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India’s True International ‘FilmStar’ — II

I recall having spent a sleepless night after seeing the Govind Nihalani’s film ‘Aakrosh” (1980). This has happened to me on very few occasions — only when the visuals or a very strong impression from a screen character left me silenced. ‘Aakrosh” was one of them. And there were two reasons for that — one was the brilliant camera work of Nihalani and the other is the reason for my writing this post.

A fantastic piece of acting by none else than Om Puri! Yes, the character Bhiku (that he played) captivated me and left me spellbound. And, remember he was playing a character who did not speak even a single word in the film!!

Twenty-seven years has passed since then …. And we are still seeing the charm of this man — both in India and abroad.

His initial works like ‘Aakrosh” are statements in acting where he vents out his anger and frustration at the ridiculous caste differentiation and the ludicrous interrelations between law and justice. The show of anger was more vociferous and his acting was clear and intended to displace any bias that we may have had on the contrary.

A similar portrayal was in Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of Munshi Premchand’s story ‘Sadgati”. Om, playing the Dalit character, Dukhi, shows the resilience that is needed to suggest the difference between man and the downtrodden. Again, there were few dialogues — almost none — and Om was able to bring out the best of him.

Here was the brilliance that Om started with. His rough facial features, coupled with solid acting skills — eye and face movements — and make an impression that is indelible from the minds of the average cinema-goer like me.

Films followed …. From ‘Ardh Satya” to ‘Maachis” and even to later day productions like ‘East is East” or ‘My Son Fanatic” — and every time Om Puri has come out victorious.

There are reasons why he can be called a real ‘international”. Not because of late, he has ventured into Hollywood and British films, but because from his first film ‘Ghasiram Kotwal” to the latest one he has always shown evidence of his acting that has crossed the barriers of the national and became a global statement … and submerged into a spirit that comes from a man possessed with creativity.

Another reason has been his penchant to show specific concerns and highlight them in a way that is his very own. When he had the image of an angry man, he was more into roles like ‘Aakrosh” or ‘Ardh Satya” but then he became sublime and created the character in ‘Maachis” or say, ‘City of Joy”. Each time, the need was different, but his character took the challenge in them successfully.

Om Puri still stays an epitome of art. In whatever form possible, he has taken a very strong stance that art in all its form should be preserved. Even if that compels him to take side actor roles with little or no money.

Today, Om Puri has a strong international following. His ‘large screen presence” has mystified many and even Western critics are praising him for the qualities that made him a hero in India. Not in the literal sense, his acting took care that the character travels well into the heart and mind of the viewer — something they could cherish years after.

He has few regrets. In one of his recent interviews, he laments at the plight of our neighbourly relations — with Pakistan. He recollected an incident in England where he bought some vegetables from a Pakistani seller who refused to take money from him since he thought Om Puri as his brother.

He is still the sensitive person he was when he started.

Off late, he is into mainstream cinema. This is again, a decision consciously made to taste the feelings of the world around …. But his choices have not been tasteless. ‘Rang De Basanti”, ‘Kyunki”, ‘Kisna” and others are definitely better of the lot and deserve a player from his ranks to perform.

There are still more from another interview that shows him as a complete person.

In the film ‘Wolf”, he was asked to do only one scene. One scene, he thought, and then asked his agent who was the director. His agent replied, Mike Nichols. Then he said to himself, Mike Nichols … great director. And who was the main actor, he enquired. Jack Nicholson was the reply. He was delighted. Jack Nicholson and Om Puri in that scene! Wow, a scene where Om Puri’s 80-year old character was giving advice to the character played by Nicholson. He took the offer!!

He says he sometimes does films for money. Om Puri admits doing films for no money because he likes the film. So he has to do some film with big money … and he keeps an eye on the West — for good offers. In the film ‘The Ghost and The Darkness”, a 1996 film, he does a role that he had done many times. On being asked by his friends as to why he did that, he said, ‘… for money, and I’m not ashamed of it..”.

Such is the colourful persona of the man named Om Puri!!

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