The Real Begum of Gulabo Sitabo: Meet 87-Year-Old Bollywood Veteran Farrukh Jaffer

In Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo, there is no dearth of star power.

On one hand, you have Amitabh Bachchan, whose usual towering image had been transformed into hunch-backed Mirza, a man scheming and plotting constantly, leaving little room for redemption. On the other hand, fail-safe actor Ayushmann Khurrana, who may not have much to contribute as the forever-frustrated Bannkey, made his presence felt. Throughout the film, the two men bicker and banter, struggling to win over the audience.

While as unredeemable characters, we are not really meant to sympathise with either Mirza or Bannkey, there seems to be another factor winning the game. Big B and Ayushmann may have kept the audience hooked, but a third character quietly stole the limelight in the Amazon Prime Video film, becoming a fan favourite.

Farrukh Jaffer has starred in films like Secret Superstar, Peepli Live, Swades, Photograph, Sultan, and Gulabo Sitabo

Fatto Begum, played by 87-year-old Farrukh Jaffer, has become the latest internet sensation. The wife of Mirza and the owner of Fatima Mahal, it is Begum who plays the ultimate con, leaving the scheming duo stumped, winning over cinema-lovers across the country.

A career that goes back 40 years

“[Gulabo Sitabo] is a must-watch for everyone,” says a beaming Farrukh, in a candid chat with MAKERS India. The actress, on the heels of her film’s success and especially the overwhelming response that Begum’s character has been receiving from all quarters, is over the moon. She tells us that she is overjoyed with the appreciation shared by fans.

“There is no secret behind this success,” continues the actress, “I just know this that all characters are important to me. Bas ye sochti hu ki mai ho, camera ho, aur mera character ho. Bas. (I just need me, the camera, and my character, that’s it).”

Farrukh Jaffer in a still from the movie Photograph

The way Farrukh speaks about cinema, her zeal for acting shines through. She truly finds herself at ease in front of the camera, not just delivering her lines between “action” and “cut”, but also puts herself into the shoes of her characters, almost thinking and living like a different person.

Perhaps, it is this unadulterated love for acting and performing that have upheld Farrukh’s 40 years in the industry, a career whose origins can be traced all the way back to the cult-hit Umrao Jaan (1981), directed by Muzaffar Ali and starring the illustrious Rekha.

An accidental start

Not many would know this, but Farrukh’s career in Bollywood was an accident. She never intended to act in the movies. Born and brought up in Lucknow, and hailing from a conservative family, Bollywood, in fact, was out of the question for her. That is until Muzaffar Ali came to her with the role of Nawab Sultan, the mother of Amiran aka Umrao Jaan.

“I was shocked,” says Farrukh, “I didn’t expect it. Since I come from a very conservative family, I was not sure if people would like me on-screen.”

This offer didn’t go down well with her family either.

“My family couldn’t believe that I wanted to work in the movies. They told me, ‘we watch films, we don’t make them’,” she recalls, “But by then, I had already said yes to the role. Kuch bhi nahi kar sake sab, mera mu dekhte reh gaye (They couldn’t stop me, they were all stunned).”

Farrukh, who has to her credit blockbusters and critically acclaimed films like Secret Superstar, Peepli Live, Swades, Photograph, Sultan, and now Gulabo Sitabo, is refreshingly candid.

Farrukh Jaffer along with co-star Srishti Shrivastava in Gulabo Sitabo

From the way she reminisces her younger days, rebelling against her family and making her way into the entertainment industry in the 80s — a time when acting was not the most preferred career for a woman — to her anecdotes about working with Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Amir Khan, her honesty is disarming and her smile is infectious.

A glimpse of which Farrukh offers as she recollects memories of filming with Shah Rukh for Swades.

Wo sab meri toffiyan kha jata tha (he would eat all my candies),” grins the evergreen actress.

(Text Edited By: Saheli Sen Gupta, Video Edit: Amith Ediga)

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