'Saeed Jaffrey was one of the few actors who managed to shine in both British movies like Gandhi and Hindi movies like Chashme Buddoor.'
The veteran actor's friends pay tribute to him.
Saeed Jaffrey worked with the broadest possible range of directors from Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khiladi) to Kalpataru (Ghar Ho Toh Aisa).
In the picture: Saeed Jaffrey and Farooq Sheikh in Chashme Buddoor
Deepti Naval worked with him in one of his last films, and is deeply saddened with his passing.
"I remember we were shooting for a film called Ghar Ho Toh Aisa and neither of us were enjoying it," she says. "He was miserable. He told me, 'Enough. I am going back to London. Ab jo hoga woh dekha jayega' (Whatever will happen will happen)."
"Look at his range of work," says fellow actor Om Puri. "It was staggering. He worked with Satyajit Ray, Raj Kapoor, John Huston, Sai Paranjpye, David Lean and Yash Chopra. He enjoyed his work thoroughly, and it showed."
Saeed was born in Punjab and was a natural actor. He started a theatre group in Delhi at an early age and went on to flirt with Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Christopher Fry.
Saeed then made his way to Bollywood in 1972 with a long-forgotten Rehana Sultan-starrer Tanhai. It was Vinod Pandey's Ek Baar Phir that brought Saeed into the attention of Bollywood's big filmmakers.
"Ek Baar Phir was my first film," says Deepti Naval. "I was new to India and Indian cinema (Deepti Naval spent her younger years in New York). So was Saeed. We hit it off instantaneously. He was very protective towards me. Perhaps I came across as vulnerable, and he saw that. He had a fabulous role in Ek Baar Phir. He played an actor."
It was the goodhearted paan-seller Lalan Miyan in Sai Paranjpye's Chashme Buddoor that Saeed obtained maximum recognition in India. It was an instantly likable character and connected with the audience better than any character Saeed had played in India.
"We were shooting in Mumbai where a paan shop had been set up for Saeed's character," Deepti reminisces. "When Saaed arrived, he looked around the crowded area, spotted a man walking by in a lungi with the Taj Mahal printed on it. He decided his character Lalan Miyan would wear that lungi. He made that man take off the lungi and wore it. That's how I'd like to remember Saeed. Vivacious and exuberant as an actor. When he wanted something, he would get it anyhow."
Saeed hit it off instantly with Raj Kapoor, when they worked in Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Their drinking sessions together extended to another film Henna, which was completed after Raj passed away.
Andrew Robinson recalls in his fine book, The Inner Eye, on Satyajit Ray how Saeed accosted Ray at Beirut airport to be part of his cinema. Ray, who knew Saeed as the husband of cuisine queen Madhur Jaffrey, told him to be patient.
The role happened sooner than expected.
Saeed's performance in Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi is regarded by many, including Saeed himself, as his finest ever.
"Zia Mohyuddin and Saeed Jaffrey were the first sub-continental actors to make a mark on the British stage," says Naseruddin Shah appreciatively.
Adds fellow-OBE recipient Gurinder Chadha: "Saeed is a British Asian institution. He was one of the few actors who managed to shine in both British movies like Gandhi and Hindi movies like Chashme Buddoor. The ease with which he performed both roles to perfection is indicative of his breadth of talent."
"I am sure he is up there entertaining the angels with his anecdotes about all the actors and directors he worked with in Bollywood and Hollywood. If I am lucky, I'd feature in one of his anecdotes," says Deepti.