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April 4, 1997


'We don't have the courage to make
the kind of movies we want to!'

Om PuriIt was as an angry, not so young, cop in the Govind Nihalani epic Ardh Satya that Om Puri captured the national imagination. Many films, many frustrations later, the actor balances his personal books. And finds - satisfaction, and a distant dream.

Sudarshna Dwivedi spoke to the actor.

His laughter is infectious. A full-throated burst imbued with sheer joie de vivre,with happiness.

An 'I'm glad to be alive!' sort of laugh.

"Nobody else can make you happy," says Om Puri, who on October 18 completed his 45th birthday. "Happiness comes from within. It's not that frustrating things don't happen to me, it is just that I don't allow those things to have any power over me."

I am to remember those words many times over as Om settles down to take me, with wit and good humour, on a guided tour through his life to date. Beginning with his birth in Ambala, his childhood in the home of a maternal uncle in village Sanaur near Patiala in Punjab (his father, being employed first in the railways and then by the Indian army, was constantly touring and thus unable to raise his son under his own roof).

The first fork in the road of his life came when Harpal Tiwana and his wife, formerly of the National School of Drama, arrived in Patiala to set up a local theatre group called the Punjab Kala Manch. Om was at the time attending evening classes in Khalsa College, Patiala - which meant that his days were free to pursue other inclinations, drama being one of them.

Om PuriThe Tiwanas tried to actively discourage Om from joining the NSD, reasoning that theatre would not offer a steady source of livelihood. But the young Om went ahead and applied to the NSD, and was selected.

"It was in 1973 that I passed out from NSD," Om recalls. "For three years till then, I had lived and breathed theatre. Naseeruddin Shah was one of my classmates, and after passing out from NSD he joined the film institute in Pune. I wanted to join him, but since the Pune institute did not provide scholarships, I couldn't afford it.

"The problem," he recalls, narrating the tale with the skill of a born raconteur, "was to be solved in an unexpected fashion. A girl called Neelam, a junior of ours at the NSD, had come to see me perform in Hamlet,with an industrialist friend of hers. After the show, this industrialist offered me a stipend of Rs 300 a month if I wanted to join the Pune institute and, on the proviso that the sum was being given as a loan, I accepted."

The tale has a twist, though, and Om tells it with due drama. "A month after joining, though, I was still to receive the promised cheque. I sent a reminder, it came back with the note that the party was out of station. Naseer, with whom I discussed my plight, told me to forget it. 'Don't have any hopes from this quarter,' Naseer advised me. And it was while I was wondering what to do that Girish Karnad, who heard of my plight, offered me a small role in a children's film that B V Karanth was making - Chor Chor Chup Ja. My first film role, and I received Rs 3,000 for it - a sum that was to sustain me for the next one year."

Not only did Om complete his course within that modest sum, but he even managed to save Rs 600 - his entire wealth, when he landed in Bombay. His initial problem was accomodation, and after some difficulty he managed a modest paying guest accomodation thanks, again, to the good offices of his friend and NSD classmate Naseer.