Om Puri's dedication to cinema was one of a kind: Pallavi Joshi on her favourite co-star
Over my first cup of tea on the morning of January 6, I was going through my whatsapp messages. There was a message on our CINTAA (Cine And Tv Artistes Association) group from Sushant Singh. I casually opened it. It read ‘Very shocking, Omji no more’.
My first reaction was: What? Who Omji? Which Omji? Surely not Om Puri. He is way too young. I checked on the internet. No news. I thought, this has to be a rumour. But then Sushant isn’t known to be irresponsible. Moreover Omji was the President of CINTAA. Surely the General Secretary wouldn’t be so reckless to act on a rumour?
A flurry of messages and phone calls followed. All through this time my mind was slowly shutting down and narrowing to just one place; the shooting of my first film with Omji in Pochampally Andhra Pradesh, for my first film Susman. Shyam Benegal cast me in this film to play Om Puri and Shabana Azmi’s precocious daughter. I was 16 then. We all lived in a hotel in Hyderabad, but Omji — who played a handloom weaver in the film — stayed in the village of Pochampally amongst the weavers.
Devoid of regular amenities, such as a decent bathroom with hot water, Omji was not tempted even once to come back to the hotel in Hyderabad. He continued staying in this small village just to practice on the loom for 2-3 hours; before we commenced the shoot at 9am, and for 2 hours after we packed up. By the time the film ended, everyone was teasing Omji. They said handloom weaving can be his alternate profession as he had become so good at it. He had started weaving this nice black and white design and until the end of the film had spun a huge yarn. He personally gifted every cast member a piece of his own hand woven cloth.
It is impossible to find such dedication today. After the shoot packs up, every actor wants to retire to his/her room, watch some TV, freshen up in a clean bathroom and sleep comfortably a nice cool air-conditioned room, to be all perked up for the next day’s work. Omji didn’t care for any of this. He slept in a hut-like house, on a lumpy mattress with no fan; used the toilets that were built by our art director Nitish Roy; possibly took a bath near the well in the open — all this only to get his weaving action and speed correct for only 3 scenes in the film.
Apart from his enormously dedicated nature, there was a side to him that was so loving, sweet and humorous. Having done theatre and films extensively, and being an integral part of the parallel cinema movement, his knowledge was vast. There were hours when we used to sit, chatting about films. I remember I was bored during the long schedule in Hyderabad. We had a day off and Mr. Benegal was taking us out for lunch. Seeing my face, he understood that I am feeling a bit low. He took me on a motorcycle ride to Banjara Hills. It was still an under construction site in 1985.
We had so much fun together! I think the fact that he was playing my father had rubbed off on him and he really took care of me. Om Puri was a National Award winner and I was a novice, he didn’t need to do anything for me, let alone look out for me. But he was such a decent and loving human being at heart that I never felt I am talking to India’s most talented and revered actor.
He had lots of love to give. I have yet to come across such a selfless human being and that it why it breaks my heart when I think about his latest television statements. I only wish he had more time to make people understand him, more time to correct a few wrongs, more time for himself, more time to sort out things on his personal front, more time for more memorable performances, more time to spread more love and more time to spend with all of us who are going to miss him terribly, and miss him forever.
I don’t know if it’s prudent to say this, but there’s one thought that isn’t leaving my mind. If death was evident, why didn’t it come 3 months ago? Long before he made his controversial statements, long before he invited the ire of news channels, long before people yelled and screamed disrespect over this issue on the TV every night?
Why would god make a person, who didn’t have a single bad bone in his body, stick around for this mess? We will never know.
Now there is a strange calmness. He has crossed over and he is in a place where there are no more conflicts, no more stress, no more war of words just a calm stillness.
Om Puri has found his peace at last.
Updated Date: Jan 06, 2017 17:35 PM