Ahead of the Khushwant Singh Litfest’ 15 being held in Kasauli from Friday, veteran actor Om Puri, who was in Chandigarh on Thursday, speaks about his session on Tamas on the opening day of the fest, his love for Chandigarh, the recent Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) controversy and more. The Patiala-born actor was full of praise for Khushwant Singh whom he fondly called the ‘naughty Sardarji’.
Your session on the making of ‘Tamas’ is among the most anticipated events at the Kasauli Litfest. Are you excited? Why was this film chosen?
I am looking forward to it though I know I will be grilled by Kabir Bedi and Govind Nihalani (laughs). I will answer whatever they ask me. ‘Tamas’ is a special film as it was a significant piece of literature by Bhisham Sahni that throws light on a rather horrifying part of history in which a million people were butchered. It is a reminder to mankind that in case we don’t introspect our actions, this could happen again.
What is your take on the increasing literary festivals, be it the Jaipur Litfest, the Kumaon one or the Kasauli Litfest, a concept that has gained popularity of late?
Literary fests are actually meant for literary people to understand what is happening in the world and of course to encourage youngsters to read books. While it is a good practice for the former, the younger generation nowadays likes the online medium and hence don’t read many books. But if fewer people enjoy classical music, it doesn’t mean those who make it will stop doing so; it’s the same story here too. Moreover, litfests are for professional or voracious readers.
I have heard that you are a big Khushwant Singh fan.
Definitely! If there is a Flying Sikh, there is also one Fearless Sikh. That’s my name for KS as he always spoke his mind. He did what he wanted to. A pleasant gentleman indeed, and who wouldn’t enjoy his jokes. I fondly addressed him as the ‘naughty sardarji’. He loved women (laughs) and I loved him for that.
You have been vocal about the FTII controversy but have been called judgmental.
It has become more of an ego issue. I am not passing a judgment but saying something I believe in when I say that there has to be an educational embodiment taking care of what’s happening there. I don’t know how much of these people understand cinema. Someone who can take Indian cinema ahead and not merely maintain its stature is required to head the institute. Besides, I don’t understand why we need a governing council of 13 people. Even three people with a good understanding of healthy and purposeful cinema would do.
What should Om Puri fans watch out for?
Besides ‘Dimaag Ka Dahi’, which is an out-and-out comedy, there is Gurinder Chaddha’s next that I am excited to be part of. There is an American film ‘The Tiger’ based on the life of a boxer, and another British film I am working in.
You are from the region and keep visiting Chandigarh. Any special memories?
Sector 17, fancy showrooms, well-dressed boys and girls who roam around here (laughs) are part of Chandigarh’s culture, and I love that vibrancy. Besides, the wide roads and greenery are a welcome change from the humdrum of cosmopolitan cities. But nothing beats Sector 17 even after all these years.