Om Puri and his ex­tra­or­di­nary legacy

The un­ex­pected demise of one of in­dia’s great­est ac­tors has left a deep vac­uum in The fra­ter­nity... and a life lesson — one That he lived and worked by — no one can ig­nore: con­tent is king

WKND - - Bollywood A Life Less Ordinary - By khalid mo­hamed

bid­ding farewell: Shyam bene­gal, Sha­bana azmi with Javed akhtar, ir­rfan Khan and Shashi Kapoor at­tend the late Om Puri’s funeral cer­e­mony lmost a fort­night after the sud­den pass­ing away of Om Puri — on Jan­uary 6 — the film fra­ter­nity isn’t yet quite rec­on­ciled to the loss. On be­ing snowed un­der by jour­nal­ists for quotes, Shyam Bene­gal pleaded, “I am far too shocked to say any­thing right now. Please call me after a few days.” Sha­bana Azmi sim­i­larly stated that there were too many cher­ished mem­o­ries about work­ing with Om for her to sin­gle out any one in­ci­dent.

Present at the widely-re­spected and fre­quentlyawarded ac­tor’s funeral, Sha­bana was in­con­solable. When Om’s first wife Seema Kapoor ar­rived for the last rites, Sha­bana hugged her tight. The ac­tor’s sec­ond wife, Nan­dita Puri — a jour­nal­ist and au­thor of the biog­ra­phy Om Puri: The Un­likely Hero — con­ducted the rites with their 19-year-old-son Ishaan, of­ten break­ing down.

In an in­dus­try where col­leagues are barely ac­knowl­edged as path-break­ers, it was grat­i­fy­ing to note that Manoj Ba­j­payee, Nawazud­din Siddiqui and Mo­hammed Zee­shan Ayyub Khan em­pha­sised in print, and on the so­cial me­dia net­work, that Om Puri has been their abid­ing in­spi­ra­tion and role model.

In­deed, right from the mid-1970s, Om Puri and his batch­mate from the Na­tional School of Drama as well as the Film and Tele­vi­sion In­sti­tute of In­dia Naseerud­din Shah, de­bunked the myth that Ado­nis looks and glam­our mat­tered more than act­ing prow­ess. They brought about a re­al­is­tic, hard-hit­ting edge to the un­con­ven­tional roles as­signed to them, es­pe­cially by off­main­stream di­rec­tors like Bene­gal, Govind Ni­ha­lani, Ke­tan Me­hta, Goutam Ghose and Kun­dan Shah.

Om’s edgy, rooted-to-life screen pres­ence drew the at­ten­tion of In­dia’s most tough-to-please film au­teur Satya­jit Ray, who cast him along­side Smita Patil in the short film Sadgati (1981), a se­vere in­dict­ment of the

was in­cited by the fact that the roles com­ing his way at home ranged from the or­di­nary to ab­so­lute B-graders like Dirty Pol­i­tics — a clear waste of his time and wealth of tal­ent. Even Rakeysh Om­prakash Mehra’s sump­tu­ous­ly­mounted Mirzya, which re­leased last year, fea­tured him in a thank­less, blink-and-you-could-have-missed­him ap­pear­ance.

Such aber­ra­tions aside, Om Puri has be­queathed a price­less legacy: the fact that in or­der to kick­start a mag­nif­i­cent ca­reer, it would be fool­ish for the gen­er­a­tions to come to as­pire for an “ex­trav­a­gant” launch project; it’s the role that counts and the un­con­di­tional trust in the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the di­rec­tor, how­ever low the bud­get may be. For sure, money is im­por­tant; a rea­son­able pay­packet is a must.

Yet, money can­not be the sole cri­te­rion for an ac­tor to ac­cept or re­ject a film. When­ever Shyam Bene­gal an­nounced a project, Om would be ea­ger to be part of the en­sem­ble. This I can vouch for. When Bene­gal was cast­ing for Zubei­daa, he had been con­tacted by Om for a role. “I waited for Shyam babu to get back,” Om later lamented. “But he prob­a­bly felt I wasn’t suit­able for the role.”

I sus­pect the role was that of Karisma Kapoor’s fa­ther, en­acted by Am­r­ish Puri, an­other reg­u­lar in the Bene­gal reper­toire. “I wouldn’t have minded play­ing Karisma’s grand­fa­ther if there had been a need,” Om had sighed. “For the mas­ters who gave me my first op­por­tu­ni­ties, I will al­ways be just a phone call away.”

Hope­fully, such words of grat­i­tude will be ex­pressed by the up­com­ing pha­lanx of ac­tors who gen­uinely be­lieve that it’s in­fin­itely more re­ward­ing to be an ac­tor rather than a gazil­lion­aire su­per­star.

wknd@khalee­j­ Puri in a still

Per­haps his rest­less­ness was in­cited by the fact that the roles com­ing his way at home ranged from the or­di­nary to B-graders like Dirty Pol­i­tics —a clear waste of his time and tal­ent

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