Saeed Jaffrey, veteran star of Bollywood and British cinema, has died at the age of 86. News of the actor’s death was shared by his niece Shaheen Aggarwal on her Facebook page on Sunday. In a career that spanned more than half a century, Jaffrey made almost 200 screen appearances, working with directors including John Huston, James Ivory, David Lean, Richard Attenborough and Stephen Frears. He was probably best known to Western cinema audiences for his roles in Gandhi, The Man Who Would Be King, A Passage to India and My Beautiful Launderette, but he had a long and distinguished Bollywood career, notably in Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili and Indra Kumar’s Dil. He also starred in Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players. Jaffrey appeared regularly on the British small screen, his credits including Gangsters, The Jewel in the Crown, Common as Muck, and in 1999, shop-keeper Ravi Desai on Coronation Street. Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, was among the first to pay his condolences, praising Jaffrey’s “flair and versatility” as an actor.
Born in Maler Kotla, Punjab in 1929, Jaffrey studied history to post-graduate level before embarking on a life in the theatre that took him from Delhi, where he founded his own English language company, Unity theatre, to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. After visiting the US on a Fulbright scholarship in the late 1950s, he returned with Unity to tour Shakespeare – the first Indian actor-director and company to do so. Jaffrey was also the first Indian performer to receive an OBE for his services to drama in the UK. “All the great films I saw in India,” he told the Guardian in 2000. “My brother and I would put the clock in the dining room forward by an hour, and when it was eight o’clock but the clock said nine o’clock, we would say: ‘We’re so hungry, can’t we eat now?’ Then we would yawn and go to our bedroom, put the pillows underneath the quilts, and bugger off to see all the wonderful films the cinemas were showing ... 90 films in six months, and that would be my education in film and acting.” Jaffrey was twice married, first to cookery and travel writer Madhur Jaffrey, with whom he had three daughters, and later to his second wife Jennifer. “Today, a generation of Jaffreys has passed away,” wrote his niece on Facebook, before sharing a recent animation narrated by Jaffrey to showcase her uncle’s melifluous voice. “Now this is how English should be spoken. Go on! Give your children a listen,” she wrote. “The entire Jaffrey Family bids you, ‘adieu’, you beautiful, beautiful man.”