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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK


Saeed Jaffrey's journey

The actor Saeed Jaffrey, perhaps uniquely, is as successful and famous in the West as he is in his native India.

Jaffrey has had major roles in films such as Ghandi, The Man Who Would be King and My Beautiful Launderette. He has appeared in television versions of The Jewel in The Crown, Tandoori Nights and even the ITV soap opera Coronation Street. In India he is a Bollywood favourite, having played in over 100 films.

In an interview with BBC World's HARDtalk, Saeed Jaffrey talks about his journey from Bollywood to Broadway and on to Britain.

"I always say the quantity is there [in India] but the quality is here in Britain," he says.

"Naughty uncle and rich daddy" parts dominated Jaffrey's Bollywood days, but when the young actor arrived in America to launch his stage career he found that few roles were available.

Saeed Jaffrey describes his meeting with Marlon Brando
Instead Jaffrey became the first Asian actor to tour the US with a Shakespeare company and broke new ground on Broadway, when he appeared alongside Dame Gladys Cooper in a 1958 production of a Passage To India.

Born in India in 1929, the eldest son of a doctor, Jaffrey was fascinated by early screen classics, practising impersonations of their stars for his classmates.

The impersonations got better and after his first break on All India Radio, Jaffrey set up his own English language theatre group in Delhi in 1951.

It was through this group's 1954 performance of The Eagle Has Two Heads that he met and fell "madly" in love with young actress, Madhur Bahadur.

Jaffrey later persuaded Bahadur to cross the Atlantic with him, where he took up his Fulbright scholarship and the couple married and settled in New York.

But, renowned for being a womaniser, Jaffrey says he found "temptation all around" in the city. The relationship ended when the actor was discovered having an affair with a dancer from an Indian troupe.

"Our marriage was like a fragile house of cards" says Jaffrey.

"With the first strong wind that blew, it collapsed."

Bahadur could not forgive her husband's infidelity and left him, taking their three children with her.

Following the break-up and subsequent divorce, Jaffrey moved to England.

The early years in England proved to be a low period for the already accomplished actor and to supplement his work at the BBC's World Service, he took up a job as a sales assistant at Harrods in London.

Jaffrey found the job bearable except for the embarrassing occasions when an old celebrity acquaintance came into the store.

"My former co-star Ingrid Bergman came in one day. I didn't want her to feel sorry for me, so I put on my jacket and tie and acted like a customer," says Jaffrey.

"Ingrid said 'Oh Saeed, how lovely to see you, are you buying up Harrods?' When in fact, I had about two pounds in my pocket."

But the hard times did not last long and Jaffrey soon became the Asian actor that everybody recognised, picking up countless roles on British television and becoming the first Asian actor to be awarded an OBE for his services to drama.

And at age 70, the Saeed Jaffrey shows no signs of slowing down.

"I don't feel it and I don't look it and nobody can believe that I am 70 years young," he says.

"The journey is not over yet."

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