January 7 2017
We interviewed Om Puri in London when he was last in London and he talked about his long career which has been abruptly cut short following his heart attack in Mumbai yesterday…
by Sailesh Ram
THAT grizzly smile, that slightly contorted, troubled face which always left you wondering, is he happy or angry, and of course that unique and quite terrifying scowl when he was riled…
Om Puri was a man of many faces as most great actors are and – some 24 hours after his death was announced yesterday – no one should be in any doubt as to his talent or the incredible impression he made on people around the world.
In September, he was in London, doing the publicity for his first ever Pakistani film, “Actor-in-Law” and we managed to catch a few minutes with him on the phone as he travelled to an engagement.
A social comedy directed by Nabeel Qureshi – who made the very successful “Na Maloom Afraad”, Puri was very friendly, jovial, and well, perhaps almost predictably, avuncular.
He was also emphatic about not retiring.
“No,” he declared without hesitation. “What will I do? As long I am around I would like to keep working,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com
He spoke briefly about two international films he was involved with at the time as well as a Bollywood production.
In British director Gurinder Chadha’s next film, “Viceroy House” (to be released in the UK in March), he plays a veteran, blind Muslim freedom fighter, whose daughter (Huma Qureshi) happens to fall in love with a Hindu boy (Manish Dayal); and as father and daughter head for Pakistan amid the chaos of Partition, Puri’s character is left with a terrible dilemma.
“It’s a love story,” he told us. And so it is, as the couple try to negotiate their future as one country is split into two and carved from two faiths that had co-existed together for centuries.
Goodbye my dear, warm hearted, colossal actor and all round wonderful human being. I will miss… https://t.co/69pSq1xpzY
— Gurinder Chadha OBE (@GurinderC) January 6, 2017
Puri also spoke about “Solar Eclipse: Depth of Darkness” a film about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and set to be released in August 2017 in the US.
“I play the first chief of Police in independent India,” Puri revealed of his part in the film, “Total Eclipse”, which was shot in Sri Lanka (a popular destination for Indian historical dramas).
He was also hugely proud of working with Bollywood megastar Salman Khan and hit director Kabir Khan on their next film, “Tubelight”.
Puri had also appeared in their last smash film, “Bajrangi Bhaijan”.
“It’s a decent part,” he said in answering a question about Bollywood and whether he was getting the work he wanted to do there. “There are enough scripts being made with characters of my age group,” he pronounced.
And he spoke about the process of deciding what work he should do.
So sad . Lost one of the most iconic Actors, RIP Om Puri ji 🙏 pic.twitter.com/03r494WG8E
— Salman Khan (@BeingSalmanKhan) January 6, 2017
“Yes, generally I am very selective. I look at the scripts and that is at the root of the film (for me). Even if the director is new, if the script is good, I would do it.”
“I prefer to do films dealing with humanity and the problems of today.”
Khudahafiz Omji… we will miss you… https://t.co/7weD18LWbw
— Kabir Khan (@kabirkhankk) January 6, 2017
At the time of the interview, he had recently been on a whirlwind publicity tour of Pakistan to promote “Actor-in-Law” – travelling to five big cities in nine days, he told us.
He was overwhelmed by the reception he received there.
“They adore me,” he said.
It is no exaggeration – some of the most fulsome tributes over the last day have come out of Pakistan. There is clearly a reservoir of affection for him.
“They have seen all me films there,” he added by way of explanation.
He very pleased with “Actor-In-Law” – in this film he plays a respected, veteran lawyer who has a son who is a dilettante and really wants to be an actor but inadvertently finds himself practising law in the courts (as an unqualified advocate) and being a success.
Filmmaker Qureshi makes some strong points along the way about the nature and manner of justice and the hardships of ordinary folks who need a legal system that protects and works for them.
“I enjoyed the role very much,” Puri said. “They were very keen that I accept the film. The whole thing was a great experience.
“Pakistanis should be very proud of the film.”
— Nabeel Qureshi (@nabeelqureshi) January 6, 2017
It was some time after that the tensions between India and Pakistan increased and Puri was firmly of the opinion that artists should work across boundaries and promote goodwill and harmony generally. In some quarters in India he was criticised for his stance.
However, what is very clear is his international repertoire and how easily his talents transferred across territories.
His first part in a UK production was in the seminal TV series, “Jewel in the Crown” (1984) but that was shot in India.
His first experience of work in Britain came in “City of Joy” (1992).
“It was mostly shot in Kolkata, but I did some scenes in Pinewood,” Puri revealed.
That film with the late Patrick Swayze helped to open doors in the UK.
He was quitely magnificient in Hanif Kureishi’s highly perceptive and prescient “My Son the Fanatic” (1997) and then went onto star in “East is East” (1999), playing patriarch George Khan for which he earned a Bafta nomination – and should really have won – he then appeared in the TV adaptation of Zadie Smith’s iconic novel, “White Teeth” (2002).
He was awarded on an OBE in 2005 and joked about it being an end to his acting career in the UK.
Asked if he would like to come back to Britain to work here, he said: “I would love to, I really enjoyed working in the UK. I would love to do the the kind of films I’ve done in the past.”
He also appeared in two big Hollywood features – “Wolf” (1994) alongside Jack Nicholson and in the better known, “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007) which starred Tom Hanks as the lead character and saw Puri reprise a role as Pakistani dictator President Zia-ul-Haq.
More recently, he was in typically splendid form in a “The Hundred-Foot Journey” (2014) with his crabby film persona as a refugee chef from India with family in tow, almost seducing the haughty, aloof Michelin starred restauranteur character of Helen Mirren (pictured below). Produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg and with music by AR Rahman, it was an entertaining and glossy hoot, with a serious message about integration and being open to change. Dayal also starred as Puri’s son (in picture, far right).
An (Indian) Punjabi by birth, he trained in Delhi and made his film debut in “Aakrosh” (1980) and won a series of awards for performances in Indian films which had strong social messages.
He leaves a son by his second marriage.
Om Puri October 19 1950 to January 6 2017 (66).