Om Puri, the veteran actor whose contribution to Indian cinema is immeasurable, breathed his last today. A Padma Shri awardee, Om Puri made his mark in not only Indian cinema, but Pakistani and British cinema as well. Critically acclaimed for his roles in movies like ‘Ardh Satya’, ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’, and ‘Mirch Masala’, the actor has a long filmography to his credit. He also worked in many Hollywood films like ‘Gandhi’, ‘City of Joy’ and ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’.
Born in Ambala, Punjab, Om Puri hailed from a humble middle-class family. With a Punjabi medium schooling and average looks, breaking in the star-studded film industry was a distant dream, but Om Puri was in no hurry. It all started when he performed in a play in his college and impressed one of the judges who invited him to study at National School of Drama. The rest, as we all know, is history.
Beginning his career with the Marathi film ‘Ghasiram Kotwal’ in 1976, Om Puri went on to become one of Indian cinema’s most talented and mature actors. We take a look at some of his most memorable roles.
Govind Nihalani’s 1983-masterpiece ‘Ardh Satya’ is probably one of the best works Indian cinema has seen. With a screenplay written by famous playwright Vijay Tendulkar, the film went on to win awards and critical acclaim alike. Om Puri, who played the protagonist – a policeman trying to come to terms with a deep existential crisis triggered by the evil around him – delivered one of the best performances of his life. He won the national award for the best actor for this one too. So intense was the role and so great his conviction, Om Puri broke down during the filming of the scene in which he recites the famous poem.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron
The 1983 classic by Kundan Shah is one of Indian cinema’s most iconic films. Stalwarts Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapur, Satish Shah, Neena Gupta, Satish Kaushik, along with Om Puri, made the film an absolute gem of Indian cinema. Om Puri, as the corrupt builder Ahuja, provided much comic relief to the political satire.
East Is East
One of Om Puri’s best international performances, the British comedy-drama ‘East Is East’ won multiple awards at film festivals, including the London Critics Circle Film Award for the screenplay. Playing the patriarch of a family of mixed ethnicity settled in London, Om Puri was hilarious in the role.
A Govind Nihalani film, ‘Aakrosh’ won the national award for best film. A social and political satire based on the works of Vijay Tendulkar, the film’s acute portrayal of the suffering of the oppressed was moving. As Lahanya Bhiku, the poor peasant who doesn’t utter a word almost throughout the film, Om Puri brought out the immense trauma of the character powerfully, without dialogues. He won the Filmfare award for best supporting actor for this one.
Portraying the character of a poor farmer struggling under feudalism, Om Puri won his first National award for Best Actor for ‘Arohan’. The film, directed by Shyam Benegal, also won the National award for best feature film.
Ketan Mehta’s 1987 film ‘Mirch Masala’ is another gem of Hindi cinema. While Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah delivered outstanding performances in the lead roles, Om Puri made his presence felt as Abu Mian, the factory gatekeeper, who refuses to open the gates of the factory and guards the women with his life.
Gulzar’s film ‘Maachis’, based on the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, was a masterpiece. Om Puri as Sanathan, the leader of a small group of Sikh militants, gave a splendid performance, along with the other actors.
Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film starred many Indian veterans like Amrish Puri, Pankaj Kapur, Supriya Pathak, besides Om Puri. Though he had a small role, with a screen time of 1.5 minutes, it was one of the most powerful scenes of the movie and left the audience with a lump in the throat.
Clearly, one of the most versatile actors in the Hindi film industry, Om Puri could pull off comic roles with as much ease as the intense ones. Playing Ballu, a dairy farmer eyeing the local lottery, he along with Paresh Rawal created laugh riot in ‘Malamaal Weekly’. It takes a truly fine actor to switch personalities and mould himself into a character so brilliantly.
In what was essentially Kamal Haasan’s film, Om Puri managed a perfect caricature of the pesky manager, Banwari Lal Pandit.
The actor was at his slapstick best as the middle-aged man desperate to get married in ‘Mere Baap Pehle Aap’. Although the movie bombed, Om Puri’s performance deserves a mention. And who can forget his wonderful voiceover for Bagheera in ‘Jungle Book’?
Om Puri’s filmography is long and his contribution to the Hindi film industry invaluable. There are only a handful of actors whose body of work is so vast and so varied. These are just some of the stellar performances by Om Puri that we are in awe of. What’s your favourite?