never looks drained on screen either. Has he ever considered getting some of the signs of old age ironed out through the aid of cosmetic surgery?

“Never” he says emphatically. “I don’t like fake things. I don’t even keep artificial flowers or plants in my home. I’d rather follow a regime that makes me look fresh naturally. I watch my diet and eat in small quantities and I exercise regularly.”

All in a day’s work

We move on to a routine question: does he enjoy working in films more or TV?

“It’s a blessing that, in both films and TV, everyone wants to work with me! I do enjoy films more, though. Of course, I also work in dramas — there’s a lot of money there — but they require perhaps 10 scenes to be shot in a day. You’re rushing from one scene to the other, sometimes changing clothes in order to retain continuity and, by the time you get home, you’re exhausted.”

Most recently, I saw him on screen in Faisal Qureshi’s just-released film Money Back Guarantee. His role was half-baked at best, present through one part of the movie and then non-existent later. Why did he agree to it?

“My role was actually supposed to be a guest appearance but, yes, you are right,” he agrees. “When I saw the movie, I realised that I should have been there in the later scenes too. But this is a question that you should ask the director, not me!”

But doesn’t he ever intervene during a shoot and ask a director to make changes?

“If I realise that something is wrong, I may discuss it with the director, but only to a point that he doesn’t mind it,” he says. “I am a director and producer myself, and much senior to all the people that I am working with. As an actor, I make sure that I don’t intervene too much.”

And can he tell whether a project will work or not, when he reads the script? “I can’t tell from the script but, yes, when I am on set, based on the way the director is shooting the story, I get some idea,” he says.

His recent performances include some stellar roles — his work in the two Na Maloom Afraad films, the two Wrong Number films and Teefa In Trouble come to mind — as well as other forgettable ones. Does he deliberately agree to some work merely for the sake of commerce?

“Yes, I do some roles just to make ends meet, while some are also characters that I genuinely enjoy playing,” he says. “Whenever someone makes this observation to me, I tell them that I wish that we were working in an industry where an actor could do one movie a year and earn enough from it to be able to live comfortably. Unfortunately, we have to work on a number of projects in a year for financial reasons.”

What has been his most favourite recent role to date? “There are so many,” he muses. “People say that I am in every movie, but the fact is that I have never been typecast. If I stutter in one movie then I am a butcher in another and a mafia don in the next. I enjoy adding shades to my characters and I think the audience enjoys it too.”

Still, I persist, any favourite? “My character in both the Na Maloom Afraad films,” he says.

That’s my favourite too, I tell him.

He recalls, “When I signed on to the first Na Maloom Afraad, we decided upon my character’s wardrobe, hair and make-up. On my first day on the set, director Nabeel Qureshi was going to shoot a scene with me, Fahad Mustafa and Mohsin Abbas Haider. We rehearsed the scene and Nabeel approved it.”

Then, as the gaffers and grips rushed about getting the set ready for the first take, Jawed tells me, he started pondering over his character.

“I felt that there was something missing. Right before Nabeel rolled the camera, I asked him if I could try out something that I had come up with. He said, yes. He yelled ‘Action!’ and my character said his lines, stuttering. Nabeel immediately grabbed on to this new take on the character.” He smiles.

When India came calling

We turn towards the topic of Bollywood — he was paving a very successful career in the Indian film industry when political tensions brought his plans to a halt. The money must have been much better there, I comment.

“Obviously,” he says. “They have thousands of cinemas there while we have perhaps less than a hundred. They have a huge population that watches movies, while we may have a lakh or so.”

Does he miss it, especially the grandeur that must be part of a Bollywood film set? “Yes,” he says, “but one must always keep one’s feet on the ground. We need to always remember the land that we are from and the parameters within which we can operate. If we manage to get more somehow, then that’s great but, if we don’t, we shouldn’t complain.”

Did he ever consider shifting to Mumbai back when he was working in India constantly? “No. I did get an apartment there back when I had signed on to several films,” says Jawed, “but I’d always be returning to Pakistan after some time. I was basically shuttling between Mumbai and Karachi.”

His most prestigious Bollywood movie role was undoubtedly that of Shah Rukh Khan’s father in the movie Om Shanti Om, which also marked choreographer Farah Khan’s cinematic directorial debut. I ask him to share recollections from the movie.

“I met Farah Khan on the set of Jaan-i-mann, a movie that was directed by her husband Shirish Kunder. I was playing actress Priety Zinta’s father in the movie and Farah was there choreographing a song. She met me, told me that she had loved my work in the Pakistani TV drama Ankahi and that it was great that I was working in India.

