Those were the days, when Sunday evening movies on Doordarshan were one of the most important events of the week. People waited with bated breath for the Movie title and either exclaimed or frowned when the mystery was unveiled. Om Puri was mostly in those movies which disappointed the people in front the television sets. Unlike the pink, chubby fluorescent, Eastman colour movies which ruled the roost, his movies were dry, emaciated and very similar to what we saw around us. We did not particularly like what was around us.
It changed for me with Tamas. I was not even ten years old when this Govind Nihalani film was aired on the Doordarshan, in parts, amidst much controversy. The film opens with a scene where the character played by Om Puri is trying to kill a pig. An emotion which hung somewhere between fear, anger and helplessness on that deeply pockmarked face of his, is still alive in my mind. I knew this was different and I knew I liked it.
I saw many of his movies after that and loved almost all of them, Ghashiram Kotwal, Ardha Satya were my all-time favourites. I waited for that one scene in Gandhi. I think it is not even two minutes long, but that is one little part of the movie that you cannot forget. What a screen presence!
And then suddenly one day, he appeard on ‘Kakkaji Kahin’. Do you remember that television serial? I realized this guy could be very funny.
His face could easily fit in to any rustic, rural roles but as an actor he could transcend it easily. In Discovery of India by Shyam Benegal, he played many royal characters with equal ease.
Years passed, Om Puri appeared in many movies, some good, some ‘bollywood’. The ‘Art movies’ as they were called ceased to be produced, or some people claimed that the line between the ‘Art’ and ‘Mainstream/Commercial’ movies blurred. Nevertheless, I looked forward to see his performances. He was intense, when he wanted to, he was funny when he wanted to, but he was never bad. I think we Indians owe him for improving our taste for good acting.
A couple of hours ago a friend of mine wrote ‘Om Puri’ on her facebook page. Just these two words. I knew what had happened. It was unexpected and untimely, he was just 66 years old. I had just seen his 2014 movie ‘Hundred Foot Journey’ on television a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like his numerous fan I hoped to see more of his work as he ages gracefully. But that was not to be.
A warm goodbye to one of my favourite actors…..