Farrukh Jaffar (1935-2021) was a veteran Indian actress who is best known for being the first announcer of Akashvani Lucknow. She is also known for her improvised acting skills in many popular Bollywood films such as Umrao Jaan (1981), Swades (2004), Peepli Live (2010), Sultan (2016), and Gulabo Sitabo (2020). She died in October 2021 after she suffered a brain stroke at the age of 88.
Farrukh Jaffar was born in 1935 (age 88 years; at the time of death) in Chakesar village, district Jaunpur, United Provinces of British India (now, Uttar Pradesh, India). Growing up in a feudal family in Jaunpur, Jaffar inclined towards art and literature at a very early age. Since childhood, she was passionate about watching films, and she was always updated on new releases. After getting married at the age of thirteen, she gave birth to two daughters. When Jaffar came to Lucknow from the rural suburbs as a teenage bride, with her charming ways, she became very dear to her in-laws. While in Lucknow, Jaffar graduated from Lucknow University. Although she did what every Indian woman does, like cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, she always had a spark for performing arts, which led her to become one of the most versatile method actresses in India.
Farrukh Jaffar belonged to a Muslim family of feudal lords (Zamindars) of Jaunpur. She got married to Syed Muhammad Jaffar in 1948. Syed Muhammad Jaffar was an Indian freedom fighter and eminent journalist who later became Congress Party’s Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) in Uttar Pradesh. Jaffar is survived by two daughters, Mehru Jaffer, who is a published author and journalist, and Shaheen, who runs a school.
It was the early ’60s, Jaffar had just graduated from Lucknow University, and by chance, she landed the job of an announcer at All India Radio Lucknow in 1963. Jaffar accompanied one of her friends to the radio station for an audition, and after seeing the recording room, mic, and studio, Jaffar became so fascinated that she asked GM Shaw, a family friend who was the then producer, whether she could also give the audition, and after the audition, she was selected on the spot along with Parveen Talha and one Mr Sinha, and the rest is history. Farrukh Jaffar went on to become the first announcer of Akashvani Lucknow. While talking about it in an interview, she said,
Don’t know why people address me as the first female radio announcer. I was the first when Vividh Bharti station began in Lucknow. Along with Parveen Talha and one Sinhaji, we were selected in the first lot.”
While working as an announcer at Akashvani Lucknow, she wrote several plays and enacted those roles on air. One of her most popular shows ‘Geeton Bhari Kahani’ was an amalgamation of fiction and Bollywood songs. Jaffar’s other show ‘Panchrangi program’ also became very popular, and Jaffar became a household name with her one-liner –
“Aap ab suniye all india radio ka panchrangi program akashwani”
Jaffar worked in Akashvani Lucknow till 1966, and later, she moved to Delhi where her husband had taken up a job as a correspondent with the Chicago Daily News followed by The Washington Post. Jaffar’s intense love for drama and film landed her at Vividh Bharti in Delhi, where she met Manzoor Lamin (the station director), who immediately offered a job, and she joined the Vividh Bharti at Delhi’s All India Radio. Soon, she was promoted as a senior most anchor in the Urdu External Services, she worked there till 1970. Due to some family reasons, she quit her job at AIR Delhi and returned to her hometown. In an interview, she talked about this. She said,
Delhi humko raas nahi aai. Kuch gharelu masle the…So, I had to go my mother in Chakesar (Jaunpur) to sort out things in my nanihal (maternal grandmother’s house).”
Theatres & Plays
Farrukh Jaffar attended a few acting workshops by Ebrahim Alkazi, one of the most famous directors from Delhi’s National School of Drama and one of the most influential stage directors and drama teachers of the 20th century. Under Ebrahim Alkazi’s tutelage, Jaffar enacted the role of a mother in the Urdu translation of Luigi Pirandello’s Italian play ‘Six Characters in search of an Author.’
Farrukh Jaffar is also known for her work in many popular television shows such as ‘Husn-e-Jana,’ ‘Adha Gaon,’ ‘The Shawl,’ and ‘Neem Ka Ped’ (1991).