“At that time, she had only been planning out Om Shanti Om. Once the script was finalised, I was offered the role of Shah Rukh Khan’s father and we decided upon my look during the different phases of the movie. We were going to be shooting in a month’s time and Farah’s manager came to me and asked me to sign the contract. He asked me what remuneration I wanted to take and I said that I would be acting in the movie free of charge.

“He said that this was against their company’s policy but I insisted that it was an honour for me to be cast in Shah Rukh Khan’s biggest movie being made at the time, especially since they could have had reached out to any other Indian actor for my role and he would have immediately agreed. The manager kept arguing and, finally, I said that I would take one rupee for my work.”

He continues, “Later, Farah and Shah Rukh decided themselves what they would pay me. When I got my first cheque, it was extremely generous. If I had quoted an amount myself, it would have certainly been much less!”

How were his interactions with Shah Rukh Khan? “He’s extremely humble and always met me with a lot of respect and love. On our first day on the set, he put his arm around my neck and told me that if I needed anything at all, I should come up to him. My vanity van was parked alongside the vans of the rest of the stars. It was all very well-organised.

“Later that day, I had to go outside to smoke a cigarette — I used to smoke back then and there was a rule that cigarettes could not be smoked on the set. I came back inside and saw that a table had been set up for Shah Rukh, with an ashtray and a cup of black coffee.

“Just a few hours ago he had told me that I could come up to him if I needed anything and now I approached him. I asked him if he smoked and drank black coffee. He said yes. I said, so did I, but I had to leave the set in order to smoke. Within minutes, Shah Rukh had gotten a table set for me with an ashtray and a cup of hot coffee!” Jawed laughs.

The personal front

We change tacks to an important facet of his personal life: his children Shahzad Sheikh and Momal Sheikh who both now have successful acting careers. Did he ever make a few well-placed phone calls in order to help them break into the acting profession?

“I have never made a single call,” he says. “Shahzad started out from scratch just like I did and now he is at a point in his career where he can pick and choose between scripts. Similarly, Momal has built her career on her own.

“I told them a phone call from me could get them their first acting roles but the next offer would only come to them on the basis of their talent. It was better that they trained themselves right from the beginning. Tomorrow, when they would be successful, they would be happy that they managed to do it all on their own.

“I’ll tell you a story,” he says. “I was working in an Indian movie called Happy Bhaag Jayegi and a Pakistani actress had been signed on to play a role that she backed out from at the last minute. The producer and director were frantic. They needed to sign on a Pakistani actress and they came to me, asking me to reach out to the actresses that I knew. I sent messages to the few that I thought would fit the role. In the meantime, they also kept searching on the internet.

“A few days later, they came to me and said that they wanted to sign on an actress that they had come across on the internet. ‘Her name is Momal — is she your daughter?’ they asked. I said that she was. They said that they wanted her on board and I told them to contact her husband and find out if she was willing to come to Chandigarh to shoot the movie.

“Momal’s husband, Nadir, agreed and she became part of the movie all on her own. It was a very good role and she got it, without me making any recommendations. It made me extremely happy.” He smiles.

I observe that he has so many experiences to share, so many achievements to be proud of and yet, he ends up getting asked about his colourful past very often. The internet is rife with insinuations about his ‘playboy’ image — does that irritate him?

“A playboy is someone who has multiple affairs at the same time. I have never been like that,” he points out to me. “I work in this industry and there are thousands of girls around me, but no one can ever claim that Jawed Sheikh made a pass at her. Never.

“But yes, with the passage of time, situations have arisen when my name has been linked with different people. That was all very natural.”

So he believes that a person can fall in love with different people at different times? “Of course.”

What has been his most memorable relationship? “With Neeli,” he answers, predictably. “We worked on a lot of films together and she was truly just a very nice woman. I want her to always be happy.”

He has never denied his relationships, I comment. “No I haven’t. That’s because I have never gone off and had 10 relationships at one time. I have nothing to hide or fear.”

His most favourite directorial venture was also, incidentally, one which starred him and Neeli. “It was my very first movie as a director, Mushkil. At that time, most movies were made on action or romantic genres but Mushkil had had a very different storyline. I had read a story in The Herald about how a boy had been abducted by a gang involved in human trafficking and decided to make a movie on it.”

Does he have plans of going back to producing and directing movies any time soon? “Yes, there is one movie that I will be producing soon. I just have to finalise the cast. Shoaib Khan, with whom I worked in the movie Jackpot will be directing it. After that, I plan to direct and produce another movie. There are also plans to make a Punjabi movie,” he says.

Does he think that he’ll ever retire? Of course he doesn’t.

“I don’t think there is any retirement in the work that I do. And I love it.”

And the audience loves Jawed Sheikh. Like I said, it’s like we all know him, have always known him, some way or the other.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 28th, 2023



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