When actor Dilip Kumar asked his friend, popular comedian Agha to let his son Jalal play the iconic role of young Jahangir in K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam, the veteran actor refused. Kumar, who wasn’t used to taking no for an answer, smuggled Jalal Agha to the sets and cast him as a younger version of perhaps his most memorable character on the silver screen.
When Agha Senior finally found out, he wasn’t too angry about it, but the young actor had his father escorted off the sets because he felt uncomfortable working in his father’s presence. His father had excused his disobedience once, but this behaviour was enough to make him livid.
But that was Jalal Agha, always seeking to carve out his own identity, away from his father’s shadow.
As an adult, he would pass on roles if they didn’t come to him on his own merit. One such instance was the movie Farz, a part that he politely declined upon learning he had got it at his father’s behest. “My brother and I sometimes hated when our identities were reduced to Agha’s children,” his sister Shahnaz tells ThePrint.
A people’s person
Born on 11 July 1945 to popular comedian-actor Agha and his wife Masoom, Jalal Agha was the couple’s only son among four children and was pampered by his doting mother and sisters. Agha studied in a boarding school in Pune and then at The Scindia School in Gwalior. He graduated in acting from FTII, Pune.
Shahnaz remembers her brother as funny, kind, extrovert and an extremely humble person. She recalls how the actor had so many friends that he maintained two separate diaries of contact numbers. “After his death, when we were going through his belongings, I found two diaries, one maintained contact details of friends from India, and the other had contacts of friends from abroad.”
Shahnaz remembers the summer vacations she spent with him, the only time he’d be home for really long — when head massages, his favourite food and endless pampering would be waiting for him.
He was married to model Valerie Pereira with whom he had two kids — renowned restaurateur Saleem Christopher Agha Bee (of Goa’s Sublime fame) and Vanessa Feuerstein. They got divorced in 1983, barely eight years after getting married.
Mehbooba O Mehbooba and other milestones
Agha acted in more than 60 movies and directed two. His debut as an adult was Bambai Raat Ki Baahon Mein (1967), a crime thriller. Other popular roles include Salim in Yaadon ki Baarat, Julie’s lover Richard in Julie and, of course, his small yet unforgettable appearance as the enthusiastic rubab player and singer in Mehbooba O Mehbooba in Sholay (1975).
He also ventured into direction and screenplay writing. “He founded his own production house, Maja Films, and started by directing ads and TV serials like Mr Ya Mrs in 1987 and Kahkashan, a serial on six modern Urdu and Islamic poets, in 1991,” says Shahnaz.
Unfortunately, his first feature film, Nirvaan, never released due to a feud over credits between producers. “When I saw Nirvaan, I was moved to tears and was pleasantly surprised to see my brother could write and direct something so beautiful,” Shahnaz tells ThePrint, her voice still brimming with pride.
Agha’s second film Goonj (1989) was a portrayal of the communal violence that had gripped the country back in the 1980s. Though the film garnered some nods from the youth then, it tanked at the box office.
An untimely death
Jalal Agha died of a heart attack on 5 March 1995. He was only 49 years old then. His father had passed away two years earlier, also due to a heart attack, making Agha’s death all the more traumatic for his family.
His sister remembers how, later, it felt as if Agha had seen it coming. “His friends demanded a huge celebration for his upcoming 50th birthday, to which he responded ‘Kal kisne dekha hai, pehle kal toh aane do‘ (Who knows what might happen tomorrow, let tomorrow come first). He passed away the next day.”