January 6, 2017, will go down in history as a day when Indian theatre and Cinema lost a gem. Legendary actor, Om Puri was an actor who made a mark in the film industry with his acting prowess using his unconventional looks. He appeared in mainstream commercial Indian, British, American and Pakistani films. He also acted in several independent films and art films. He is famous for his author-backed roles in films like Aakrosh (1980), Arohan (1982) and television films like Sadgati (1981) and Tamas (1987). He made a mark in the audience’s heart with light-hearted roles in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), Chachi 420 (1997) and Actor In Law (2017). He had various collaborations with directors, Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani.
Instead of speaking to actors, I decided to speak to veterans in theatre and cinema about their memories of this wonderful actor.
People who contributed are:
– SALIM ARIF – renowned theatre personality & recipient of Bhartendu Harishchandra Award
– DEEPA GAHLOT – well-known journalist, columnist, critic, author and former Head of Theatre and Film Programming at the NCPA. She is has won the National Film Award for Best Film Critic
– GIRISH WANKHEDE – Trade Analyst and Founder of Entity One Entertainment Solutions. He has won several awards including best Marketing Man of Multiplexes
– RASHMMI MENON – Film Content Syndicator and Film Distributor. Rashmmi’s parents have been Om ji’s neighbours for 20 years.
Compiling this piece was an emotional journey for me. It told me so much about life. We all work hard, very hard in our daily lives. Nothing remains after our death, just the way we touched people’s lives. It is my wish to be a good memory in people’s hearts after I go.
Read on to know more about this great actor.
“The impact of Om Puri on actors and acting in cinema has been like that of MS Dhoni in cricket ” – Salim Arif
It is a day after Om ji passed away and the fact of him being not around anymore has sunk in. Looking back, the impact of Om Puri on actors and acting in cinema has been like that of MS Dhoni in cricket.
A man coming from a humble background, a rough cut diamond shaped first by Alkazi sahab and then finding his way into films like Aarohan, Aakrosh and Ardhsatya with performances that remain etched in memory. He was one of the fab four (Naseer, Shabana, Smita and Om) of meaningful cinema movement led by Shyam Babu and Govind ji.
The success of Ardhsatya gave jitters to mainstream actors and Om Puri emerged as a big star in an era that had some of the most handsome and good looking ‘heroes’, in popular cinema.He, (along with Naseer Bhai) was the first actor to give strength to a small town boy of ordinary looks to dream of making it big as an actor in Bombay films.
Actors who could aspire to perform in films without wanting to do ‘Song and Dance’ cinema. Most of our present day actors of substance would name these two as inspirations. The greatness of Om Puri as an actor was in the way he owned these characters and stamped them with his unique persona.His complete ease in negotiating all kinds of roles in front of camera was seen to be believed.
Even when he did one or two scenes as cameos in Bhumika, Kalyug, Sparsh and Gandhi they left an indelible mark proving the dictum that a role is never small, small is the actor..and who can forget Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Chachi 420, Hera Pheri, Singh is King and Bajrangi Bhaijaan….in fact he was brought in to replace another actor in Hera Pheri since Priyan could not get the desired innocence of a gullible Sardar that Om ji could bring to that role.
I will forever miss his “Toh miyaan, Kya Haal Hai” and the warm Jhappi that would come with his lovely smile.
For me it is a great personal loss…memories are strange, they come in spurts…the year was 1988 and we met during Bharat Ek Khoj where he was the principle actor in an ensemble of several NSD seniors and juniors besides veterans like Dubey ji..every third or fourth evening he would pull me to his home (tum bhi chade, hum bhi, chalo…he would say) and spend the evening at his terrace or watching tapes like That’s Entertainment….he took care of me at a time when I was newcomer in Mumbai…his two nephews were his family at that time. His affection and love grew with Kirdaar, Maachis and my own pilot of Azad.
I can share that one of the reasons that all these newcomers performed so well in Maachis was also Om ji…on the pretext of getting his lines right, he would get all these guys together and rehearse with them while the shot was being readied, it took away all the awe that these young ones had of the veteran Baudi Puri (Nandita Puri ) continued to have the same connect and bonding after their wedding in 1993 during Kirdaar days and remains part of our family.I will forever miss his “Toh miyaan, Kya Haal Hai” and the warm Jhappi that would come with his lovely smile.
– SALIM ARIF, renowned theatre personality
“The film industry is much, much poorer without him” – Deepa Gahlot
He had been so excited about doing theatre after so many years and was pleased by the response to his Teri Amrita with Divya Dutta. He would message about ‘Housefull’ shows everywhere, and promised to do more plays. “Bas after I finish the film with Helen Mirren (The Hundred Foot Journey) I will.” Unfortunately, that was not to be, and today’s theatregoers have been deprived of the chance to see a great artiste perform live.
