Why Madhur Jaffrey and Michelle Zauner ‘Fell Toward Each Other’

Throughout their careers, neither have followed a single path.

Article by Jason Chen

Japanese BreakfastFrom left: Jaffrey, 89, actress and writer, “An Invitation to Indian Cooking” (1973), and Zauner, 34, singer-songwriter, “Jubilee” (2021), and writer, photographed at 16 Beaver Studio in the financial district of Manhattan on January 9, 2023.

Madhur Jaffrey:

I learned about Michelle through my granddaughter. I read her book [“Crying in H Mart”, 2021] and listened to her music, and I thought she seemed like me. Our relationships to our mothers are in many ways similar — when she said in her book that her mother used to watch QVC [shopping channel] and buy face creams, I thought of my own mother, who would have my sisters and me rub the cow’s milk from our own cows into our faces because she heard that Cleopatra bathed in the milk of an ass for her milky complexion. Our fathers were similar, too: Michelle’s father never took her music seriously, which reminded me of my father, who told the president of India that acting was just my hobby.

I’ve always thought of myself as an actress and nothing else. I feel sometimes that I’m acting the part of a cook. When I was younger, I didn’t want to be like major Hollywood actors — I wanted to be like those Actors Studio ones. Marlon Brando was fabulous to me. That was always my goal. The honesty of certain performers inspired me: it’s very rare, and you can see it in people’s eyes. Their whole body is moving as one because they’re following one true line of thought. 

That’s why I was drawn to Michelle. I see a wonderful young woman on her way. It’s not going to be easy but, whether people think it’s right for her to be writing or singing or not, she’s doing what she thinks is right for her. 

Even though Michelle and I had never met before the photo shoot, we fell toward each other quite instinctively. We talked about her husband, and works that I’d done, films of mine she should see and books that she should read. I told her to watch “Shakespeare Wallah” (1965), the Merchant Ivory film. She sent me a one-word text later with a still of me from the film. It said, “star”.

Michelle Zauner:

Madhur has a brief appearance in “Vanya on 42nd Street” (1994), which is weirdly a movie that I fell in love with over the pandemic. What I’ve noticed is that we’re both people who are interested in different types of creative media and pursue them with genuine interest and sincerity. Through the years, she’s acted and done a cooking MasterClass [online teaching] and written children’s books, cookbooks and a memoir. She’s someone who has continually just done what she’s wanted to do, even if it’s not a straight career path.

It’s comforting — as you get older, you have a stronger sense of your fragile shelf life, and to see a woman who’s almost 90 still pursue different sides of herself and do it with such grace is beautiful. Here she was [on set], making jokes, matching her lipstick to her sweater, just being fabulous.