November 18 2015
He was one of the best known faces on film and television and was widely respected and admired for his work and versatility…
MUCH OF Britain’s Asian acting and wider arts community remains in deep mourning over the death of Saeed Jaffrey.
His was a unique life and career, traversing both India and Bollywood and many Western films and television dramas.
He died aged 86, after suffering a brain haemorrhage at home in London on November 14.
His death was first broadcast by his niece Shaheen Aggarwal on Facebook on Sunday (November 15).
He appeared in legendary director Satyajit Ray’s last film, “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” (‘The Chess Players‘) (1977) and was among the team of actors that made the late Sir Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” the epic it is. He played Sardar Patel, known at the time of Partition as the ‘lion of Gujarat’.
There was a BAFTA nomination for his role in “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985) and he was awarded an OBE for his services to drama in 1995.
He also appeared in one of the nation’s favourite soaps, “Coronation Street”. In India, he is reported to have won Filmfare awards for “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” (1985), “Henna” (1991),and Ray’s “Shatranj Ke Khiladi“.
He began his acting career in earnest in the US, after winning a Fulbright scholarship and then moved to Britain after the breakdown of his first marriage to Madhur Jaffrey, herself an actor and now a celebrated TV chef. The son of a doctor, he had left Delhi shortly after graduating and working for All India Radio. His early years in London were a struggle but after bagging parts in the West End on stage in the 1970s, he never really looked back.
His passing has sparked many fond memories and reminiscences from the acting fraternity and it is clear he was deeply loved, cherished, admired and will be very sorely missed.
One of the most memorable tributes was from “Emmerdale” star Bhasker Patel.
He described his own sadness at the news and said that Jaffrey had helped him to hone his craft as a young actor in Britain, saying that he learnt much just “watching and being guided by a very talented, learned and genius human being”.
Jaffrey had advised him to always prepare ahead, watch other actors closely and listen to their advice as well. Patel said that Jaffrey cared a lot about the ‘art’ of acting and aspired to the highest standards both for himself and others.
Patel recounted how during the filming of Channel 4’s 1987 drama, “Partition” by Tariq Ali and adapted from the original short story, “Toba Tek Singh” by Saadat Hasan Manto, Jaffrey had assumed a role so powerfully that everybody watching forgot there was a camera rolling.
It was a speech about Partition, where those in a lunatic asylum have to be separated according to their faith and leads one prisoner Saeed Miah, played by Jaffrey, to utter the cogent lament: “What have you done to my WORLD and what will happen to MY land – INDIA – which is to be divided into two countries separating his people/family/friends/the country, where will I go?” (Capitalisation from Patel’s post).
Patel summarised: “We all forgot it was being filmed and got so immersed in his speech/performance that some started crying (myself) and others were gobsmacked and taken aback.”
He said the camera operator Nanci Scheiesari kept shooting and director Ken McMullen didn’t say ‘cut’.
“Just sheer craft coming from the heart and with conviction and honesty,” concluded Patel.
There were many tributes on Monday and his death made the tail end of the BBC Ten O’Clock news that night – quite a feat for an actor.
“Eastenders” star Nitin Ganetra also tweeted: “A legend and an original. Thank you for all those amazing stories and leading the way.”
Goldy Notay, from “Sex and the City 2” and “Amar, Akbar and Tony”, said: “A Sad day. We’ve lost one of our greats. A Pioneer for Asian actors.”
Martin Delaney, a co-star from “Amar Akbar and Tony”, also tweeted: “ Saeed Jaffrey is fondly etched into my brain for his charming portrayal of Billy Fish from ‘The Man Who Would be King‘.”
Bollywood star and elder statesman Anupam Kher tweeted from London: “Extremely saddened to Know about the sad demise of Mr. Saeed Jaffrey. A very cultured, sophisticated & a great actor. RIP”
There were also tributes from the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajyavardhan Rathore, India’s minister for information and broadcasting.
PM Modi tweeted: “Saeed Jaffrey was a multifaceted actor whose flair and versatility will always be remembered. Deepest condolences on his passing away.”
While Rathore remarked: “His range and acting depth will be remembered for long.”
Jaffrey leaves his agent wife Jennifer and three daughters from his first marriage.
His funeral is expected to be in a fortnight and after, we hope to publish a longer piece with more tributes.
If you knew or worked with Jaffrey and want to record your memories for our piece, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and put in the subject line Saeed Jaffrey – thanks.
All Pictures: ©Jennifer Jaffrey – please do not reproduce without permission