By Arnav Bhardwaj
Veteran actor Om Puri passed away peacefully at his Mumbai residence on Friday morning. He was 66. Hailing from a middle-class family in Ambala, nobody would have thought that such an average looking young man, without any connections would be able to leave such a huge mark on Indian cinema. As the revered actor leaves us, only to eternally remain in our hearts, we take a look at how he broke all barriers of conventionality to forever change the face of Indian cinema.
Squashing the need to look ‘dashing’
In a country where looks had become the first pre-requisite for an actor, he fought all prejudices. Throughout his career, his looks never overshadowed his acting talent. His struggle was able to set him apart from the clichéd ‘dashing’ Bollywood hero as he played multiple experimental roles.
As he turned the limelight on talent instead of looks, he paved the way for the younger generation of talented actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui to enter the industry.
Bringing social change
Be it his portrayal of a victimised tribal in Aakrosh or a revolting cop in Ardh Satya, his choices resulted in Hindi cinema being increasingly used as a tool to fight social injustice. He used his impeccable acting acumen to draw the masses’ attention towards pressing social issues. His roles paved the way for a parallel stream of cinema. The industry’s focus was shifting from glamour and entertainment. The success of recent films like Pink is only a reflection of his continued efforts.
Creating affable relations with Pakistan
His choice of characters and films exhibited a marked departure from the policy of hatred towards Pakistan. Keeping the revered art aloof from political tensions, he acted in the widely-acclaimed Pakistani movie “Actor in Law”. His notable choice of “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” is also a clear reflection of his strong desire to bring the two countries closer via greater collaboration. His efforts are bearing fruit with Pakistani artists gaining increasing acceptance in the Indian film industry. Pakistani actors like Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar are being brought into the fold of Indian cinema. The contribution of Om Puri is undeniable in making this unthinkable scenario come to life.
Opening doors to the west
He worked in prominent British and Hollywood films like “East is East” and “City of Joy”. The prospect of Indian actors working in the West was thus established. It does not come as a surprise that his cameo of mere 1.5 minutes in the British film “Gandhi” was chosen for screening at the Oscars. The success of Bollywood actors like Priyanka Chopra is suggestive of the efforts of enterprising men like Om Puri.
He might have passed away leaving the entire nation mourning for the loss of a beloved icon, yet his presence will continue to be felt in the numerous ways he has forever changed the course of Indian cinema.