He’s known as a comedian today but he wasn’t always so. Jagdeep, in fact, was a leading man in many AVM productions films like Bhabhi (1957), Barkha (1959) and Bindiya (1960), and was cast opposite Nanda in the first two.
Many popular songs like Paas baitho tabiyat bahal jayegi from Punarmilan (1964), Chal udd ja re panchi and Chali chali re patang, from Bhabhi, were picturised on him. He later became a comedian and went on to act in more than 400 films.
The Partition of India brought forth an exodus of people to Mumbai. Jagdeep, born Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed Jafri on March 29, 1939, was one such unfortunate soul. He came to Mumbai with his mother and took kinds of work to make ends meet. He sold fruit, cutlery on trains and on the street, worked as a waiter and even as a handcart-pusher. His harsh beginnings made him observe life closely — something that came in handy when it came to portraying real-life characters later in films. He was said to be quite resourceful and soon got a small role in BR Chopra’s Afsana (1951). In one of his interviews, Jagdeep described how he was promoted from being paid Rs 3 per day to Rs 6 in his first film itself. His role was that of an extra being played to clap in a scene in the film. “There was a drama scene where children are performing drama. When the scene began the boy who was performing the lead role could not utter the Urdu dialogue. It was in Urdu. Hence I volunteered to act the scene and did it with ease. Chopra saab paid me Rs 6/- per day instead of Rs 3.” He played the young Kishore Kumar in Dhobi Doctor (1952) and later acted under Bimal Roy in Do Bigha Zameen (1953), where he played a shoeshine boy.
He appeared in children’s films like KA Abbas’ Munna (1954), Raj Kapoor produced Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957) and AVM’s Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke (1957), which became quite famous. His role reportedly won him praise from the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who is said to have gifted him a walking stick. The film went on to win the Best Children’s Film trophy at the National Awards.
As said earlier, AVM took him under their wing and launched him as a hero, but none of his films, barring Bhabhi, which was a big hit, reportedly made money. He became a character artiste and started specialising in comedic roles.
Jagdeep first became famous as a comedian in the Shammi Kapoor starrer Brahmachari (1968). He played Murli Manohar in the film and became quite popular for his mannerisms. His most famous role perhaps as a comedian in that of Soorma Bhopali from Sholay (1975). His line Hamara naam Soorma Bhopali aise hi nahi hai became hugely famous.
Salim-Javed, who wrote the film, both are from Madhya Pradesh and helped him get the Bhopali accent right, though Jagdeep, who was said to be a master of improvisation, brought in his own cadence and mannerisms while speaking the dialogue and made the character memorable. Years later, in 1988, he tried to cash-in on the popularity of his character by producing and directing a film called Soorma Bhopali. Despite having special appearances from stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Rekha, Danny Denzongpa, Farooque Shaikh, and many other friends of the actor, the film didn’t make it big at the box-office.
His other memorable roles include playing Mithun Chakraborty’s informant in Surakksha (1979), Muhammed Ali, a spoof on the famous boxer in Feroz Khan’s Qurbani (1980), Taarachand Baadlani in Shahenshah (1988), Bankelal Bhopali, an extension of his Sholay character in Andaz Apna Apna (1994), playing Salman Khan’s father, and Subedar Ramaiyah in China Gate (1998), where he brought comic relief to the otherwise heavy-duty action film. His role in Qurbani became so much popular that a mock fight between him and the actual Muhammed Ali was reportedly arranged in America to organise funds for a mosque.
Jagdeep is said to have married thrice. His first wife was Naseem Begam with whom he had a son named Hussein, who passed away in 2009 and two daughters named Suraiya and Shakira. He then married Sughra Begam with whom he had two sons Javed Jaffrey and Naved Jaffrey. He also married Nazima with whom he has a daughter named Muskaan Jaffrey. Javed became a successful actor known for his dancing skills, while Naved became a successful TV producer.
Javed’s son Meezaan Jaffrey has continued his grandfather’s and father’s legacy and was launched by Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Malaal (2019).
Jagdeep passed away at 8.30 pm on July 8, 2020, at his residence in Bandra. He was not keeping well due to age-related issues. He was 81.