Unlikely Hero - Om Puri

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Item Code: NAC434
Author: Nandita C. Puri
Publisher: Lotus Collection, Roli Books
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788174368041
Pages: 215 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 Inch X 5.5 Inch
Weight 440 gm
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Book Description
Back of the Book

UNLIKELY HERO offers an exclusive glimpse into Om Pun’s private life, his struggles and anxieties, and the woes of his heart. Discover the Om Pun no one knows about — the tongue-tied actor from Punjab with stars in his eyes; the incorrigible flirt in drama school; the connoisseur of food and expert cook; and the complete family man. Featuring amusing anecdotes with his family, shocking episodes with the stalwarts of Indian and British cinema, and the nail-biting suspense of his love life, the tale is complemented by rare and unusual photographs. Told with wit, honesty, and élan, this hook is a fitting tribute to the inspirational tale of Om Purl — one of the most talented actors of India. The late Patrick Swayze, Om Pun’s co-actor in City of Joy, recounts the impact Om had on his life, while notable film critic, Derek Malcolm talks about Om’s immense talent and vast repertoire. Naseeruddin Shah fondly remembers his friendship with Om that began at the National School of Drama and Om’s rise in the national and international film industry.

NANDITA C. PURI is a writer and journalist, who has authored a collection of short stories, Nine on Nine and is completing her first novel, Two Worlds. Her articles have been published in the Telegraph, Dainik Bhaskar, the Statesman and the Mid Day. Besides being a broadcast journalist and an art critic, Nandita has written screenplays for commercial as well as non-commercial cinema. Nandita lives in Mumbai with her husband, Om Pun, and her son, Ishaan.


I first met Om Pun during City of Joy in 1991 in Calcutta where we spent a lot of time, especially with me listening to him. It was an amazing experience for me as he was truly an Indian version of my father. They have incredibly similar looks.

What also drew me to him was his silent strength and power. I listened to his life stories and in many ways our life became mirrored in the film. We learned a great deal from each other. We both have overcome incredible odds. Both of us have gone through in life what most people don’t know. Therefore, I am so happy that now his story will be told and I am looking forward to reading it.

In City of Joy, Cm was my pied piper who helped me understand India in every way. As an actor he has such diversity and depth. You look into his eyes and you read volumes — that is the kind of power he has as an actor this intensity makes him the master of mystical roles, which he excels in. Cm’s entire journey can be read in his face and he adds a layer of credibility and passion to every role he essays. Whether people casting in Hollywood knew it or not, they were casting a real human being, not merely an actor. He embodies the idea that true heroism lies in the quality of how you survive your daily struggle. To me he is my true guru.

I always make sure I research on those I work with. So I did an Cm Pun film festival back then before embarking on City of Joy. I was moved by his role in Satyajit Ray’s film, Sadgati and some others. So when it came up for Cm to do Hasari Pal, it made complete sense.

In the process, Cm taught me to move through the world with the dignity we all possess. I know I sound esoteric while talking about this man, but City of Joy truly changed my life. I came back to my country with a sense of shame of the bubble we live in and made a commitment to be like Om.

All you have to do is look at Cm’s face. He is a man who has been beaten up. You can see old scores in his eyes and you want to know more about this man the moment you look into his eyes. This sensitivity is counterpointed with wisdom and that is Cm Pun to me.

He has an incredible sense of humour. The twinkle in his eyes lights up your life and this subtle sense of humour on screen is a very rare gift for an actor. This Cm did in City of Joy and I am sure in many other films. It makes the performance layered. And I also got to find out what a good dancer Cm was when we all had a couple of Indian beers. It evoked a lot of laughter.

I think I have done a great deal of talking about his strengths. I don’t think I saw a weakness. This man was Hasari Pal. He became his role. I don’t think there was ever a false moment I could detect as it wasn’t there. We had such a compatible connection as friends.

The thing I was most amazed about Cm was that he has lived a life that could have produced a bit of rage but he somehow transformed it into a great deal of love. It exudes from him and it is contagious. And that perhaps is the reason he became the big brother I never had in my real life. We did not act in the film, but continued our dialogue and it just happened to be the dialogue in the film!

The biggest thing I found working with Cm as an actor is that he gives all of himself and with no fear, no defence, no justification. And that is remarkable in an actor. Hasari Pal is the core of City of Joy and I felt he deserved at least a nomination at the Academy Awards.

City of Joy is truly the story of Hasari Pal where the character is seen through the Western eyes of Max Lowe. And it is really how it went. The first day when I was working in Mother Teresa’s home for the dying, I realized that I was thj one to be truly pitied, not the dying. Because I got so much from life and did so little with it. And Om helped me in this endeavour of mine.


It is always a difficult task to write a biography. Be it from a historical perspective or otherwise. Official or unofficial, authorized or unauthorized. A biography is a relative subject and hence its objectivity is always questioned.

