Om Puri had mentioned that he gave all the credit of his entry into film life to me. He had said that it was because of my success that people like him and Naseeruddin Shah could even dream of entering into films, doing good roles and being established. I don’t know how much of it was true but if at all it is to be considered, I would say that if I represented the aam aadmi, it was the urban aam aadmi. Om brought in the rural aam aadmi into mainstream cinema and Bollywood. He further took it to international cinema. His long journey reflects his acting powers and brilliant career.
I want to correct the impression that he started his career from FTII. Before that, he graduated from the National School of Drama. In fact, my first meeting which I remember with Om was when we were both participating in a theatre festival in Kolkata. I had seen his performance in Udhavas dharamashala. This was a Marathi play which was being performed in Hindi and I knew that play very well. So, when I saw his interpretation and his performance in that play, I was completely bowled over and our friendship and association began from that day. So, his career had started from theatre. And his roots were always in theatre. He eventually went into films, then grew on an international level. But I think more than Ghashiram Kothwal, I would point out Udhavas dharmashala. In his acting career, Aakrosh was brilliant and in Mrinal Sen films, he was absolutely outstanding.
But I admire Om for his completely different portrayal in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and his role in Chachi 420 is very unlike his personality. He came up with such beautiful performances in comedy that one could see what tremendous range this actor had. Irrespective of the kind of role or the frame of the role he was given, he would still come across with flying colours. I think of the hard work which he had shown in the National School of Drama, in FTII and in his entire career. He could hardly speak English when he started his career but went on to act in Hollywood films, speaking in perfectly good English without getting brought down by this kind of handicap. This just shows his strength, his capacity, his hard work and his growth.
We did a film four or five years back and I made a film called Dhamkatha. It was a movie for children in which Om had played the lead role of a lovable grandfather. Again, we had some memorable moments during that period. We worked very hard during the day. And then, after a hard day’s work was over, we would sit down, chat, have a drink and discuss a lot of things over that drink. During that discussion, Om did not just talk about films. He was capable of talking about his point of view, his opinion on politics and his comment on social issues. This side of his personality was very fascinating. Therefore, we could connect a lot more and it was a very beautiful association, although we did not meet regularly.
I don’t remember meeting Om on a regular basis. But whenever we bumped into each other, we would mostly be shooting in a studio for different films. He would be shooting his film, I’d be shooting mine. We would be there, then we’d sit down and have lunch together, or we would bump into each other at a film function or a party. Even though there was a long gap between each time we met, there was never a feeling that it was after any gap. It was always with a kind of warmth and the feeling that we just met yesterday. And he always had respect, so our friendship was a very beautiful relationship.
Today is not the day to talk about controversy. But I don’t think people have an appropriate view about actors. I just saw yesterday that Akshay Kumar came out and commented on the Bengaluru incident. Why do people think that actors can’t do it? Anchors have always done it, actors have done it in the past when they felt that there was something wrong happening in our country. I think it is just the media’s perception that actors are only entertainers and they need not talk about any other issue, neither political nor social. But Nana Patekar has been doing such a brilliant work for farmers.
I have said that some actors don’t hesitate to come out and make a statement. Om was one of them. And therefore, we belong to the same gharana.