Om Puri was 17 years old when he first stepped on to the stage. He was still learning the ropes at the Punjab Kala Manch in 1967. Then an enviable film career followed and theatre took a back seat.
Now, 25 years later, he is making a comeback to the stage as a director and actor with the play, Teri Amrita. Written originally in English as Love Letters (it has also been adapted in Hindi as Tumhari Amrita), the story has been translated by Puri to Punjabi. As the characters-in-love Zulfikar and Amrita, Puri and his co actor Divya Dutta will perform in the city today. Ahead of the premiere at the Centrestage Theatre Festival at NCPA today, Puri talks about his life on and away from the stage:
What made you pick Teri Amrita to make your comeback?
Since I’ve been away from theatre for so long, I wanted to start with something simple; and by simple, I mean the performance doesn’t rely on any props or sets. This play just involves emotions and pure acting.
What took you 25 years to return to theatre?
Theatre was always my base, but I wanted to connect to a lot of people through my acting. I thought cinema was a medium that could help me reach out to the masses overnight. Eventually, I got so busy with films that I had no time for theatre after 1987. Also, to lead a better life, I had to opt for commercial films.
How did you start acting?
I used to do a lot of theatre during college in Punjab in the late ’60s. After that, I was fortunate enough to get a government job. But then I took the biggest risk of my life and I decided to quit that job to join the National School of Drama (NSD). I did many plays in different languages and I can proudly say that I was brilliant.
After NSD, I was a bit confused about what to do next. Then Naseeruddin Shah, my classmate in NSD, suggested I join the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. A few years later, I entered the film industry with art films. I knew that was the best way of conveying true emotions.
Do you plan on continuing doing theatre now?
Definitely. Also at this stage and age, I can’t expect brilliant roles in films. I enjoy my upper middle class life. I’m too tired. I don’t want to take up something just for the sake of being in the industry and making money.
Are you working on any other theatrical productions?
There’s an old play called Udvast Dharamshala, which was performed a long time ago in Marathi. Even I did about 55 shows of its Hindi version in the late ’70s. So I am going to start working on that play again. There’s another one as well, but I would like that to remain a surprise at this point.