It is not easy keeping up with Hameed Sheikh. The man moves through the streets of Saddar in Karachi like greased lightning. Navigating nooks and crannies, picking on bystanders with ferocious wit, he looks nothing like his character in Pakistan’s 2016 film nomination for the Oscars, Moor — a tired old man who hardly speaks and limps across snow-embraced mountains.
This man, walking right in front of me in Gul Plaza, is built like a tank (he seems to be working out a lot), who talks to one shopkeeper in Pushto and another in Punjabi, and buys items from markets I never even knew existed — and I thought I knew Saddar like the back of my hand.
Clearly I didn’t know enough, about the area and Sheikh.
There’s more to actor Hameed Sheikh than meets the eye, a restless citizen of the world with his feet firmly anchored to his roots
Sheikh, who is fluent in Urdu, Hindi, Brahui, Sindhi, Punjabi, Dari, Farsi, Seraiki, Balochi and Hindko, lives in Quetta with his wife and a newborn child (his other two children live in Canada). However, he visits Karachi often, and the shopkeepers know him quite well.
Two stops and a rickshaw ride later, we are in the mobile market end of Electronics Market, ticking off a laundry list. “I can’t stand sitting still, so I move — a lot,” he tells me.
In the past few years, Sheikh has been representing Moor in international film festivals for its production company Azad Film. When not working above and beyond the call of duty, Sheikh is out and about in the world.
He recently came back from Canada, had a stopover in Pakistan before visiting Egypt, the UAE, and then returning back to Pakistan. His frequent flyer credit must be quite high, I guess.
Sheikh tells me that his kinship with Karachi dates back to his youth in the mid-eighties. His family owned many businesses, but he had cut his teeth in sales at Regal. “The experience taught me a lot about the ways of the world,” he says.
People we pass in the Electronics Market do a double-take of a tall man who just slipped through a packed alley without touching anyone. They seem to recognise him, yet they don’t.
“It’s a blessing,” Sheikh says. “People know me, but they don’t recognise me immediately. They would, if I stay long enough.”
He is right.
Back in Gul Plaza, a scout from a popular online store had found the guts to say that he looked familiar. “I have seen you on television, haven’t I?” he said, recognising Sheikh from his works at PTV, Moor and O21. Surprisingly, the scout hadn’t seen either film.
Such is the dilemma with Sheikh. The films he acts in are ignored by the masses.
“You’re a national asset,” the scout tells Sheikh as we bump into each other again half-an-hour later. Sheikh and I look at each other with raised eyebrows. Recognising national talent and spending money to watch them perform are two very different things.
“I am no Humayun Saeed — and I don’t want to be one, either,” he says.
I feel that people out of Pakistan recognise my talents more,” he says. Moor, O21, Abdullah: The Final Witness — his last three Pakistani movies, which came out one after another within a span of a year in 2014 and 2015, were well-received internationally, yet they failed at the domestic box-office.