Lights On - A dicussion with Om Puri

Aug 25, 2006 Mythily Ramachandran

Chennai, Aug 22: Om Puri looks very much like the friendly neighbor down-the road.

At 'Lights On', a forum organized by Sathyam Cinemas, Chennai on Aug. 22, he interacted with the audience, following the premiere of his new film, 'The Hangman'.

The ball was set rolling with director K.Hariharan recalling the days he spent with the veteran actor at the Film Institute, Pune.

That was in 1976, when the new wave of cinema had set in bringing forth meaningful films sans the gloss and glitz of the commercial movies.

Talking of his film, 'Ghashiram Kotwal', in which Om Puri played the title role, Hariharan referred to Om as a 'director's actor'.

It brought back memories for Om who interrupted to say, ''I visited Chennai when the film was released here. It was the first time I ate in a five star hotel, the Chola Sheraton."

Om Puri said that when he came from Punjab to National School of Drama, he didn't have films on his mind.

''I just wanted to do theatre. I knew I couldn't qualify myself to be a part of glamorous films. But after seeing Satyajit Ray's work, I realized that ordinary faces could be a part of cinema and I felt close to this kind of cinema", explained the twice national award winner. On a question from Hariharan on how he was able to breathe life into his films, Om said, ''A good script always helps. My major works have been with Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Satyajit Ray".

The film 'Arohan', based on a true story of a farmer's fight for land for 14 years and who died two years later was one such.

Going down memory lane, he narrated an incident on the sets of Satyajit Ray's 'Sadgati' where he plays an untouchable.

There was this scene where he dies and Smita Patil as his wife is crying. This scene was planned for four shots. Smita was to leave for New York following the shoot.

''I found Ray looking up at the clouds which were overcast. In no time Ray decided to do the scene in one shot so that even if it rained there would be continuity in the film", recalled Om.

''That was Ray", he added, ''He could make a decision according to the situation."

Ardh Satya was the turning point of his career and Om owed it to Amitabh Bacchan for refusing the role when it was offered to Big B first.

''I learnt to ride a motor-bicycle for this film," said Om.

Another learning experience was during the shooting of the film, 'City of Joy', in Calcutta. Om learnt to drive an auto rickshaw.

''I decided to practice every morning. The first day, dressed in my track suit I sat in the auto -rickshaw. Soon a crowd gathered," he says.

''The following day I disguised myself in a lungi and a torn banian covering my mouth with a towel just like the auto drivers. I had two real auto drivers in the back seat. That way I was able to drive around".

However the Calcutta daily 'The Telegraph' got wind of his early morning lessons and he was followed one day.

''The next day I was on their pages. I still have the picture", quips the actor with a chuckle.

Someone from the audience asked, ''How do you remain so simple and down to earth?"

Om said, ''I have proved myself as an actor and cannot be ignored. I don't forget that stories come from real life and I need to connect with reality. Watching people around helps me in my work as they surface later as emotional memories".

He narrated an anecdote about a 13 year-old boy who had lost his entire family to the earthquake at Latur. The boy did not break down but would sit and stare vacantly. The villagers were worried. One day, when he saw the cow reared by his family in the neighborhood, he ran up to it and holding it he cried.

''If I am asked to do a similar scene, I can do it, I don't need any glycerin".

''And I am not swayed by money. Art films pay less but they help me retain my image. It is good to look up at actors like Amitabh Bachhan and Shahrukh Khan but I also prefer to look down at less known actors who are good but have not been able to make a mark".

That was Om Puri, simple and unassuming minus all celebrity strappings. And as he walked down the parking lot with his wife and son, he was so much one of us.

Sathyam Cinemas deserves commendation for bringing such inspiring artists face to face with the public.

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The Hangman


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