Veteran actor Om Puri passes away

Mumbai: Om Puri, a veteran and versatile actor, who died in Mumbai on Friday, would be remembered for his stellar roles in several films in Hindi and English. The 66-year-old’s unexpected demise drowned Bollywood, where he chiseled his acting skills and grew up as one of the finest actors in global cinema, in sorrow.

He was one of the few actors in India who used his ‘ugly’ looks by film standards to his advantage. Om Puri’s pockmarked face with a big fat nose was not an ideal image for macho-centric mainstream cinema. But he was able to capture the hearts and minds of audience who valued real acting and good and meaningful cinema. 

Om Puri’s success, both in commercial and parallel cinema in Hindi as well as in English, was due to his character roles he had portrayed. In doing so, he transformed the fiction into silver screen reality. That quality, despite not being a hero of the masses, set him apart from run-of-the-mill actors and created a niche for Om Puri.

Puja Changoiwala, in a tribute to the veteran actor, wrote in Firstpost, “behind the tales of glory was a man who, as per his own admission, had trained hard to acquire the skill he was distinguished for. He had struggled hard to survive in Mumbai before the film industry let him carve his space.”

Puja Changoiwala who recently published a book titled , ‘The Front Page Murders: Inside the Serial Killings that Shocked India’  recalled an interview the author had in 2015 while researching for the book, which is the true story of a serial killer who would murder and hack Bollywood strugglers for wealth in Mumbai.

Om Puri told Puja: I used to work as a clerk at a government office in Punjab. I was paid a salary of Rs 600 per month. I decided to leave the job, and pursue a career in acting. I knew that irrespective of how I fared, I would do better than making six hundred rupees. So I quit the job. At the time, it was unheard of. Everybody wanted government jobs. I studied acting for five years, including a course at the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi, and only after I was certain that I had the requisite skill, I moved to Mumbai. But it took not less than thirteen years after I decided on pursuing a career in the film industry that stability finally found me.”

The rest of the interview was, of course, retelling of a life story of an aspiring young man to become ‘somebody’ in Bollywood.  Simply put, it was a struggle for existence and to find a foothold in films irrespective of talent one possesses. Even now, the situation has changed little for budding and aspiring actors and actresses. On this subject, as a down-to-earth person, Om Puri told Puja, Bollywood aspirants need to be careful about falling prey to criminal elements in Mumbai. They should only visit established offices, and not believe any random person who boasts of connections in the film industry.”

Om Puri played several memorable roles in a span of over 40 years in many Indian and English language films. Among the Hindi films, his acclaimed acting prowess could be seen in Ardh Satya, Aakrosh, Jane Bhi Do Yaaron, Bhavni Bhavai, Mirch Masala and Dharavi. In English, he would be remembered for his roles in City of Joy, Gandhi, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, East is East and his latest The Hundred-Foot Journey.

A recipient of Padma Shri, and Order of the British Empire, Om Puri won the National Film Award for Best Actor for Arohan in 1982. Om Puri’s death has left a void in the world of cinema. The biggest tribute one could pay him is to continue to patronize parallel cinema or low-budget films that are so dear to him because they portray the socio-economic problems and family struggles of ordinary people who don’t live in dreamy worlds.

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