It becomes doubly difficult when the subject of your biography is related to you. Like your parents, siblings or children. Or even friends. And it increases manifold when the subject happens to be your spouse! That too a spouse with very definite ideas of what should be written in his biography, who should be included and who should be excluded!

The idea of a biography on Om Pun stemmed many years back, when I first met him in Kolkata (then Calcutta), on the sets of City of Joy, where I had gone to interview him for the Telegraph. The idea was his and listening to stories of his childhood got me really charged. ‘My life story is almost like Sir Charles Chaplin an amazing growth history;’ Ott had boasted then. ‘Sure to be a bestseller.’ Well almost, I thought to myself, and despite my hero-worship perspective of Om then, was not fully convinced about it.

Fortunately or unfortunately for us, the project did not materialize. The daunting task of a biography for a cub reporter was immense. Besides, I got involved with many other things, including the subject himself, to give it any serious thought. Thus it was pushed to the backburner.

In 1993, we got married. After the initial heady years of matrimony, Om did drop a hint to me of going ahead with the biography. Again, I wondered whether I would be able to do justice to the biography without being prejudiced — in both the good and the bad sense. And so the project was abandoned a second time, while I devoted myself to running a home and writing prolifically.

Meanwhile, professionally Om rose to great heights, both in India and abroad. He was inundated with national and international awards including the Padma Shri and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. By 2002, the intervening years of writing and reporting had honed my skills in both word-flow and objectivity. So when the publishers approached me to write a biography on my husband, this time I considered it seriously. But lo and behold! This time the subject backed out. ‘No: said Om vehemently. ‘You cannot write my biography now. Because you will not be objective.’ ‘Trust me: I reasoned.

‘No: he seemed very hesitant. ‘Why did it take you so long to decide on it?’ ‘Because I would not have been objective then. Besides, I did not want to write a biography on you that would be sponsored by you. It would lose its honesty: I said. ‘In that case, forget it.’ ‘Anyways, I am doing it,’ I said, digging in my heels like any headstrong spouse would.

You may feel the book got underway on a wrong note. On the contrary, I think it began on the right one. A distance had been created between me and my subject insomuch as I could write about him independently now. And besides, being a journalist for more than fifteen years, I felt I could reveal facets of Om that were closest to his heart, and those he would have liked to share, due to our intimacy. When I visited his childhood place in 2003, I saw it anew through his eyes as he too was returning there after nearly thirty-three years. And from that point I took off on the life of one of the country’s most well- known faces.

Yet, I believe that a good biographer does not sit in judgement on his subject but has the vision and clarity to expose the subject to the reader with honesty. The rest is for the reader to assess. At best a biographer can illuminate aspects of a life and through such glimpses string a story. Every one of us has a story to tell. And to each of us our story is unique. But to bring this uniqueness to the reader and hold his interest is the task of a storyteller. And that is what I have tried to do in the following pages.

I have enjoyed every bit of writing this book. Om’s friends, colleagues and relatives were very helpful and through their eyes there were moments when I got to view my subject from a different angle. Then there were times when some people associated with him refused to talk. With the exception of a couple of gutsy women, others who were a part of his life were unwilling to talk about the past. Only Seema Sawhni stands out with her elegant grace in spite of joking that ‘I cannot talk about the best parts to the wife There have also been those whom I may have unwittingly antagonized along the way as part of my job.

It is true that a spouse can lose her objectivity from time to time, fluctuating with the prevailing moods at home. Moreover, the canvas becomes so large that one can get confused about what to include and what to exclude without compromising the integrity of the work. One can be unduly kind or unkind, fair or unfair So, for me it has undoubtedly been a cathartic experience.

On reading several other biographies I observed it is a person’s work or art which is emblematic of the person. You cannot separate the one from the other. And yet, while reading a life story, often getting into the details of the artist’s work can obstruct the narrative. So, in this book I have let Om talk about his work experience as separate sections while letting the main narrative of his life flow like a gentle stream.

Even if it at times does deviate from the above, I do not apologize. For this is more than a biography.... After all, it took sixteen years for this project to incubate before it was ready to see the write of day!


Foreword – Patrick Swayze 8
In Appreciation – Naseeruddin Shah 10
Preface 14
Acknowledgements 18
An Introduction to Om Puri – Derek Malcolm 20
Born with a Wooden Spoon 22
In the Wings 38
National School of Drama 46
Film & Television Institute of India 56
Bombay 1976 64
Majma 72
Ardh Satya 78
An Actor at Last 86
Let’s Go to the Movies 98
That’s Amore 120
City of Joy 138
Heads and Tails 150
Om at Home 170
His Son’s Father 188
Overview of Indian Cinema – Om puri 198
Tips to Actors – Om Puri 202
Om Puri: A Filmography 207
Awards & Accolades 210
Index 212
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