Saeed Jaffrey, a prominent figure in British and Indian culture who starred in more than 150 films – including Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning “Gandhi” and John Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King” – has died after a brain haemorrhage at 86.
A statement from Jaffrey Associates said he passed away in the early hours of November 14. He had collapsed at his London home from a brain haemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He leaves behind his wife Jennifer, who was at his side.
Jaffrey’s funeral will be held in London in around two weeks, the statement said.
He earned fame for the prolific and versatile roles he played in Hollywood and Indian films, and personally knew a large number of actors, playwrights and others in the television and film industries in Britain.
Jaffrey was the first Indian performer to receive an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to drama in the UK in 1995.
While Jaffrey gained popularity in Indian films, his refined performances in English theatre and Hollywood films are less known. He formed his own English theatre company in New Delhi, and played leads in productions of Shakespeare, Wilde, Priestley, Fry, Dylan Thomas and Tennessee Williams, before moving to Britain and the US.
He went to America as a Fulbright scholar to obtain a master’s degree in drama. He became the first Indian actor to tour and perform Shakespeare across the US, and the first to appear in a major role on Broadway, playing Professor Godbole in “A Passage To India” opposite Dame Gladys Cooper.
He was also prolific and versatile on radio, including writing and broadcasting hundreds of scripts in Hindi, Urdu and English for BBC World Service. In 1997, the World Service broadcast Saeed’s rendering of Vikram Seth’s novel “A Suitable Boy” in 20 episodes.
He also recorded the Indian classics Shakuntala and Savitri and again narrated and played all the characters. The late columnist Khushwant Singh described it as “a touch of genius”.
Jaffrey, who was active in Bollywood films till 2011, had a short stint with All India Radio in the 1950s. Not many are aware that when he moved to Britain, he took up a job as a salesman at Harrods to supplement his income.
The actor married twice and has three daughters from his first wife Madhur. His second wife Jennifer is a casting agent.
He was honoured with Filmfare Awards for his performances in “Heena”, “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” and Satyajit Ray’s “Shatranj Ke Khiladi”.
Saeed’s niece shared an interview of the actor on Facebook and wrote, “Today, a generation of Jaffreys has passed away. Saeed Jaffrey has joined his brothers and sister and is rejoicing in the lap of his Heavenly Father, eternally.”