December 12 2015
Versatile actor fondly saluted for talent, generosity, and abiding friendships…
By Suman Bhuchar
IN A MOVING and uplifting funeral service, many actors, directors, writers and journalists came to celebrate the life of actor Saeed Jaffrey.
Jaffrey died on 14 November aged 86 and his funeral and thanksgiving service was held at St Mary’s Church, Ealing on Monday last week (December 7).
The actor who lived between Southall and The Cotswolds had, for the last seven years of his life, started attending and enjoyed being at the church.
The coffin completely draped with red roses entered St Mary’s to the sound of “Nimrod” from “The Enigma Variations” by Elgar, played by the cellist, Anup Kumar Biswas and pianist, Yoshiko Endo.
The service, conducted by the Vicar, Reverend Steve Paynter began with a reading of a poem, “Peace My Heart” written by ‘Gurudev’, or Rabindranarth Tagore, the 1913 Nobel Laureate, and read by the actor, Madhav Sharma who appeared with Jaffrey in an episode of the Channel 4 series, “Tandoori Nights” (1985-1987), as well as in many radio dramas.
It was then followed by a Eulogy from Sir Mark Tully who told the guests that two had known each other for five decades and he explained how Saeed (as he called him) was able to make and retain friends effortlessly.
The veteran broadcaster known as ‘Mr India’ and the longest serving BBC India correspondent said: “The best way to describe Saeed is one who is lovable and loving.
“Friendship served Saeed very well, he really started his career, on a train to Delhi by making friends with fellow passengers, people he didn’t know which was absolutely typical of him and through those close friendships he took a job in All India Radio; and again when he came from America to London, the friends he had in the BBC helped him through those hard times and he became a much loved and very, very welcome broadcaster in the Urdu and Hindi Service.”
Tully told the assembly that his friendship with the acting legend began during the “heyday of the BBC Eastern Service (with other colleagues). I was meant to be in charge of them but I don’t think I did very much about being charge. I just enjoyed their company and all the evenings together at Bush House Club. I regard that as one of the happiest times of my life.”
Sir Mark Tully, who was visibly emotional while delivering his tribute, also mentioned how Saeed was able to make friends with his acting colleague, Michael Caine whom he met when making, “The Wilby Conspiracy” (1975), which led to his great role as Billy Fish in “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975).
“Then he had this great career in Bollywood and this meant a great deal to him, because he always said he wanted to build bridges between cultures. He was enormously popular as an actor,” recounted Tully.
“He came to see me in Delhi when he was working in the Bombay Film Industry, and he would make sure he left a generous tip for my servants. He would then go outside and the taxi drivers who stood on a the stand outside came and embraced him.”
Sir Mark shared one particularly fond anecdote: “I remember when he was playing Black sheep of a family in a film called, “Ram Teri Ganga Meli” (‘Ram, Your Ganges has become dirty’, 1984), there was a huge family crisis and black sheep solved the family crisis.
“There were huge cheers when Saeed entered at the end of the film and solved the crisis!”
The hugely talented actor was also a writer, who adapted Vikram Seth’s best-selling and critically acclaimed novel, “A Suitable Boy” for BBC World Service Radio in 1997 where he played all 86 characters!
Apart from listing some of Jaffrey’s achievements, ‘Tully Saheb’ paid tribute to Jennifer Jaffrey, Saeed’s wife “rock and soulmate” of 41 years.
Sir Mark ended: “It’s stupid of me to feel sad but I do, so we must rejoice in the enrichment he brought to our lives and we still hold precious memories of his generosity, his humour, his love for us and his friendship.”
Next to take the podium was the writer, broadcaster and filmmaker, Yavar Abbas who had also got to know Jaffrey when the latter came up to him at BBC Bush House and introduced himself in a self-deprecating manner, using the most ‘chaste Urdu’.
Here again began a lifelong friendship, and Jaffery worked on his radio series, “Modern Masters of Prose”, where he took a lead role in reading the works of literature in English and Urdu.
Abbas ended his eulogy by reading a couplet by the poet, Raghupathi Sahai Firaq, whose work Saeed enjoyed immensely, and also provided a rough translation.
“It was an evening of mellow mists, beauty was drenched in its scents; Memories of half remembered trysts that drove him close to madness.”
This was followed by the actor, Antony Zaki reading an anonymous poem, “I’m Free”- which was selected by Jennifer Jaffrey as it has given her much comfort.
Zaki, had worked with Saeed on a BBC film, “Love Match” in 1986 (which also featured his ex-wife, Madhur) and a film, “The Journey”, in 1997, made by Harish Saluja.
Then there was a beautiful rendition of “Ave Maria” song sung by the classical opera tenor, Neil Latchman along with his son, Luca.
Later, the Rev Paynter gave a reading and the address.
“It has really been a great delight and joy to get to know Saeed and Jennifer over the past eight years,” he began. “Saeed, always seemed to me a person very much at peace with himself and others. He didn’t seem to harbor negative thoughts about others, even during difficult times in his own life.
“Whenever we met, often after a service, he always exuded such kindness warmth and pleasure – even for inevitable brief encounters words were few, but so much was communicated, a look, a smile a gesture. Ever the actor, perhaps but he was unfailingly positive. So, thank you Saeed for your humanity, kindness and generosity.
“A high point in our relationship was his baptism, he said, I just hadn’t got round to it and clearly for him, faith in God seemed so straightforward if obvious and uncomplicated. It was a joy and faith filled occasion.”
The service was attended by over 150 people including the local MPs Stephen Pound, (MP for Ealing North) and Rupa Huq (MP for Ealing Central and Acton); actors Nitin Ganatra and Nina Wadia (The Masoods from TV series, “Eastenders”); actor, Shaheen Khan (“Bend it Like Beckham”); actor Kulvinder Ghir best known from the four in BBC’s “Goodness Gracious Me”; actress and producer Mamta Kaash; directors Waris Hussein and Tara Arts’ Jatinder Verma, composer Stephen Luscombe (West India Company), comedian Jeff Mirza and many others.
This was followed by a reception ‘Celebrating the life of Saeed’ at the Holiday Inn, Brentford.
There will be a memorial for Saaed Jaffrey next year which will remember his contribution to film and television.
Saeed Jaffrey January 8, 1929 – November 14, 2015.
Main top picture: Sir Mark Tully with Rupa Huq MP (Ealing Central and Acton); Saeed Jaffrey in ‘The Man who would be King’
- More tributes by family members and actor colleagues can be found on the link HERE
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