By Arundhuti Banerjee and Radhika Bhirani
Mumbai: Veteran Bollywood actor Om Puri, whose repertoire as an actor reflected a rare realism, died here early on Friday after a heart attack, triggering nationwide outpouring of condolences from top leaders, fans and the film fraternity.
The widely celebrated Om Puri, 66, was found dead at his Andheri West residence, a family friend told IANS. He is survived by his son Ishaan, whom he had with former wife Nandita Puri.
The sudden demise of one of India’s most talented actors stunned the film industry.
Khalid Kidwai, producer of the actor’s upcoming film “Ram Bhajan Zindabad”, said he met Om Puri on Thursday night regarding the promotional activities of the Hindi movie.
“He was in a happy mood and we conversed till late evening before he went to his friend and actor Manoj Pahwa’s party. In the morning when I learnt about his demise, I was in shock. I still cannot believe it,” Kidwai told IANS.
In one of his last interviews, given to IANS, Om Puri said prophetically on December 23: “My contribution will be visible once I leave the world.”
Known for his deep baritone and distinctive acting style, Om Puri had an affinity towards socially relevant cinema. This drove him into doing movies like “Aakrosh” and “Ardh Satya” which proved to be box office hits.
A National School of Drama alumnus, Om Puri also featured in movies like “Dharavi” and “Mirch Masala” and explored the comedy genre with “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro”, “Chachi 420”, “Hera Pheri”, “Malamaal Weekly” and more.
His stint on the small screen saw him feature in shows like “Kakkaji Kaheen” and “Mr Yogi”. But his most notable work was in TV film “Tamas”, which was helmed by Govind Nihalani — a filmmaker with whom Om Puri worked very closely all through.
For his superlative work, he was honoured with the National Film Award for Best Actor twice — for “Arohan” in 1982 and for “Ardh Satya” in 1984.
Om Puri also nurtured an international career, which started with a cameo in Richard Attenborough’s iconic “Gandhi”.
Among some of his British films were “My Son the Fanatic”, “East Is East” and “The Parole Officer”. He also appeared in Hollywood films including “City of Joy”, “Wolf” and “The Ghost and the Darkness”.
An advocate of peace between India and Pakistan, he even featured in Pakistani film “Actor In Law”. He also sank his teeth into regional Indian film projects.
Political leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee and Vasundhara Raje mourned his death.
A much-loved actor for his simplicity and humility, celebrities from Mumbai, Kolkata and even from the southern film industry expressed grief.
The film fraternity said he was one of the industry’s “greatest” and “most passionate” talent, who they believe will remain alive with the body of work he has left behind.
Actor Anupam Kher, a close friend of Om Puri since four decades, tweeted: “For me he’ll always be a great actor, a kind and generous man. And that is how world should remember him. Om Puri lent dignity to d medium he worked for. Whether it was stage, TV or cinema. He elevated status of the projects he was associated with.
“His body of work in the Indian film industry has been tremendous across the commercial and parallel genres. We’ve lost a great talent,” filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri told IANS.
A Padma Shri awardee and National Award-winner, Om Puri was also made the honorary officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the British film industry.
As president of the Cine & TV Artistes Association and a former chairman of the National Film Development Corp (NFDC), he was focussed on backing socially relevant content.