We don't realize how much farmers contribute to our lives, said Om Puri in his last chat with Subhash Jha
On the thespian's 71st birth anniversary, Subhash Jha recalls his last conversation with him
Tell me about your funniest birthday ever?
Many years ago ago when Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shabana Azmi, K. Vishwanath, Gulzar and I were in Mauritius. On 19 October Shabana yelled, “I don’t believe it! Yesterday was your birthday.” I had completely forgotten. Now I’m never allowed to forget my birthday. The bouquets make sure of that.
You’re in so many international films?
I’ve never been desperate for opportunities. I’ve always believed in a certain rhythm of life. I don’t want to do two shifts, and I won’t. To me a 100 Foot Journey is as exciting as a documentary I’ve done in Bangalore against corruption for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. I like Bangalore and I liked the concept. So I flew down.
When do we get to see you again in that one film that revolves around you?
There’re very few films like that here. My success abroad is akin to the situation I faced here after Akrosh wherein I was only recognized by the intelligentsia and directors like Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray responded to my performance. Ardh Satya was my breakthrough in the commercial circuit locally. Now I need one film like Ardh Satya internationally. But let tell you the recognition I get from the common people on the streets abroad is amazing.
So are you a bigger star abroad than at home?
No. Because I’m recognized in even the smallest town of India. Here I’m a star without the glamour and the glitter. I walk into any town and I’m decently mobbed. Some years ago I was embarrassed to be called a star. But not any longer.
Why have you decided to cut down on your work-load?
Enough is enough. I’ve slogged for thirty years. I’ve accumulated a decent bank balance (though it may not be decent by Bollywood standards). I’ve done roles for fun and for job satisfaction. Now I need to take it easy. I keep turning down offers. I need a break.
Why have you done so many bad films in Hindi?
I’ve a son. He needs careful nurturing. I can’t just sit back and relax. My colleague Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah)'s children have grown up. His responsibilities are over. And besides he has earned a lot more than me. I’ve been paid peanuts for my efforts. I was paid a mere 7 lakh rupees for playing one of the central characters and working four months non-stop in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s China Gate. I’m sure Naseer must’ve got five times more money for the same film. Surely big filmmakers like Santoshi Saab should be more cautious of my worth. But I’ve no complaints. I just want to take the next two months off. I may return to theatre, or do a small but meaningful film that gives me satisfaction as an actor.
You recently did a film Project Marathwada about the plight of farmers. What is your take on farmers’ rights?
We do not realize how much the farmer contributes to our lives. When I was a child our country had to import food grains from the West. Today we are self-sufficient in food grains, all thanks our farmers. And yet we allow them and their families to starve. Shame! The soldiers and the farmers toil endlessly so that we can exist peacefully. Lal Bahadur Shastri realized this through his slogan Jai Jawaan Jai Kissan. To address the issue of farmers we need to address the problem of droughts. To make sure a river doesn’t dry up we need to find a way to connect all the rivers. I know that’s a distant dream right now. But it is the only way to ensure farmers don’t reach that breaking point when they need to end their lives. They need to have access to the water from all our rivers.