Veteran actor Om Puri passed away on Friday at the age of 66. In a career spanning more than four decades, he enthralled us with his splendid performances. He won two National Awards and became the honorary officer of the Order of British Empire.
Now, the millennials would not be knowing much about his versatility which left the audience spellbound with his acting prowess. He lent his voice for Bagheera in The Jungle Book, romanced Mallika Sherawat in Dirty Politics and recently played a Muslim priest in Salman Khan starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan. For someone who has extensively followed his films, it is my duty to tell you how brilliant actor he was. Having made his debut in 1976 Marathi film Ghasiram Kotwal, Puri shot to fame with his role of Anant Velankar, an upright police officer in 1983 film Ardh Satya. His performance in the Govind Nihalani film earned him his first National Award for best actor.
The era of 1980s is often considered a sad decade for the Bollywood with several stars going through a lean patch in their careers. However, commercial failures only contributed to the blossoming of parallel cinema. Actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Om Puri earned critical acclaim with their performances. Puri acted in more such films like Mirch Masala, Dharavi, Aakrosh which established himself as a brilliant actor.
We often lament the quality of comedy films which are made these days. They are no match to the 1983 cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro which had an ensemble cast comprising Naseeruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Satish Shah and others. It was Om Puri who stood out with his performance in the film. Do watch this hilarious Mahabharat scene from the Kundan Shah flick wherein Puri left us in splits.
Have you heard about the critically acclaimed film Gandhi? The Academy Award winning Richard Attenborough film had Ben Kingsley play the lead role. Puri made a brief appearance in the film as Nahari, who confronts Gandhi while the latter was on a fast-unto-death during Partition.
In the 1990s, Puri ventured into the commercial cinema but continued to earn accolades with his performances. He played an honest police officer in Sunny Deol starrer Ghayal (remember dhai kilo ka haath). But you need to watch Maachis for his stellar show. A scene showing him ranting about India’s corrupt system will leave you awestruck.
In his film career, Om Puri could fit into any role he was offered and performed it with ease. You feared him as a strict dad in Govinda starrer Kunwara, hated him as a wily politician dealing with Sanjay Dutt in Kurukshetra and respected him as ACP Gaitonde in Hrithik Roshan starrer Agneepath.
For an actor like Om Puri, it was difficult to restrain his capabilities to India alone. He acted in several Hollywood and British films throughout his film career. He also acted in a Pakistani film Actor In Law which released last year. If you are a film buff, do watch The Ghost And The Darkness, Wolf and City of Joy. It was City of Joy which earned him a lot of accolades with his role of a businessman named Hassari Pal who moves to Calcutta (now Kolkata) with his on-screen wife Shabana Azmi and three children.
He also appeared in films like Charlie Wilson’s War and The Hundred Foot Journey which should not be missed. To sum up, these films are an evidence of his phenomenal stature in the film fraternity.