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Om Puri: The unlikely hero who defined art for the film industry

Excerpts from a book written by actor Om Puri’s ex wife Nandita Puri, which reveal the actual life of the late actor.

bollywood Updated: Jan 08, 2017 13:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Naseeruddin Shah,Om Puri,Nandita Puri
Actor Om Puri with fellow actor Naseeruddin Shah.(Roli Books/Nandita C Puri)

As the world remembers Om Puri who passed away on Friday morning, here are excerpts of a book on the man, Om Puri - Unlikely Hero written by his ex-wife and author Nandita Puri. Nandita was married to him from 1993 to 2013. Published by Roli Books, the book captures some of the memorable moments of his life — from his theatre days to his rise in the film industry. However, later Om called the book distasteful.

A childhood spent in poverty:

Even when as young as five, Om used to collect coal from the railway tracks and bring it home to be used as fuel. Once, Om and his friend found an egg. Om had never seen one but his friend explained that it was something edible. His mother would not let them enter the house with it but gave them an empty oil tin can and some wood. The boys lit a fire, boiled the egg in the tin can and then ate it with relish. It was perhaps the first time little Om had tasted any kind of non-vegetarian food.

Playing Doctor in Strindberg’s The Father, with Nina Tiwana as Lara, in Central State Library Hall in Patiala in 1968, (Roli Books/Nandita C Puri)

When school was a luxury:

Om was nearly eight when he reached Sanaur and had never been to a school till then. At his age most boys were in the second standard. So his uncles sent him to a private school run by a very strict teacher called Sadhuram. Sadhuram taught boys from the first to the third standards together so that they could get admission in a recognized school. In two years’ time Om made up for lost time in Sadhuram’s school. He remembers practising handwriting on a takhti or wooden slab and standing and droning multiplication tables in a sing-song manner: ‘Ek dooni do; Do dooni char … (One into two–two; two into two–four …)’

Puri with co-actors Shabana Azmi and Patrick Swayze on the sets of City of Joy. (Roli Books/Nandita C Puri)

The sexual awakening

When he was 14 years old and in the ninth standard, a turning point came in Om’s life. One summer night, as the family was sleeping out on the terrace, Om noticed his Chhoti Maami sleeping with her midriff exposed. He had been getting attracted towards her for a while and that night his reins snapped. He reached out and caressed his aunt’s exposed tummy. She just turned away and muttered angrily. Next morning when Om woke up, his uncle Tarachand just glared at him and gave him a tight slap across his face without saying a word. He was told to pack his bags and Ramesh was given the charge of dropping him home to Ludhiana. In Ludhiana, Om sulked for a while though his parents did not say anything. Om was keen to go back as he wanted to complete the rest of his education. A few days later, his brother Ved took him to Sanaur and tried to persuade his uncles. They remained adamant but Om too refused to return to Ludhiana. It was vacation time and school was closed, so Om literally had nowhere to stay. He persuaded the school chowkidar, Jethu, to let him in and he slept in the verandah. While he stayed there with all his worldly belongings in a tin trunk, Naresh Kaushal brought him food from home everyday.

Om Puri with wife Nandita Puri. (Roli Books/Nandita C Puri)

Om’s ‘change of events’:

In Sanaur too, there were no girls of his age and the only women he knew were his maternal aunts and the maids. So it was but natural for Om to take a liking to older women. He must have been around 14 when he was deflowered. A 55-five-year-old woman, Santi, used to provide general help in his maternal uncle’s house. Twice a day, water was drawn into the house with a hand pump and Om was asked to assist Santi in the job. Days went by and Om kept pressing the pump backwards and forwards, till one day he realised that Santi would first touch, then caress and finally fondle him during the task. The young boy began to get turned on without knowing what was happening to him. One day there was a power failure and in the dark, Santi grabbed Om, who was by then totally aroused. They slept together and the 14-year-old felt really great having come of age. Dark, greying, with a toothless grin, always dressed in half-torn salwars, Santi was Om’s first lover.

Om and the dog:

Once while filming with Jackie Shroff, Om asked casually, whether Shroff had a dog. He replied he didnt like dogs too much and did not intend to keep one. But you must,’ Om insisted. Why?’ Shroff asked. ‘Because then you can call him Om. Shroff looked bewildered and thought Om had gone crazy. ‘But why would I do that?’Om smiled mischievously and said, ‘You see, I have a dog called Jackie.’ Shroff almost got up to hit him!

First Published: Jan 07, 2017 19:19 IST