Shafiq Syed strikes a pose. Photo: Venkatesh | mybangalore.com
When I met Shafiq Syed I told him I had not seen ‘Salaam Bombay’ completely because of a bad DVD. He smiles his trademark heartwarming smile and says, ‘Yeh tho hamara bura kismet tha’ (probably it was my bad luck). It’s likely, Luck played an important role in Shafiq’s life when as a clueless 12 year old he landed the role of ‘Krishna’ in Mira Nair’s acclaimed national award winner ‘Salaam Bombay’.
His rags to cinematic fame and back to rags story has gathered plenty of newsprint, TV airtime and even a Wikipedia page over the years but, the former child star is not tired of repeating his story time and again. As a wide eyed 12 year old Shafiq ran away from Bangalore, which was his home to Bombay ‘bas maza ke liye’ (just for fun). He survived off the streets making a few friends here and there. One day a lady approached him and his friends with a luring offer to be a part of a drama club where in return they would be given one meal a day and Rs 20. The drama club turned out to be an acting workshop scouting for kids to star in Salaam Bombay and Shafiq was shortlisted to play the lead part of ‘Chaipau’ or ‘Krishna’ in the film. ‘Film itna bada hoga mujhe pata nahi tha’ (I never thought the film would become this big). The film’s success earned Shafiq a national award for best child artist in 1988. But his 15 minutes of fame ended and he returned to Bangalore. After which he struggled as a camera assistant before ultimately becoming an auto driver in order to make ends meet.
He carries around with him a poster of ‘Salaam Bombay’ for memories along with a bundle of newspapers with articles about him. He also knows why there is a sudden fuss about him in the media again ‘Slumdog hit hua, aur woh bacche bhi slum ke bacche hain jaise main tha’ (Slumdog is a hit and the child stars in the film are from the slums like me), says Shafiq. He however wishes he could have walked the ramp like Rubina and Azhar, the Slumdog stars did for fashion week. But he instantly adds saying ‘Ab tho zamana alagh hai’ (times are different now). Slumdog was also the only film he saw after ten years says Shafiq. He took his family along to INOX in Garuda Mall to watch the ‘much hyped’ film. When I ask him what he thought of the film and if it portrayed life on the streets in Bombay? He disagrees saying that the reality the film has depicted is entirely different compared to what actually happens on the streets. He goes on to say that no one removes your eyes and limbs to make you beg, and that begging is done only through pressurizing you. He also adds that no slum kid can so easily get on the top of a train as and when he whims it.
These days Shafiq is a mini celebrity of sorts he says that he has not been on his rounds in the auto for nearly 15 days as his phone has been ringing off the hook. Through this hype he also got a call from none other than Mira Nair who invited him for the re-release of Salaam Bombay’s DVD. But right now Shafiq has a different plan of action where he is fervently working on- making a film on his life story. A story that explores what happens after the fame dies down, the continuous struggle to get into an industry that applauded him as a child genius, the dejection and the pain of living on the streets again where he is mocked and ridiculed for having once starred in a film. It’s a long process but Shafiq is confident he will make that film so that his children get a better life than the one he has lived. As calls and messages continue to pour in from Kolkata, Tripura, Kerala and many other places, Shafiq believes that through these many wishes from the people he has won the Oscar for having played Krishna. One meeting with him and you know it was his cinematic presence and smile that won him that role which brought him fame which he subsequently lost.