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OM PURI – Farewell, my dear man!

A large number of my friends knew Om Puri rather well. They drank with him. They argued with him. They loved him, and they also hated him. He was such a regular fixture of greatness in my head that I always put off getting to meet him. “Another time when I visit Bombay,” I would tell myself, and not being an active slice of any party circuit, there was little chance I would run into him socially. Sadly, today ‘another time’ has been robbed from me forever.

Om had done some marvellous movies. He had shaped cinema with his own uniqueness, but what stayed in me of him was The Hundred Foot Journey made in two thousand and fourteen. It had my mate Manish Dayal playing the lead with the gorgeous Charlotte Le Bon and Helen Mirren sharing screen space with Om. The motion picture was produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and created on the novel of the same name that had been written by a dear friend Richard C Morais. A touching story, and an equally arresting film adaptation, had stirred me beyond words. While I would carry this misgiving that I could not meet him, I am glad, however, that he left behind a picture with those I knew and admired, to last us a lifetime to watch and study from. 

Om was many things to many people. He would often land himself in deep trouble for speaking his mind, and that was simply because he was from the old school of thought who analysed and applied their mind than merely nodding one’s head and agreeing to whatever was being said and happening around. He was a socially responsible human being who fiercely took sides. Much before it became fashionable for Indian actors to tread foot onto international shores, Om had been there, and done what many others were only dreaming to do. He was accepting of the fact about how he had no looks of a superstar, and yet how delighted he was that he had lived his life, and achieved out of it what he had wanted to achieve, despite its challenges. He abhorred the pseudo from what I have heard of him from the people I know who were close to him, and he did not depend on stylists, or hired public relations personnel to draw up and reflect a certain image of him – his elementary personality sparkled far beyond such empty embellishments. 

Sensibility and balance seem to be playing hide and seek with mankind. We were bereaved with the loss of Umberto Eco last year. We had barely recovered, when; most recently, we suffered the loss of John Berger, who incidentally was friends with my dear friend Sirish Rao. For some peculiar reason it appears like time is closing in on us with the passing away of these humble but mighty minds. To find such eloquence in the new crop, on whom one can lean on, for wisdom than mere theatrics that the business commands, is like finding needles in a haystack.

This reflection of mine cannot be complete unless I share with you what Manish recollected about Om. He said:

“Right before I took this picture we were rehearsing a scene that we were about to start shooting. He whacked my script down to the floor and shouted, “Don’t do it like that! Surprise them. Do it the wrong way, damn it!” His wisdom could shake a room. He was one of my closest friend’s, and throughout our time working together, he taught me more dirty jokes and pranks than I’d need to last two lifetimes. My thoughts about Omji right now are indescribable. I love you, Omji. Your talent and your prolific work as an actor will forever resonate with the world. You are a master at your craft, a legend and a mentor who taught me more about acting and life than any classroom ever did. Rest In Peace, Papa.”  

I was pleased that my friend and mentor Ravi K Chandran had worked with Om, I am also happy that my elder brother Subi Samuel had shot several film publicity projects with him, but I am unhappy that my bachcha Adi (Aditya Seal), who is a spectacular actor himself, did not get the opportunity to work with someone who was truly a man who gave hope to those who did not have faces like what sculptors would have chiselled out of their slabs of marble, and yet took the world by storm by the mere strength of genius alone. Uncannily, it was only two days ago that I was telling Adi to watch The Hundred Foot Journey, and I was hoping sincerely that I would meet Om with him when I was to be in Bombay next. The perfect proof of two things, do not put until tomorrow what you can do today, and man proposes, god disposes.

Yes, life’s just that much, but the consolation is that Om got to do what he loved to do in what little time he had of it on earth. And so should each one of us too.  

Wherever you are, Om, hope you are in a happy space.