{ Page-Title / Story-Title }

Article Hindi

Jagdeep (1939–2020): Effortless comedian behind some of Hindi cinema’s most iconic characters

The actor and comedian worked in over 400 films in a career that lasted more than six decades.

Sonal Pandya

Jagdeep. The name was synonymous with comedy, though the talented actor could tackle any scene that was thrown his way. The veteran, who made his film debut in the early 1950s, died aged 81 yesterday, 8 July, in Mumbai. He hadn’t appeared in a film since Gali Gali Chor Hai (2012), but he is still remembered for his evergreen characters from Lalu Ustad in Do Bigha Zamin (1953) to Soorma Bhopali in Sholay (1975).

The actor was born on 29 March 1939 as Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed Jafri in Datia in what is today Madhya Pradesh. After the death of his barrister father, his mother brought him to Bombay as a seven-year-old. With Partition looming and trouble in many parts of the country, the family was devastated and the child Ishtiaq took on odd jobs like selling soap, kites and incense sticks to help his mother make ends meet.

Eventually, as a nine-year-old, he landed on a film set hoping to be an extra in a crowd for a scene involving a children’s play, earning Rs3 for the day. The film was BR Chopra’s directorial debut Afsana (1951). On the set there was a need for an extra to say a line in Urdu, for which the pay would be double — Rs6. Jagdeep, who was fluent in the language, raised his hand, and the assistant director, Yash Chopra, asked him to become a darbaan (court usher) in the film.

After making his big-screen debut, the youngster quickly adapted himself to the medium with roles in Footpath (1953) and Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin (1953), in which he played the shoeshine boy Lalu Ustad. There was an earnestness about the lad that was instantly appealing, leading to more roles in films like Aar-Paar (1954), Dhobi Doctor (1954) as a young Kishore Kumar, and Mr & Mrs 55 (1955).

The year 1957 was an important one for Jagdeep with films like Ab Dilli Dur Nahin, Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke and Bhabhi. The AVM production Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke (1957) was directed by 'Honee Anhonee' and PL Santoshi and won the National award for Best Children's Film. The young cast that included Daisy Irani, Mohan Choti and Marutirao Parab were honoured by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru for their work. Nehru ended up giving Jagdeep his walking stick which he treasured till the end.

Jagdeep briefly transitioned to a romantic lead with films like Bhabhi (1957), Baap Bete (1959) and Barkha (1959). But despite his ease on camera, he had found popularity with comedy, and it was to become a genre he would be entwined with for the rest of his life.

Jagdeep continued to do small but important roles in films like Hariyali Aur Rasta (1962), Brahmachari (1968), Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (1970), Apna Desh (1972), Dhoti Lota Aur Chowpatty (1975), Agent Vinod (1977), Purana Mandir (1984) and Saamri (1985).

He was cast again and again by filmmakers because he was able to make comedy look effortless. He had a few familiar mannerisms — the way he emphasized certain words and contorted his face to suit the situation — but the joke always landed. He was able to gauge the scene and make the best of it. “In almost every scene of his, he does something extempore,” his son Naved told Cinestaan.com in 2018.

In his six-decade career on screen, Jagdeep worked in over 400 films. He turned filmmaker once with Soorma Bhopali (1988), multitasking as director, writer, lyricist and editor on his labour of love. The film was based on his iconic character, who told tall tales about Jai and Veeru in Sholay and yet lived to, well, tell the tale. Soorma Bhopali featured special appearances by both Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan but was not the success Jagdeep had hoped it would be and it would always be the Soorma from Sholay who would remain memorable.

Calling himself a people’s actor, Jagdeep had once said in an interview with the web portal rediff.com about his performances, “My comedy will not be appreciated by the elite or by a group of press people who watch a film with a pen in hand. But it will be appreciated by the masses.”

Even as he grew older, he worked steadily as the comic relief into the 1990s, and even into the new millennium. Rajkumar Santoshi, whose father had worked with Jagdeep in the 1950s, cast him in the cult classic Andaz Apna Apna (1994), China Gate (1998) and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009). He worked with all the great directors in Indian cinema from Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt to Vijay Bhatt.

Jagdeep’s sons Jaaved and Naved also became actors, and later hosted the popular dance show Boogie Woogie on television. His grandson Meezaan Jaaferi joined films with Malaal (2019).

Last year, all three generations were on stage as Jagdeep was honoured with the IIFA award for Outstanding Achievement in Indian Cinema. Frailer than usual and in a wheelchair, the actor was still nailing his lines.