NEW DELHI– Multifaceted India-born British actor Saeed Jaffrey’s love for cinema can be judged through his inspirational journey from a theatre proprietor here to becoming one of the most versatile and effervescent artists across the globe. Among his other achievements, he was the first Indian actor to stage plays by English-language masters including William Shakespeare.
Saeed died in London late on Saturday morning. He was 86.
He was married to co-actress and travel writer Mehrunima (Madhur Jaffrey), but they parted ways in 1965. Together they have three daughters Meera, Zia and Sakina – who is also an actress.
Saeed later married casting director Jennifer Irene Sorrell in 1980.
His niece Shaheen Aggarwal took to her Facebook account to share the news.
In a response to one of her posts, she wrote: “This is a message from my aunt for all you kind people: ‘My darling husband Saeed died very peacefully on Saturday morning, in London, following a very sudden brain haemorrhage. I will miss Saeed enormously (we had been together forty-one years!) but I am comforted by the fact he had a wonderful life and a wonderful death. Thank you all for your kind wishes – Jennifer Jaffrey'”.
Born in Malerkotla, Punjab, in 1929 in a Punjabi Muslim family, Saeed embarked on his career by starting up a theatre company called Unity Theatre in New Delhi in late 1950s.
He went on to found his own English language company, Unity Theatre, at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. He also staged plays by English-language masters including William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, thus making him first Indian actor to do so.
Thereafter, he went on to join filmdom and carved out his own niche in the industry through his powerful performances in films like “Shatranj Ke Khilari”, “Chashme Buddoor”, “Masoom”, “Mandi”, “Mashaal”, “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”, “Chaalbaaz”, “Ram Lakhan” and “Deewana Mastana”.
Saeed was best known to the international audience for his roles in films like “Gandhi”, “The Man Who Would Be King”, “A Passage to India”, “The Horsemen” and “The Wilby Conspiracy”, among others. He appeared regularly on the British small screen in shows like “Gangsters”, “The Jewel in the Crown”, “Common as Muck” and “Coronation Street”.
He has worked with many well-known Indian and international filmmakers like Shekhar Kapur, Shyam Benegal, Raj Kapoor, Subhash Ghai, John Huston, James Ivory, David Lean, Richard Attenborough and Stephen Frears.
Saeed was among the first Asian actors to receive British and Canadian Academy Awards nominations. Among many honours and awards, Saeed was conferred with the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to drama, the first Indian to be honoured with the same.
It was Saeed’s simplistic yet charming and inspirational personality that he showcased onscreen through his various characters, which made his fans and personalities across various fields “sad”.
Many big dignitaries including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bollywood stars like Rishi Kapoor, Madhur Bhandarkar and Anupam Kher paid homage to the “fabulous” actor on Twitter on Monday.
A post on the official PMO Twitter handle about Saeed’s demise read: “Saeed Jaffrey was a multifaceted actor whose flair and versatility will always be remembered. Deepest condolences on his passing away.”
Mamata Banerjee and Shivraj Singh Chouhan called Saeed’s demise “End of an era” and a “big loss to the film industry”.