Om Puri was an unlikely hero, yet his distinctive voice will echo in our hearts for years although he left for his heavenly abode in 2017. On his 70th birth anniversary today, his family and friends remember the great actor who was as humble as he was gifted.
“Kya tussi samandar nu kujje ch paa sakde ho (Can you sum up an ocean in a mug)?” asks Gurcharan Singh Channi, eminent theatre personality and documentary-maker. “I knew him through his father (whom they referred to as baau ji). I feel not only was he a warm personality, but also a vulnerable one.” Channi’s favourite movie of Om will forever be Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. “I could always make out the Punjabi diction in his voice,” he adds.
Renowned Chandigarh-based theatre-person Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry recollects, “I was two years junior to him in the National School of Drama (NSD). I remember those deep marks on his face, which were more prominent when he was young, yet he was charismatic. Something made him an outstanding personality with determination and focus, and, of course, that distinctive voice.” Coming from a humble background, he did not take his success too seriously and was accessible to all. She adds, “During his visit to Chandigarh, he often stayed with us and had that Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro kind of humour in real life as well. He would walk up with all those sabji ka thailas and would say —‘today I will cook for you guys’. Once he also gave a voice-over for my younger son’s ad-film.”
Nandita Puri, Om Puri’s wife, says, “He was kind and empathetic towards the less privileged and, of course, an extremely grounded human being. That is the intent of the Om Puri Foundation — to carry his legacy and philosophy forward. His prowess in acting came from the fact that he never stopped learning, improving and observing. He never took his fame or talent for granted, but worked very hard till the end. We want to keep his life and legacy alive through Puri Baatein on You Tube, which will be launched on his 70th birth anniversary”
His roles in East is East to The Hundred-Foot Journey in Hollywood; to his comic timing in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro; to movies like Aakrosh, Tamas, China Gate, Ghayal and more, Om Puri was truly gifted. Says the creative director of Harpal Tiwana Foundation, Manpal Tiwana, “He was a family member with whom I have stayed in Mumbai. He was caring and often cooked for people. He loved his daal and tinde ki sabji. People forget where they come from, but he never for once forgot to mention my father’s (Harpal Tiwana’s) role in his success. That’s Om Puri for you, who wasn’t just associated with my parents but was chachu for us.”