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TAKES TWO TO TANGO Om Puri and Nandita C. Puri
TAKES TWO TO TANGO Om Puri and Nandita C. Puri

At the launch of his biography, actor Om Puri gets confessional

In Chennai with wife and biographer Nandita Puri to release his life's story, “Unlikely Hero” , Om Puri talked about his life's experiences. Om Puri educated himself at the NSD and FTII, to become one of India's finest actors in classics made by Satyajit Ray, Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal. He became an international actor with films such as “City of Joy”, “East is East”, “My Son the Fanatic”.His pock-marked face became a metaphor in “Tamas”, the unforgettable saga of the Partition. Excerpts:

What does it feel like to have made a name in western films? Are you typecast?

It's mainly Asians abroad, but I get meaty roles in British films. It was great to hear the ovation in Cannes after “East is East”. In the U.S., I've had smaller, though significant roles. I was proud to work with Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson. Mike Nichols who gave me a seven-minute scene with Jack Nicholson in “Wolf” was a wonderful director. He said: “Boys, this is the space. Go on.” I made Nicholson sit, drifted in and out of the kitchen talking and making tea. Nichols had planned the scene in the kitchen but he kept my moves.

Do all western directors give this kind of freedom?

Yes. Here too sensible directors encourage improvisation, knowing that if you merely follow orders, you're imitating, not contributing more .

Is art film dead?

Once, a girl wrote to me after joining an NGO working for tribals. Watching “Akrosh” as a schoolgirl had influenced her decision. Now people such as Prakash Jha, Mani Ratnam, Ashutosh Gowariker, Vishal Bharadwaj are making good cinema with commercial elements. The difference is that they don't take newcomers, only stars. Naseer and I are capable of what Mr. Bachchan is doing now, but commercial cinema doesn't trust us. I have great admiration for Mr. Bachchan's stamina and drive.

Was it essential to put in so much confessional into a biography? How does knowing about touching an aunt's navel, or an affair with a maid, help the readert? Where do you draw the line ?

To be honest, maybe certain things could have been avoided. But there's no titillation in the book. The next edition will emphasise something that I feel has not come out strongly enough. For six years after the success of “Ardh Satya”, I became indulgent, didn't treat my relationships with dignity. I was unfair to some women who enriched my life because I was confused… naïve… is that the right word? To get my divorce from my ex-wife I accused her of adultery. Okay, the lawyers worked it out, but I colluded. I lied. Felt terrible.

GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

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