Interview Hindi

Extempore has always been Daddy’s trump card: Naved Jaffrey on his father Jagdeep

On Jagdeep's 79th birthday (he was born on 29 March 1939), his son and well-known television director Naved Jaffrey speaks about his father’s interesting journey from extreme poverty to fame.

Keyur Seta

Think of veteran actor Jagdeep and the first thing that comes to mind is the character Soorma Bhopali from the cult classic Sholay (1975) accompanied by his antics while delivering his lines.

Those not belonging to the Sholay generation will remember him from another cult comedy — Andaz Apna Apna (1994). However, though these are his best-known roles, they don't even form the tip of the iceberg as far as his body of work is concerned.

Jagdeep, the romantic hero – Birthday special!

Born on 29 March 1939 as Ishtiaq Ahmed Jafri, the actor now popularly known by his screen name Jagdeep began his film career in the early 1950s. He was active in films until recently and has an impressive 400 titles in his filmography.

After starting off as a child artiste in BR Chopra’s Afsana (1951), Jagdeep returned as a hero and ultimately became one of the renowned comedians of mainstream Hindi cinema.

On his 79th birthday, his son and well-known television director Naved Jaffrey spoke of his father’s interesting journey from extreme poverty to fame. Excerpts from the conversation:

Naved Jaffrey

How would you describe him as an actor?

What to say, he has been working since he was a child. He has worked with some of the biggies. He believed in original acting by bringing out his own style. When people make his signature sound from his character Soorma Bhopali in Sholay, everybody knows it is Jagdeep’s style.

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It’s very difficult to create your own style. If that happens, people start copying, and when that happens, it means the actor is successful. Just like how Mithunda [Mithun Chakraborty], Rajesh Khanna, Dilip saheb [Dilip Kumar], Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have created their own styles. 

He started off as a child actor, then became the hero, followed by comedian and character artiste. Hence, he has played all kinds of roles — child, son, lover, father. He had such a wide spectrum in acting. Only someone starring in olden films can achieve this. 

He is turning 79. He has been working since he was nine, which means he started working 70 years ago! Actually, after Dilip saheb, I think he is the oldest living legend among actors who has seen all this. 

As Soorma Bhopali in Sholay (1975)

He had to struggle after arriving in Bombay after Partition...

He came from the street. He used to sell soap and agarbatti [incense sticks]. He had no place to stay. He used to sleep on the road with his mother and grandmother. During the monsoon, they used to cover themselves with the mattress [on which they slept]. He saw real people there. He got inspired by these people and played them as characters on screen. For example, he played an Irani restaurant owner in a film, [inspired by a character] he had seen in real life. He played many such real-life characters. He used to decide which character would fit where. This provided reality and newness to the audience. 

There is an interesting story on how he bagged his first role, as a child artist, in BR Chopra's Afsana (1951)...

He used to do odd jobs, but that wasn’t enough for a living. His friend suggested he should work on a film set, where they could earn Re1 a day. He was amazed to know that, as Re1 was a big amount then. So, he used to walk from Mahim to Ranjit Studio [in Dadar] and wait to get some work.

The film [being shot was] was Afsana, which was BR Chopra’s first film. And it was my daddy’s first film too. Which means their filmi age is the same!

Revisiting BR Chopra’s directorial debut, Afsana

Yash Chopra saheb was the assistant. A few kids were part of the audience [in a scene]. But none of them knew how to utter a line like ‘Baa-adab ba-mulaeza hoshiyar... [an announcement for attention before a royal person enters]’. The makers of the film announced that the person who utters this dialogue will get Rs2. As Daddy’s background was Urdu, he instantly volunteered and said, ‘Main bolunga, main bolunga [I will say it!]’ He was taught the line and he said it. He was the darbaan [gatekeeper cum usher in a court] in the scene. 

Barkha was Jagdeep's first film as a hero.

When you and your brother Javed were kids, were you aware that your father is a well-known actor?

