Five most memorable performances by Om Puri

“Marne se pehle mere baal dye kar dena, I want to die young!”—Remembering Om Puri’s unforgettable performances in cinema classics

In ‘West is West’
In ‘West is West’

Pragati Saxena

Om Puri has been such a versatile actor that he could very well carry an entire film on his shoulder just by doing a cameo in a film. His portrayal of Hanif in O MY GOD! or mafia don in Aawara Paagal Deewana or Ahuja in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro are not only integral to the film but also are frequently mentioned as unique performances by him.

He will always be remembered for his earlier performances in Aakrosh and Ardh Satya. Film buffs of the eighties still remember and praise his performance in a lesser known film of that time ‘Shayad’. The poem in Ardh Satya recited by him is one of the best recitations in Hindi films—‘Soya hua aadmi jab neend me se uth kar chalna shuroo karta hai, tab sapnon ka sansaar use dobara dikh hi naa paayega… us roshni me jo nirnaya ki roshni hai, sab kuch samaan hoga, ek palde me napunsakta, doosre palde me paurush aur theek taraazu ke paante par ardh satya!’ (When a man starts walking after waking up, does not realize that he would never be able to see the world of dreams…in the light of justice, everything will be equal, impotence on one side of the scale and manhood on the other and half truth right in the center of the scale.)

Often it is mentioned that in real life too he looked as angry and intense as in Aakrosh and Ardh Satya. But when it comes to the comic performances, Ahuja of ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ is iconic. When this corrupt drunkard with a strong Punjabi accent says ‘Oye, Draupadi teri akele ki nahi hai... hum sab shareholders ki hai’ (hey, Draupadi doesn’t belong to you only, she belongs to all the shareholders!), it not only held the audience in splits, it also remains an unforgettable statement on the economy of privatisation and capitalism.

He was an intense actor and molded his persona according to the character. His portrayal of Nathu in Govind Nihalani’s now legendary TV serial Tamas is simply par excellence. His vulnerable, intense and innocent look in the time of the tragic crisis of partition actually represents every common man’s vulnerability and fight for survival.

Poster of Ardha Satya
Poster of Ardha Satya

Another such role is his performance in Dhoop. The film itself was not a great commercial success, but Om Puri’s intense performance as the grieving father of a martyr who finally stands up tall to fight the system coupled with sensitive script and music, is still recalled as a classic example of acting finesse in Hindi cinema.

He was an international actor and acted in many Hollywood and British productions. But his most memorable role would undoubtedly be the patriarch Zahid Khan in East is East. He portrays a typical South Asian patriarch settled in Britain who does not want to give up his outdated moral values and the comfort of western world either. That way he was more realistic and accepted worldwide than the typical conservative father of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, because his performance was more layered, far more subtle.

There are many more wonderful performances by this multi-faceted actor whom each of us remembers fondly. One such dialogue will always be remembered and quoted fondly by younger and older generations alike: “Marne se pahle mere baal dye kar dena, I want to die young!”

Pragati Saxena is a journalist based in Ghaziabad

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Published: 06 Jan 2017, 6:00 PM