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Tribute to Saeed Jaffrey one year on – screening of ‘The Chess Players’ (‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’) by Satyajit Ray

Tribute to Saeed Jaffrey one year on – screening of ‘The Chess Players’ (‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’) by Satyajit Ray

November 11 2016

Star actor’s first death anniversary remembered by India in the UK…

ONE OF BRITAIN’S best known Asian actors will be the subject of a special commemorative screening of one of his finest films, “The Chess Players” (‘Shatranj Ke Khilari‘) on Tuesday.

Directed by the immortal Satyajit Ray, Saeed Jaffrey who died in London on November 14, gives one of his best performances and appears opposite Sir Richard Attenborough in what was one of Ray’s last and most lavish films.

The film is being screened free at the Nehru Centre, the cultural wing of the Indian High Commission, in London on Tuesday, November 15 at 6pm.

Widow Jennifer will be present and the centre has organised the screening as a tribute to her late husband who died aged 86, almost exactly a year ago. The couple were married 35 years and international casting director Jennifer also managed her husband’s career after 1993.

Jennifer told “In July when the Indian High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr Navtej Sarna presented me with the Posthumous Padma Shri Award for my husband, Saeed Jaffrey OBE, he said he thought they should pay tribute to Saeed at the Nehru Centre.

“He thought they should show one of his films – perhaps ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi‘ (‘The Chessplayers‘). I agreed that would be lovely and a good opportunity for his friends to gather together to celebrate his life. I suggested this should be held either on his first death anniversary, November 14 or his birthday, January 8.”

Jennifer said she choose the film because her husband, who acted in over a 100 Indian films, regarded it as one of his best and working with legendary director Ray was also the pinnacle of many an actor’s career.


Saeed won a Filmfare Best Supporting Actor role for “The Chess Players”.

Earlier this year, Saeed was presented posthumously with a Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards. He was presented with an OBE in 1995 for his services to drama in the UK.

His memorable role in Hanif Kureishi’s seminal “My Beautiful Laundrette” won him a BAFTA nomination and he was a regular feature in British Asian film and TV during much of the 1980s and 1990s, starring in well-known dramas such as “The Far Pavillions”, “The Jewel in the Crown” for TV, and David Lean’s “Passage to India”.

He had an extraordinarily long and varied career that began in India.

Born and brought up there, he passed out with an MA in history from Allahabad University and his first job was as a radio announcer in English for All India Radio.

He came from a relatively well to do family and had attended some of the region’s top educational institutions.

As well as working on radio, he continued to act in the theatre and won a Fullbright scholarship to study drama in America in 1956. He was an actor there with a prominent Shakespearian outfit and met his first wife, an actor and now celebrated culinary writer, Madhur in the US.

He compiled and narrated a “Reflection of India” for the New York Times and it was broadcast on the company’s radio feed. He also recorded “Kama Sutra, Art of Love” and it was listed by Time Magazine “as one of the five best spoken words records ever”. He also met film producer Ismail Merchant in New York at the time, and the two became life long friends and Saeed appeared in several James Ivory and Merchant productions later.


In 1965, he relocated to the UK, after the end of his first marriage and separation from the couple’s three children – and he quickly became involved in the West End theatre but continued to travel to India frequently for work; he also had commissions from BBC World Service where both his English and Urdu were much in demand.

His first international role was that of Billy Fish in “The Man who would be king” alongside Sean Connery, Michael Caine and directed by John Huston.

One of the highlights of his career was his 1997 rendering of Vikram Seth’s magnum opus, “A Suitable Boy” for both World Service Radio and BBC Radio 4 and in which he voiced all 86 characters.

There was also a stint on “Coronation Street” as shopkeeper, Ravi Desai and his last film was in Menhaj Huda’s coming of age British Asian tale, “Everywhere and Nowhere” (2011).

‘The Chess Players’ – (Shatranj Ke Khilari) from 6pm (129 minutes), Nehru Centre, High Commission of India, 8 South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF

Top picture: Saeed Jaffrey in The Chess Players


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Written by Asian Culture Vulture