‘BR Chopra happened to find him [Jagdeep], and decided to cast him in his directorial debut Afsana (1951). After that film, there was no looking back.’
When I interviewed Javed Jaffrey for his Netflix Original film Maska earlier this year, the actor opened up on the legacy of his father Jagdeep. After the veteran actor passed away on Thursday, it made me revisit the live interaction I had with Javed in March, days before the coronavirus lockdown was put in place.
“My father was on the roads after Partition happened. He was looking for work, so that he could get shelter and food. He was a young boy at that time,” said Javed. “BR Chopra happened to find him, and decided to cast him in his directorial debut Afsana (1951). After that film, one role fell into his lap after the other, and there was no looking back.”
Jagdeep went on to appear in a few more films in the capacity of a child artist, like Laila Majnu (1959), where he played the young Majnu. He went on to make a career out of comedic roles in popular films like Ramesh Sippy’s 1975 classic Sholay (Soorma Bhopali), Feroz Khan’s 1980 action film Qurbani, Tinnu Anand’s 1988 vigilante movie Shahenshah, and Rajkumar Santoshi’s 1994 cult comedy Andaz Apna Apna.
“He was mentored by directors like Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, K Asif, V Shantaram, and Mehboob Khan. He didn’t have a father as he passed away before he came to Mumbai after Partition, when he was just nine years old,” said Javed, who feels he has also inherited the multiculturalism from his father. “I grew up in Bandra, which was very multicultural. I had a Parsi girl tieing rakhi to me, two Hindu girls tieing rakhi to me, a Christian best friend, and a Sardar best friend among other close relations.”
But he feared this bonding that cuts across religions and sects is fading away now, owing to the Citizenship Amendement Act, that came into effect earlier this year, and the National Register of Citizens. “I just want to say man, this isn’t what I grew up with.” He lamented the fact that many in the current generation, like his actor-son Meezaan, may not be able to experience the same fusion of cultures his father and him got a taste of.
Javed added that the film industry has remained very fair and generous to his family. “It’s the place which gave my father everything. Even if I wouldn’t have reaped its benefits, I’d still be very grateful to them (the industry).” He claimed while nepotism has become the focal point of all the debate around the industry, he acknowledges it can only get you that first break. “Agar tum lambi race ke ghode ho toh tum daudoge,” he said in his trademark Takeshi Castlesque style.
“See, I was always passionate about dance. Unlike my father, I didn’t grow up on film sets acting. (Subhash) Ghai sahab had an eye for faces and talent. After he signed me for Meri Jung (1985), directors kept offering me work, and I took up most of it because why not?” Javed, however, admitted there is not a dearth of ‘delusional’ star-kids in the business. “There are some actors who try very hard to use their fathers’ leverage in the industry to get roles, but many of them are delusional. I never got the opportunity to think about that stuff, because I kept getting work. Kabhi ‘maska’ nahi lagana pada,” he said, pointing at the bun-maska he was about to bite into.
He added that it was very different for Meezaan since he was spotted by Sanjay Leela Bhansali at a party. “Bhansali just saw him at one of the parties, called him, and told him, ‘You’re a star.'” After Meezan debuted with Malaal last year, a film that did not do commercially well, he has signed only one film in Priyadarshan’s ensemble comedy Hungama 2, probably following into the footsteps of his grandfather, a seasoned comedian.
When I asked Javed if his father had any sound advice to offer to both him and Meezan, he replied promptly, “I’m sure he had many words of wisdom. But I don’t think we needed any. His fantastic career was an example in itself. What he did on screen was, and remains, our biggest source of inspiration. And that helped us much more than any kind of ‘access’ could.”
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