Not even a week into the new year and Bollywood has lost one of its finest actors. Veteran actor, Om Puri, aged 66, died of a massive heart attack in the small hours of this morning. He was one of the old guard. The kind of actor you don’t much get to see anymore — the kind that move you with the sheer intensity of their performance.
A man whose talent could hardly be contained within one subcontinent, Om Puri, besides doing hundreds of Indian films, also acted in British and American movies. He did commercial movies and independent/art films with the same passion and devotion to the craft.
Puri won two National Film Awards for Best Actor — for ‘Arohan’ and ‘Ardha Satya’. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1990 and, in 2004, he was made an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah were fellow students at the National School of Drama. Both went on to become the poster children of art cinema in 70s/80s India.
Today, world cinema has lost a great talent. Words couldn’t possibly begin to express how great the loss is. The thing about great artistes, though, is that their art outlives them, outlives us all. So, here’s remembering some of Om Puri’s best performances.
1. In 1972, Om Puri made his cinematic debut playing the lead in the film adaptation of Vijay Tendulkar’s play, ‘Ghashiram Kotwal’.
2. His 1980 role as Bhiku won him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor.
3. In 1981, Puri played the role of Dukhi in Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati (Deliverance), the film adaptation of a Munshi Premchand story.
4. In 1982, Om Puri was part of Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’ — which won 8 of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for.
5. Also in 1982, Puri played a poor village farmer in Shyam Benegal’s ‘Arohan’. The role got him his first National Film Award for Best Actor.
6. In ‘Ardh Satya’, Puri was the angry young man of the 80s — trying to break out from under parental tyranny, trying to hold on to his sense of right and wrong even as the world changed what those two things mean. Puri won his second National Film Award for the role.
7. Puri’s portrayal of the character Ahuja in his 1983 film ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ won him a place on the very short list of Indian actors who can do comedy well.
The scene where a drunk Om Puri tries assisting a dead Satish Shah change his car tyre — priceless!
8. In 1987, Om Puri played the lead in Govind Nihalani’s television film, ‘Tamas’. It was aired in 6 parts on Doordarshan. The story revolved around riot-stricken India at the time of the Partition.
9. The 1992 film, ‘City of Joy’, saw Om Puri share the screen with Patrick Swayze and Shabana Azmi.
10. In Govind Nihalani’s 1994 film, ‘Drohkaal’, Puri played the role of an honest cop disillusioned with the way things are. On the face of it, the role sounds much like his role in ‘Ardh Satya’, with perhaps a dash of experience.
11. Puri’s portrayal of the character Sanatan, the leader of a Sikh rebel group, in Gulzar’s 1996 film, ‘Maachis’, earned him a nomination for a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor.
12. The year after ‘Maachis’, ‘My Son the Fanatic’ came out. It was a British drama about a secular, tolerant Muslim man whose son converts to fundamentalist Islam.
13. In ‘Mrityudand’, Om Puri single-handedly rescues the name of his half of the species. Once Ayub Khan’s character is killed, Puri’s character is, literally, the only sane man left in town.
14. In 2003, Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Maqbool’ turned Om Puri into the desi version of Shakespeare’s witches from ‘Macbeth’. Without batting an eyelid, Pandit makes and breaks empires, decimates people’s lives — and all by the power of suggestion. This is, perhaps, one of his finest performances since the turn of the century.
15. In the 2004 film ‘Dev’, Om Puri’s performance was, predictably, better than Bachchan’s.
16. Puri played Aslam’s father in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s ‘Rang De Basanti’. Even though it was a secondary role, no one can forget the strict father, driven to perpetual fear and suspicion because they are a religious minority in the country they call their own.
17. Puri played the role of Abu in Mira Nair’s film adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s very relevant novel, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. The film starred actors from America, Pakistan, and India, and will forever remain on the must-watch list of all lovers of cinema, especially those who like good cinema.
This is the message posted by Shabana Azmi for Om Puri, her old friend and co-star,
— Azmi Shabana (@AzmiShabana) January 6, 2017
#RIPOmPuri. You will be missed!