The words ‘Tamas’, ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’, ‘City of Joy’ and, perhaps ‘Aakrosh’ aren’t mere imprints of greatness in India cinema. These are checkered milestones in the journey of Om Puri, a legend in the right sense of the word, an actor amidst stars and, a saviour of movies from obscurity at a time when everything around him was an element of commercial clutter.
The many shades of Om Puri, Bollywood’s least understood actor
Actor, thinker, outspoken expressionist, television-content lover and an exhibitionist of emotions on the big screen par excellence, Om Puri was all this and more. And while there could be a million and a half reasons to remember his incredible talent and laud his greatness, it is but sad to be paying an ode to him on the occasion of his passing.
As 2017 had just arrived, perhaps lazily ushering into the future, the news of Om Puri’s passing has grimly enveloped the ensuing euphoria. Perhaps, all of a sudden the excitement on the fray with Shah Rukh’s yet-to-be released Raees and Hrithik’s Kaabil has dampened with the unbelievable news of the actor’s sudden passing.
But then, haven’t passings been sudden in life? Interestingly, if you think about it, then you’d find that the trajectory of an actor, before he rises to become one, is a process wrapped in shock and awe, since none expect every trier to rise on the horizon. And that is the thing with triers. Om Puri was one, an ardent one.
Early struggles, piously important beginnings and the man who persevered
That he even unloaded and loaded coal as a youngster from a nearby mine in rural Punjab and did odd jobs, one of them being working at a Dhaba made his journey into being the man he finally became a poignant one. It were these grounded, humble experiences that a young Om Puri observed early on that added nuance and polish to his craft as an actor. The constantly changing vagaries of life- struggle between and after stints at Film and Television Institute of India (Pune) and National School of Drama (Delhi) made him an artiste who was comfortable in many a skin, some of the remarkable shades of which we adored in Tamas, Ardha Satya, Buddha Mar Gaya, Mere Baap Pehle Aap and Hera Pheri.
Traversing from the known territories he could comfortably embark on to isolating himself into unknown zones , the talent in him came to the fore, surprising and overawing others. It would rescue the expressive man who emoted with a gladdened height of reaching out to audiences for whom a two-and-a-half hour journey was films before it became movie and, later, show-bizz. And yet, amazingly, there cannot be benchmark movie for the thespian for so many of Om Puri’s gems shined brighter than his others, confusing audiences who attempted to pick an all-time best. And despite all of it, most of his films were repeatedly watchable and ever so likeable, an interesting facet for a man who took the Mickey out of contemporaries who blossomed under the tag of good looks and impish charm. Can you distance your mind from the fact that he stood out in Akshay Khanna’s Mere Baap Pehle Aap, as the deplorable best-friend of Khanna’s dad, Rawal, doing things we would expect from a petulant college-going kid? Or, can you take eyes of his cogent portrayal as the helpless farmer in Arohan? Say you are asked to pick the funniest Om Puri between Kakka Kahin, Malamal Weakly and Chachi 420- won’t picking one be a sacrilege.
The New Year has been dealt a massive blow, is ‘Bollywood’ listening?
The onerous task of giving the film-industry- misconceived as ‘Bollywood’, a term that suits fans of glitter and commerce- a slice of his talent was Om Puri’s journey, his purpose and, the only ambition he relished adding new colours to his magnanimous journey as he left so many mourning unexpectedly. Not too surprising that, he worked incessantly hard and all the while, going from one movie to another akin to a bullet train that seems nowhere near reaching its final station.
If he was boisterous in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, he was unpardonably funny in TV series ‘Kakka Kahin’. If he was at his intense best in ‘Aakrosh’ and gritty in ‘Ardha Satya’, then he was absolutely hilarious in ‘Chachi 420’. There was a staid elegance and conniving charm at the same time that helmed interesting cinematic challenges to further the Ambala-born actor’s craft. On top of it, the sonorous but exciting voice! It wasn’t just a voice that signalled that the actor who possessed a cerebral brain picking choicest and most acerbically enticing challenges was a cool cat who knew his game. Rather it was the guide helping the curious voyager in him to ferry his boat to farther seas. That it made intense visitations in ‘City of Joy’, ‘East is East’ and ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ wasn’t just pleasant reassurance of Om Puri’s remarkable global footprint but indicative of his desire to test himself amidst Cinema’s changing undercurrents that, outwardly seemed to have always worked for ‘fresh faces’.
Om Puri’s passing is terrible in many ways
Unless you haven’t stepped into a larger world, away and beyond the one that tends to stop at the Amitabh Bachchan junction of greatness, there’s no possibility of you realising that in Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal and Om Puri, India fancied it’s long-cherished trinity. This was a golden triangle of sorts that up until, January 5, 2017- revved up to the resplendent joy of seeing three icons of Indian cinema do what they did best: acting!
That there would be a grin, a strangely odd one, perhaps signalling the descent of gloom in Nasser ‘Sahab’s world with his good friend gone will find familiar echo of pain in the world of Paresh Rawal, undeniably a legend who’s often denied his due, a bit like Om Puri!
Odd enough then, the book that was finally expected to unveil the man behind the varying masks of brilliance called Om Puri, did very little to please fans, not least the actor himself, who remained bitter and annoyed by Nandita Puri’s telling revelation of her husband of 8 months.
As a man he had perhaps ‘lost it’, as many said, but as an actor, he was intrinsically involved in the only process that gave him as much pleasure as delight in talking about it in circles where cinema was appreciated and art, adored: making movies.
Well! You may have gone silent here sir, but please do not cease from surprising your visitors up there wherever you are with your daring and love for experimentation. In the end, that’s if there’s one philosophically speaking, you went citing the reason that you may have wanted your fans to experience your vacuum: heart-ache! It hurts, really! But you’ll be missed Sir!