Throughout his glorious career, the iconic Satyajit Ray boasted of films that were a class apart and before its time. In his illustrious career which also brought him an Oscar for lifetime achievement, he was more known for his Bengali films apart from the only Hindi exception in “Shatranj Ke Khiladi”. The film, which was a class apart, had Amjad Khan as its lead along with a few powerhouse actors who put in stellar performances. One gifted actor who played an important role in that iconic movie was the late Saeed Jaffery. The actor, at 86, passed away this week. He was a performer of tremendous versatility and known for noteworthy displays in films like Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Chashme Badoor, among many others. Jaffery was described by many colleagues a man of both class and substance.
Jaffery was relatively unknown in the late 1970’s. In the 50’s, though, Jaffery, who was from Delhi, was a frequent stage actor and did a number of theatre shows all over the city. He soon bagged a scholarship from the British Government which enabled him to go abroad, where he in turn took up theatre more than academics. Jaffery’s sojourn abroad took him to places in Britain and the US, where he became a renowned theatre professional acclaimed worldwide. He went on to do a number of television shows and appeared in Hollywood films such as The Man Who Would Be King and Wilby Conspiracy. It was only after his portrayal of Mir Roshan Ali in Shatranj Ke Khiladi, directed by the ace Satyajit Ray, did Indians wake up to the brilliance this actor. Jaffery was no less than a perfectionist and learnt Urdu only in order to get the diction for the Nawab spot on. In Sir Richard Attenborough’s magnum opus, Gandhi, where he essayed the role of freedom fighter Sardar Patel, won him great critical acclaim. Thereafter he became a regular fixture in Hindi films playing character roles with great aplomb. Some of his more noteworthy roles were in films like Henna, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, Saagar, Masoom, etc.
Jaffery’s first wife Madhur was an actress and author famous for her cookbooks and her daughter Sakina has done a number of Hollywood shows, the most recent being the Netflix Original series, House of Cards. His second wife Jennifer Jaffery issued a public notice confirming the death of this phenomenal talent in London earlier this week. Saeed Jaffery has had an illustrious career and the void left behind in the world of theatre and cinema will be tough to fill.