Free Press Journal

Om Puri: An acting giant who traversed both East and West

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This file photograph taken on September 3, 2014, shows Indian Bollywood actor Om Puri (R) posing with British actress Helen Mirren (L). / AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS

Mumbai: A giant of parallel and new wave cinema, Om Puri delivered some stellar performances in “Ardh Satya”, “Aakrosh” and “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron” while being equally at home with Bollywood potboilers and Hollywood movies such as “East Is East” and “City of Joy”.

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With his instantly recognisable rich baritone and chameleon-like ability to transform on-screen, 66-year-old Puri was at ease playing an angst-laden police officer in “Ardh Satya” to the comic role of a corrupt builder Ahuja in “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro”.


He was the major face of the parallel cinema movement alongside his contemporaries Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil, working collectively in some of the biggest Indian classics like “Bhumika”, “Aakrosh”, “Sparsh”, “Bhavni Bhavai”, “Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai”, “Mirch Masala”, “Sadgati”, “Arohan”, “Ardh Satya” and “Mandi”.

The actor, who starred in around 300 movies, won the National Film Award for best actor for his role as a police inspector in the 1982 film “Ardh Satya”. He also received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India in the year 1990.

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After the end of art cinema movement, Puri shifted to mainstream cinema where he did memorable character roles while continuing to give noteworthy performances in films like “Vijeta”, “Ghayal”, “Droh Kaal”, “Maachis”, “Ghatak: Lethal”, “Chachi 420”, “Khoobsurat”, “Pukar”, “Hera Pheri” and “Dev”.

Puri had appeared in the 2015 Salman Khan movie “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”. He played the part of a progressive imam, who protects Bajrangi and Munni from the Pakistani security forces and offers them refuge at the madrassa he teaches in.

After “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, he teamed up with Salman and Kabir Khan again in “Tubelight”, which is expected to release on Eid 2017.

The actor was recently in line of fire owing to his comments on Indian soldiers following the Uri attack.

Puri broke the stereotype of the conventional ‘good looking’ Bollywood hero by setting an example of artistic prowess.

“His greatest contribution has been that when a face like Om Puri was accepted, he actually set a trend. If actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui are big stars today it is thanks to Om Puri, who convinced audiences to look beyond an actor’s face,” veteran actor-director Satish Kaushik told PTI.

Born in Ambala, Haryana, to a Railway officer, the multi- talented actor graduated from Pune’s prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He also studied in National School of Drama (NSD) along with Shah.

Puri made his acting debut with the 1976 Marathi film “Ghashiram Kotwal”.

The 66-year-old actor is also remembered for his cameo in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film “Gandhi”, which brought him into limelight on international cinema platform.

He appeared in Hollywood films, like “City of Joy” opposite Patrick Swayze, “Wolf” with Jack Nicholson, “The Ghost and the Darkness” opposite Val Kilmer, and was also seen in “Charlie Wilson’s War” which had Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. He last worked with British acting icon Helen Mirren on “The Hundred-Foot Journey”.

His biography – “Om Puri: Unlikely Hero” (2009), was authored by his estranged wife Nandita Puri.

The book stirred a major controversy with Puri expressing displeasure over some of the references made in it from his personal life. The book to also led to his split with Nandita.

Apart from Hindi cinema, Puri also acted in films of various Indian languages, including Malayalam.

“Om Puri was one of the versatile actors that India had since 1970s, in the backdrop of the so-called New Wave cinema. In Kerala, he has a large fan following, not just because he had acted in a few Malayalam films but on account of his outstanding contributions to the Indian cinema as a whole,” said Balagopal, a film scholar.