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
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.
firstname.lastname@example.org 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