Sorry Om, You Deserved Much Better

In the heartless, merciless world of social media, some people rejoiced at the death of veteran actor Om Puri, for his ‘crime’ of speaking in favour of cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan

Photo by Santosh Hirlekar/PTI
Photo by Santosh Hirlekar/PTI

Sandeep Sahu

Can one rejoice at the death of someone? In the heartless, merciless world of social media, people apparently can, even if the deceased happens to be someone as illustrious as Om Puri. Just sample this.

And pray what ‘crime’ did Puri commit to deserve such utterly obnoxious epitaphs? That he spoke in favour of cultural exchanges between estranged siblings India and Pakistan. That he espoused the cause of Indo-Pak relations on Pakistani soil and that too at a time when ties between the two neighbours were at their lowest ebb in the wake of the terror attack on the Uri Army base apparently compounded his crime manifold.

Now see how Pakistanis reacted to the news of Puri’s death.

The contrast could not have been starker. Here is a consummate, versatile actor who has contributed so much to Indian cinema, who ushered in a paradigm shift in Indian cinema by making looks irrelevant, who was conferred with a Padma Shri, being branded an ‘anti-national’ by people in his own country and hailed in another! I have no doubt that the hyper nationalist brigade would pounce on the laudatory comments by eminent Pakistanis to say “I told you so!”

None of the Twitter trolls cared to remember what he had said after Aamir Khan’s much pilloried comment about growing intolerance in the country in which he had talked about leaving the country with wife Kiran. Dubbing Aamir’s comment as ‘highly irresponsible’ and ‘intolerable’, Puri had accused the Bollywood superstar of provoking his coreligionists. Trolls, after all, will only pick what suits their narrative.

It is true that Puri had the knack of putting his foot in the mouth on numerous occasions—as he did at the height of the Anna Hazare movement by dubbing politicians ‘ganwaar’ (unlettered) or when he asked “Who had asked them to join the Army and pick up arms?” in the context of the death of Indian soldiers on the border after Uri during a television discussion. But no one seems to remember the unconditional apology tendered by the veteran actor after his statements created a furore on both occasions.

How much hatred can one harbor in his/her bosom, I often wonder. How obsessive can one get about pop nationalism that all one can remember after the death of a great actor is a loose statement given in a moment of indiscretion (for which he subsequently apologized) and forget a lifetime of pioneering work done by him?

I would rather remember Puri as the intense and brooding Lahanya Bhiku in Aakrosh, as sub inspector Velenkar in the epoch-making Ardha Satya (which was the first film in the ‘parallel’ genre’ that enjoyed immense commercial success too) or in the memorable role of Nahari in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in which he emerged the scene stealer in a power-packed, 90-second long sequence also featuring Ben Kingsley, who played the title role.

It seems India’s time-honoured tradition of not talking ill of the dead is now well and truly buried. While I have no problems with a fair and even handed obituary that brings out both the good and the bad in the dead, I hang my head in shame when I find that one of the finest actors of our times (and not just in India) is judged solely on the basis of a stray political comment he made.

Sorry Om, you deserved much better!

Reproduced with permission of the author and Odisha TV Network, where this article first appeared

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Published: 08 Jan 2017, 1:28 PM