Saeed Jaffrey, who died on Sunday at the age of 86, was an actor with tremendous screen presence. Often his own personality dominated the roles he played. His inimitable delivery – in impeccable Hindustani or the Queen’s English – was present in every role he did, whether as Mir Roshan Ali in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi or as Lallan Miyan in Chashme Badoor or Billy Fish, who translated for Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King (where he said a few choice Hindi abuses with great aplomb.) He spoke more or less the same way in real life too—when you signed up Jaffrey for a role, you got Jaffrey, a combination of style and substance.
Till the late 1970s, Jaffrey was an unknown name in India. Though he had acted on the Delhi stage in the 1950s, he had left the country on a Fulbright scholarship and acted in the US and Britain, where he soon became a staple of the many Raj-themed television shows. He acted in well known Hollywood films such as The Man Who Would Be King and The Wilby Conspiracy.
It was after Satyajit Ray chose him for a role as Mir Roshan Ali in Shatranj ke Khiladi that Indians got to see him. The role of a dissolute Nawab who ignores his family was perfect for Jaffrey, with his flawless Urdu diction. Sai Paranjape’sChashme Baddoor, where he played Lalan Miyan and Richard Attemborough’s Gandhi – in which he was Sardar Patel — followed soon after. After that, he became a regular in Hindi films, often playing irate fathers, naughty uncles and jolly friends, such as in Masoom. Some of his better known films were Henna, Saagar and Ram Teri Ganga Maili. He brought tremendous flair and urbanity to most of his roles. He was in great demand for western television shows and movies set in India, such as The Far Pavilions and Jewel in the Crown.
Jaffrey’s first wife Madhur is an actress and known for her cookbooks and his daughter Sakina was recently in the well known television series House of Cards.
Jennifer Jaffrey, the actor’s wife of over 40 years, issued the following statement on his death:”My darling husband Saeed died very peacefully on Saturday morning, in London, following a very sudden brain haemorrhage. I will miss Saeed enormously (we had been together forty-one years!) but I am comforted by the fact he had a wonderful life and a wonderful death.”
Here are some memorable scenes starring Saeed Jaffrey:
Man Who Would Be King: In Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale of two British adventurers who become Kings of Kafirstan. Jaffrey played Billy Fish, who translates for them in their encounters with the natives
Shantraj Ke Khiladi: Jaffrey is Mir Roshan Ali, a dissolute nawab who spends his time playing chess with his friend Mirza sahib, unmindful of not just political turmoil but also his wife’s infidelity. Jaffrey said later he had prayed that his first-ever Indian film be directed by Satyajit Ray. He won a Filmfare award for the role.
Chashme Baddoor: Saeed Jaffrey is Lalan Miyan, the paanwala who reluctantly provides credit to the three young men, Faroukh Shaikh, Ravi Baswani and Rakesh Bedi.
Masoom: Jaffrey had a role as Suri, a friend of Naseeruddin Shah in this remake of Man, Woman and Child. Here sings a song, one of the few times he did so in Hindi films
Gandhi: Jaffrey played Sardar Patel, a somewhat unusual casting, but one which he managed to make his own in a film where most of the attention was on Ben Kingsley. In this clip Jaffrey and the others talk about the film on its 25th anniversary