Farrukh Jaffar began her Bollywood career in 1981 when she played the character of Rekha‘s mother in Umrao Jaan. She landed the role by chance when she was emulating Purdil Kaka, a man from Jaffar’s village who used to talk in a ‘dehati’ (rustic) dialect by referring to people with unique names like Karia,’ ‘Bachwa,’ and ‘Banmanus.’ While improvising Purdil Kaka’s accent in her own way at a family gathering, she was spotted by Muzzaffar Ali who instantly offered her a role in his film Umrao Jaan. Initially, she was sceptical about making a career in Bollywood, but her intense love for Bollywood films led her to decide to give acting a shot. In an interview, she uttered her most favourite dialogue from Umrao Jaan –
जाने क्या ढूँढती रहती है ये आँखें …. मुझ राख के ढेर में न शोले हैं न चिंगारी”
After her debut in Umrao Jaan, she was offered Swades (2004) 23 years later. In Swades, her role as ‘Panch Fatima Bi’ received critical acclaims. In an interview, while talking about Swades, Jaffar fondly remembered a famous dialogue of her from the film –
उस छोकरे से कहना, बर्फ का मुकद्दर होता है अपनी ही पानी में पिघल जाना”
After Swades, there was no looking back, and she went on to appear in many popular Bollywood films, such as Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live, Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh, Salman Khan‘s Sultan, and Kangana Ranaut starring Tanu Weds Manu. She also won critical acclaims for films like Parched (2015), Barefoot to Goa (2013), and Amma Ki Boli (2012). In 2013, she appeared in the film ‘Anwar Ka Ajab Qissa’ alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui; the film was directed by eminent poet, essayist, novelist, and filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Among all her performances, Farrukh Jaffar is best known for her character ‘Amma’ in Peepli Live. The Amma’s character smokes beedi and utters abuses, making it one of the most adored characters from the film.
For the role of ‘Amma’ in Peepli Live, she was also nominated for the Apsara Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Farrukh has worked in many more notable films such as The House Next Door (2017), Secret Superstar (2017), and Photograph (2019). In 2019, she was roped in Sandeep Kumar’s film “Mehrunissa,” which became her first film as a protagonist.
Farrukh Jaffar received rave reviews for her performance in the Bollywood film Gulabo Sitabo in which she appeared as ‘Begum’ alongside megastar Amitabh Bachchan.
On 15 October 2021, Farrukh Jaffar, at the age of 88, took her last breath after she suffered a brain stroke at her residence in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow.
- Farrukh Jaffar was also known by the names Farrukh Jaffer and Farrokh Jaffer.
- When she came to Lucknow as a teenage bride, she used to secretly go to the rooftop to hear the loudspeaker on the jeep announcing the arrival of the latest films as in those times, brides were not allowed to go on rooftops or streets. Once, in the process, she accidentally dropped a brick that fell on her 8-year-old brother-in-law’s head.
- She did her studies post-marriage and graduated from Lucknow University.
- Jaffar’s job as an announcer at All India Lucknow was a breakthrough in her life.
- She began her career as a radio announcer purely as a hobby as she was very talkative, and she loved to interact with people.
- When Jaffar started her career as a radio announcer in Lucknow, her young voice and charisma appealed the masses.
- She was in awe of Lucknow city, where she spent more than five decades of her life. While talking about Lucknow, once she quoted –
I have lived in ‘Naya’ Lucknow all my life, away from the Old City — Hazratganj, 40-odd years in Lawrence Terrace and now Gomti Nagar…tab to yahan kuch bhi nahi tha!”
- Although Farrukh Jaffar had no formal training, she was an A1 category announcer in India during the 1960s and ’70s.
- After quitting her job at AIR Delhi, she became the head woman of Chakesar village in the Jaunpur district, where she got an opportunity to interact with people and resolving their day-to-day disputes.
- She had a very close bonding with the popular Bollywood actress Rekha who played Jaffar’s daughter’s role in Umaro Jaan. During a private party in Mumbai, Rekha introduced Jaffar to everyone present at the event and told them –
Ye meri asli maa hai.”
- She considered Muzaffar Ali as her godfather who spotted her talent and offered her a role in her debut film, Umrao Jaan.
- Reportedly, she never knocked the doors of any filmmaker nor she ever had a PRO doing so.
- Farrukh was known for her extempore dialogues, which had a rustic charm and had become her speciality and trademark.