We were very simple at home. We knew about his star status. People used to approach him for autographs when we used to go out. There were no mobile phones, cameras then. If somebody had a camera, he or she used to click a picture. Very few people had it. But people used to take autographs and shake hands. So we were aware about his status. But we used to live a simple life.

Even after we grew up to be 8-10-year-olds, he used to ask us to travel by bus or train. We used to hang out and also play cricket on the street. We were just like any other kid on the block. 

Jagdeep in Phir Wahi Raat (1980)

Can you recall some experiences he shared with you?

He always used to do that. For example, he shared his experience with Do Bigha Zamin (1953), where he played Lalu Ustad. Bimalda [Bimal Roy, the director of the film], had asked him to learn shoe-polishing. Dad observed the real shoe-polishers.

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He came on the sets and confidently showed how they polish shoes. Bimalda liked it, but he asked him to tap his brush on his box and make a ‘tak tak’ sound after he is done with the polishing. That was the director’s touch.

Bimalda was such a fine director. My dad had uttered a poetic line in a scene, which was extempore. He created it on the set, which delighted Bimalda. He said, ‘Tune poora scene utha diya [You lifted the scene]!’ He lifted him and presented a token amount to Dad. 

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Extempore has always been Daddy’s trump card. In almost every scene of his, he does something extempore. And he will do it differently in different scenes; if it wasn’t okay in one take, he will do something else in the next take. 

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Not many may know that your father also acted in Bimal Roy’s Dhobi Doctor (1954) where, interestingly, he played the younger Kishore Kumar and Asha Parekh played the younger Usha Kiran.

He did that film when he was staying in Mahim and he played it well. Kishoreda was quite new and was considered a serious actor then. He hadn't been stamped as a comedian yet. He had started off as a serious actor. It was later that he started doing comedy.

In an old interview, your father said that out of all the 400-plus films he did, Barkha (1959) will always remain special. What is the reason?

Barkha was his first film as a solo hero. He has even fought a bull in the film. Dad was thin then. So AVM Productions made him do a lot of exercises. Nandaji was the heroine. It had a wonderful song, ‘Pyar Kiya Nahin Jata’.

In those days, only the women used to dance, mostly. But Dad also danced in it. He had good rhythm and was enthusiastic too. We always used to tell him that he is too enthusiastic. That enthusiasm has been passed on to Javed (laughs).

A scene from Andaz Apna Apna (1994)

As we all know, his act as Soorma Bhopali in Sholay is immortal. How close was the character to him personally?

Yes, it is very close to his heart. Actually, he wasn’t going to do the film. He had gone to meet [the filmmaker Ramesh Sippy] but something happened and he decided not to do it. He called Mummy while he was returning. She said, 'Just do the film, it’s no big deal.'

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On the sets of Sholay, Javed [Akhtar] saheb used to teach him how to say the lines. Even the sound his character makes was taught by Javed saheb. Dad realized that Bhopalis don’t speak this way. Javed saheb said he was right; Bhopali women speak this way. My father liked it. So, the way he speaks in the film is actually the way in which Bhopali women speak!

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Those who grew up in the 1990s know your father through his act as Bankelal Bhopali in Andaz Apna Apna (1994). 

[Director] Rajkumar Santoshi’s father PL Santoshi was a well-known director of the old era. He was my father’s close friend. He used to visit our place often and we would have a meal together. We were kids then. So, Rajkumar also considers Dad very close. He casts him in almost all his films.

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The character [in Andaz Apna Apna] just worked well. The film has Salman Khan, who is our childhood friend. They all worked freely so the scenes came out so well. 

Why did he change his name from Ishtiaq Ahmed Jafri to Jagdeep?

When he entered the industry, somebody asked what name he would like to keep for himself. That was the trend then and it was normal. He was told that it should be a filmi name. So he just chose Jagdeep. Just like how Dilip Kumar, Raaj Kumar did. 

Given his long career and experiences, don’t you think you or your brother should write a book on him?

We are doing that. We are working on it currently.