Madhur Jaffrey grew up in her native Delhi, India, as a self-described tomboy. At an early age, she realized the limitations that were placed on her by Hindu society, due to the fact that she is a woman. She thus strove to accomplish what was most difficult to achieve, which was occupational and personal success independent of male intervention.
Fortunately, her parents were among her biggest supporters and she was allowed to travel to London, England, in order to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Upon completion of her degree, she moved to New York and married fellow actor Saeed Jaffrey. Reportedly, it was the Jaffreys that introduced director James Ivory to producer Ismail Merchant, with whom Madhur would later develop a longstanding working relationship. The foursome collaborated on the film Shakespeare Wallah, for which Jaffrey won a Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965.
When her marriage to Saeed fell apart, she came upon hard financial times. During this period, Madhur began to study Indian cooking and she eventually authored a series of cookbooks about her native cuisine, which established a second career for her. Because of the success of her cookbooks, she has appeared on numerous cooking shows and she has also developed a line of mass-marketed cooking sauces.
In 1969, she remarried, this time to famed violinist Sanford Allen. The two met as Jaffrey was working part time as a tour guide at the Lincoln Center, while Allen was performing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
She has three children, all by first husband Saeed. The youngest, Sakina Jaffrey, is also an actor and has appeared three times with her mother, in the films Chutney Popcorn, The Perfect Murder, and Cotton Mary.