“You would fall in love with him. He has this wonderful warmth. He was the guy who would have the big feasts. He would cook Indian food for everyone, and make a family feeling on the set… His nature is fun, funny and unbelievably warm. I hate to use the word teddy bear, but he is like that. You just want to hug him. He’s that kind of a guy.”
This is how Helen Mirren, his co-star in The Hundred-Foot Journey, described Om Puri, in an interview.
That is exactly how I remember the actor. He was all heart and laughter. I met him in 2002 when he had completed 25 years in the industry to interview him for Filmfare magazine (read below).
“The most fulfilling phase of my career was with Ardh Satya, Aakrosh and Tamas… that cinema gave me status, respect and credibility. Whatever I have achieved in life is thanks to it,” he had said then.
The actor was among the few – including Amrish Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil – who brought in the parallel cinema movement in the 80s with movies like Bhavni Bhavai (1980), Sadgati (1981), Ardh Satya (1982), Mirch Masala (1986) and Dharavi (1992).
He built a versatile body of work in a career spanning 40 years. He was particular about being true to his art. Balancing art and commercial along with Hindi, regional and international cinema, plus television roles was important to him and he made sure his choices reflected that. The deeply serious cop in Ardh Satya (for which he won the National Film Award for Best Actor), the victimised tribal of Aakrosh, the wise gatekeeper in Mirch Masala, the funny builder Ahuja in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a cobbler in Tamas, the first-generation Pakistani immigrant in East and East, the rickshaw puller in City Of Joy, the pan-chewing Kakka in the political satire Kakkaji Kaheen, a courageous father of a martyred soldier in Dhoop, boisterous Khadak Singh in Hera Pheri, cunniving Banwari Lal from Chachi 420 were among his many memorable acts.
Om Puri remained a simple, conscientious and jovial man without any airs despite his masterful talent. You will be sorely missed, sir.
A Filmfare interview from December 2002 – I had met Om Puri when he completed 25 years in the industry.