Om Puri was a fine actor but his greatest achievement was that he dared to crash into the film industry.
Before he became a star, nobody in fair-and-handsome obsessed Bollywood could have imagined that an actor with a craggy, pock-marked face could land leading roles in films.
And he had so much conviction in his talent that he refused to cosmetically smoothen his face. Filmmakers would have to accept him as he was– and they did, in India and abroad.
He was fortunate to come into the industry at the right time when filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani were making their hard-hitting realistic films and he fitted right into his roles in Aakrosh, Ardh Satya, Aarohan, Susman… Of the last, he was particularly proud since he actually learnt to weave cloth on a loom for his role as a weaver.
Mainstream Bollywood appreciates success and started signing him for films like Ghayal and Narsimha. After a point, he was not satisfied with the work he did in commercial films but admitted he did them for the money.
And then British filmmakers discovered him and he became known name there in films like East Is East, City of Joy and more recently The Hundred-Foot Journey.
For an actor who did so many serious and intense roles, he was quite a different man off screen – with a great sense of humour and a booming laugh. He was fabulous with comic roles of which he did not get too many.
It’s a pity the body of work of an actor like him was eclipsed by the soap opera of his personal life. The film industry is much, much poorer without him.
DEEPA GAHLOT – well-known journalist, columnist, critic, author and Head of Theatre and FIlm Programming at the NCPA
“One always believed that if Om Puri is in a film, it has to have stature. He was a director’s dream – he was a director’s actor.” – Girish Wankhede
Om Puri was such a versatile actor. It is a huge loss for people like me who thrive on the staple diet of parallel films. He was unparalleled to any other actor. Whenever anyone takes the name Om Puri, one recalls Ardhasatya – a movie that was a case study for us. In those days, from Aakrosh to Mandi to all the parallel films that he has done, even Satgati. He was an intense actor. The parallel movement especially films with Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal.
With film-makers like Kundan Shah, he did comedy. His versatility was very vibrant in those days. As he graduated towards his mid-age, he became even more versatile and open for all sort of films. That was where an actor had to reach when he crossed a certain level. He had immense respect for all the cinema trade.
I remember him for his roles in Sardar, Chachi 420, Ghayal – he was awesome. The other day, I was watching the trailer of the film A Death in the Gunj (2016) directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, in that also he has a wonderful character that he has essayed beautifully. He always had a certainty and self-assurance about the roles that he essayed. That is what Om Puri was all about.
He was one of the pioneers of crossover films. He has acted in films across the globe and was critically acclaimed anywhere. One always believed that if Om Puri is in a film, it has to have stature.
He was a director’s dream – he was a director’s actor. He did justice to whichever role that was assigned to him.
Yes, he was always open about his likes and dislikes. That is what an actor with such immense experience possessing such great stature is ought to turn into. He was opinionated, forthright and to the point.
When I was with Cinemax & PVR, I have hosted several premieres and special screenings. I had an opportunity to meet Om ji and I loved him as a person. He was always jovial and cooperative. His departure leaves a vacuum in the film industry.
GIRISH WANKHEDE – Trade Analyst and founder of Entity One Entertainment Solutions
“He had no airs about his achievements and remained grounded despite his accolades. He was a regular neighbour with a heart of gold.” Rashmmi Menon
My parents and Om Puri were nieghbours for almost 20 years. When they moved to Pune, they kept in touch on and off. Just 10 days ago, we were on a flight when I was returning from Dubai. It was great to catch up. He was ever courteous and asked about everyone. Little did I know that it would be the last time I saw him alive.
On January 6, not only did India lose a stalwart actor, but our building lost it’s most famous resident. When I was asked to speak about him, it took me a while to formulate an answer. It is extremely difficult to believe that he is not amongst us anymore. He was a regular guy and very good nieghbour. Very respectful to everyone around him. He had no airs about his achievements and remained grounded despite his accolades. On Sundays, he used to hang around with the building boys and share a beer with them. Another Sunday ritual, whenever he was in town was: breakfast with his family. He took his family for breakfast to the local Udupi called Swadesh completely oblivious of his fame.
On some days, he used to use the watchman’s cycle to take rounds just because it pleased him.
A fabulous cook who loved to share his creations. He was an even finer storyteller. He was a good friend to my father. I have seen him take care of his son, Ishaan. He was a fantastic father, I must say. He used to look after my daughter with the same love and care when I went out leaving my kid at his home.
He had the same secretary and driver for the past many years. This says a lot about him. He used to take care of the people who worked for him; paid for their kids’ education etc. He had 4 nephews from his older brother. He raised them all and spend on their education, marriage and settlements. As I said, to us, he was a regular neighbour with a heart of gold. He will be missed by 3 generations of my family.
RASHMMI MENON – Content Syndicator & Film Distributor
– As told to Mayura Amarkant
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