Saeed Jaffrey OBE was an Indian-British actor whose knowledge of multiple languages allowed him to work in radio, stage, film and television all across America, Britain, and India. His voice and ability to mimic well enabled him to narrate several audio books. Before kicking off his acting career, he attended multiple colleges and universities including Aligarh Muslim University, Wynberg Allen School, St. George's College, and Catholic University of America. He became Britain's highest-profile Asian actor during the 1980s and 1990s after playing leading roles in the drama series ‘Tandoori Nights,’ ‘Little Napoleons,’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown.’ Jaffrey broke into India’s major film industry, Bollywood, with the movie ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ and earned a Filmfare award for his performance. He later went on to work in several other Hindi films. The incredibly talented Jaffrey was the first Asian to earn Canadian and British film award nominations. He was also awarded an OBE for his contribution to drama, the first ever Asian to receive this honour.
Childhood & Early Life
Saeed Jaffrey was born on January 8, 1929, in Malerkotla, Punjab region in British India, to Punjabi Muslim parents Dr. Hamid Hussain and his wife Hamida Begum. His father served as a physician in United Provinces of British India’s Health Services department. He had three siblings, sister Shagufta and brothers Hameed and Waheed.
In 1938, he enrolled at Minto Circle School at Aligarh Muslim University where he mastered the Urdu language and also developed his talent for mimicry.
In 1941, he studied at Wynberg Allen School and later graduated from St. George's College, Mussoorie. At his schools, Jaffrey started participating in school theatrical productions.
Following his graduation from college, he earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Allahabad University. He later earned his second postgraduate degree from Catholic University of America in the year 1957.
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In 1951, Saeed Jaffrey flew to New Delhi and got the job of an English announcer at All India Radio. Later that year, he set up the repertory company, Unity Theatre, alongside 'Benji' Benegal and Frank Thakurdas, whose first production with ‘The Eagle Has Two Heads’.
At Unity Theatre, he and his first wife Madhur Bahadur acted together in numerous plays including ‘A Phoenix Too Frequent,’ ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ and ‘Othello.’
In 1957, Jaffrey joined St. Michael’s Playhouse and also toured with the National Players, becoming the first ever Indian to perform in Shakespearean plays across USA.
He played a role in the Off-Broadway production of ‘Blood Wedding’ in 1958. In 1960, the actor provided the narration for the Oscar-nominated short movie ‘The Creation of Woman’.
From January to May 1962, he played Professor Godbole in a stage adaption of ‘A Passage to India’. Two years later, Jaffrey developed the touring company Theater In The Street and starred in ‘The Doctor Despite Himself.’
He became the first Indian to have a starring role in West End theatre when he was cast in ‘On A Foggy Day’. In 1966, he recorded a narration of the Kama Sutra titled ‘The Art of Love.’
During the 1970s, the actor appeared in several English films including ‘The Wilby Conspiracy’ and ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ and also appeared in the British series ‘Gangsters’.
In the 1980s, he had roles in the British drama series ‘Tandoori Nights’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown’. During this time period, he also featured in the epic historical flick ‘Gandhi’ and in the comedy drama movie ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’.
In 1994, Jaffrey starred in the serial ‘Little Napoleons’ alongside Norman Beaton, Lesley Manville and Simon Callow. Three years later, he lent his voice to all 86 characters in the broadcast of Vikram Seth's novel, ‘A Suitable Boy’.
In 1977, Saeed Jaffrey garnered popularity in India when he appeared in ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ and later received the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance.
In 1985, he earned much fame with his role of Kunj Bihari in the film ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’. Starring Mandakini and Rajiv Kapoor, the movie was the highest grossing Hindi movie of that year. Jaffrey’s performance received appreciation from the audience and also earned him a Filmfare Award nomination.
Family & Personal Life
From 1958 to 1964, Saeed Jaffrey was married to Madhur Jaffrey. The couple had three daughters: Meera, Zia and Sakina (an actress).
In 1980, the actor married freelance casting director Jennifer Sorrell. The two remained married until Jaffrey’s death in 2015.
On 15 November 2015, Jaffrey died at a London hospital from a brain haemorrhage.