Nandita Das on Om Puri: ‘Genuine, never putting on airs, always rooted in life’

Nandita Das on Om Puri: ‘Genuine, never putting on airs, always rooted in life’

The filmmaker had cast Om Puri as Toba Tek Singh in her upcoming film on Manto
06 Jan, 2017

I heard the shocking news of Om Puri’s death in the morning through my phone. Being in a place with poor network ruled out my chances of making frantic calls to his family and friends. After messaging the love of his life, Ishaan, his 20 something-son, I have no choice but to stay with the pain. It is a shock and sadness that is finding difficulty in sinking in. So scribbling seems the only catharsis.

I last met Om ji less than a week ago when he came with a beautiful flowering plant. After making sure it was kept properly on the ledge, he firmly spoke to the plant, “Meri izzat rakhna, aur murjhana nahi. Nandita ko tang mat karna, bahut achhi bachhi hai.”

The mock seriousness was part of the lightness he had and the caring self that he was. Before leaving his farm in Lonavala, he asked me how many of us were working in the Manto team, and the home staff was to be added to the list.

Nandita's last photo with Om Puri taken a week ago — Photo courtesy Nandita Das
Nandita's last photo with Om Puri taken a week ago — Photo courtesy Nandita Das

He brought 10 packets that had a box of chikis and a bottle of churan each – even for the watchman who brought the plant. He personally gave it to the team, to the girl who cooks and cleans and to the driver. For my six-year-old son, there was a separate packet of goodies. Being a Santa came naturally to him.

'He was always affectionate'

He was genuine, always at par with whoever he was with, never putting on any airs to look precious. Always rooted in life, firmly on the ground and caring and affectionate to all those around him. In the 20 years I knew him, he hadn’t changed at all in his humanity.

Yes, he had aged, put on weight, drank too much and got into hurtful controversies. It is not my place to comment on them or give reasons for it. All I know is that through all his hardships, he didn’t become bitter, just very very sad.

"I last met Om ji less than a week ago when he came with a beautiful flowering plant. After making sure it was kept properly on the ledge, he firmly spoke to the plant, 'Meri izzat rakhna, aur murjhana nahi. Nandita ko tang mat karna, bahut achhi bachhi hai.'"

I first met Om ji in 1998, at the Ramoji Rao Film city where he was shooting and I was with Shyam Benegal for a film called Hari Bhari. We laughed and talked effortlessly. He asked me if I would like to go with him to the village where he shot Susaman. It was a Shyam Benegal film about a Pochampally weaver’s family.

I can never forget that trip. The villagers. of course, remembered him even after 15 years. But I was intrigued to see that so did he. The children, who were seven or eight at the time of the filming, were now grown men and women. But they were not forgotten. We had chai with them and he shared stories wistfully.

Not so long ago, I almost scolded him and made him promise that he would take care of his health. He would give me a report from time to time to tell me that he had been following my instructions! He had read my script on Manto and was to play Toba Tek Singh, a character in one of Manto’s stories that Naseeruddin Shah once told me that no actor can do justice to. But I strongly believed that Om ji could. He would have proved Mr. Shah wrong, which he would have been happy to concede.

As I was struggling with casting, Om ji began to make a list of characters and promised to help me with it. He wanted Ishaan, his son, to work with me as an assistant, who promptly committed to be on the team. For so many reasons, Om ji will remain part of my Manto journey.

‘Villain on the screen, supremely gentle off it’

I have acted in only one film with Om ji. It was called Pita, with Sanjay Dutt in the lead. He was the main villain whom I had to kill at the end. As the shoot got delayed almost every day, he and I would sit in our trailer watching old films. His commentary on them was most insightful and sensitive. The villain on the screen was a supremely gentle person off screen. Only a brilliant actor like him could be a villain in one, a police in the other, a weaver in the third, a militant in the fourth. The list goes on to 100 varied characters.

He was a man who always wanted to help, do things for others. That’s what gave him the most joy. Quite like my own father. No wonder they got along and always asked about each other with great fondness. Both deeply human but sadly loners – not too different from Manto. Not too different from all those who are almost too sensitive for the harshness of the world.

Om ji, you will be greatly missed. You had somewhat given up on life and just when I thought you were climbing back up the mountain, you left. I have a lot of unfinished business with you. You had to make sure your plant flowered well, you had to help me with my casting, you were to be in the climax scene of my film, you were to get back to life with a vengeance.

For now, all I can be grateful about is that I knew you, through your remarkable work and unwavering kindness. May you finally rest in peace.

This article, originally published at, has been reproduced with permission.


Avtar Jan 06, 2017 06:08pm
Very honest and heart felt feelings about the veteran actor.
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IMTIAZ ALI KHAN Jan 06, 2017 06:24pm
Nandita Das is so, so beautiful. Dravidian Beauty! R.I.P Om Puri we lost a hero today in Pakistan.
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Masood Jan 06, 2017 06:55pm
One of the nicest humble professional actor India has produced . Always spoke his heart out and spoke the truth ! Enjoyed his great acting talent ! RIP
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Zack Khan-Pakistani Jan 06, 2017 08:05pm
May his soul rest in peace!
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Kumar Jan 06, 2017 08:15pm
@IMTIAZ ALI KHAN Yeah she is pretty and a free soul kinda girl. I also like her.
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Drs Sears Appalsamy Jan 06, 2017 08:18pm
He was a great actor and ICON in this field.My condolences to his family, friends and acquaintances.
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Harmony-1© Jan 06, 2017 08:43pm
@IMTIAZ ALI KHAN - Which part of her you looking at?
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Tissot Jan 06, 2017 10:01pm
@Harmony-1© well certainly not through your eyes as you only see the negativity.
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a Jan 06, 2017 10:16pm
@Harmony-1© She is indeed very pretty. Haters gonna hate.
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Kris Jan 07, 2017 02:03am
Unfortunately people pen articles like this only when somebody dies. I so wish something like this was written when he was alive. It gave a window into the man's soul. RIP Om Puri.
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Princess_of_DHUMP Jan 07, 2017 04:07am
Very genuine thoughts
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dINESH sHARMA Jan 07, 2017 08:53am
Honest feeling from one honest soul Nandita.
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Raj Jan 07, 2017 09:12am
Picture says a lot . They both have collective sympathy for Pakistan and Nandita hates India , thus the mutual admiration is obvious .
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Suren Singh Sahni Jan 07, 2017 11:28am
leaves behind wonderful
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Dipak singham Jan 07, 2017 12:16pm
movie "Krukshetra" where he was main villain opposite to Sanjay Dutt, in this film Om ji without doing any extra acting to look villain he justice the role extremely good, treat to watch even villain role.
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AKKS Jan 07, 2017 12:40pm
A fitting tribute to Om Puri. Excellent article!
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Harmony-1© Jan 07, 2017 02:54pm
@A - I don't "hate" her and never said so. It's your usual preconception!
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DJ Jan 07, 2017 05:45pm
In recent past the affection of Om puri with Pakistan and pakistan people jumped to the height that he even fought with his own Nationals because of rift between India and Pakistan.RIP
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yauqut khan Jan 07, 2017 11:01pm
@a yeah all indians have same skin colour.
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IMTIAZ ALI KHAN Jan 08, 2017 07:37am
@Kumar Exactly pure feminine spirit :) Shakti. @Harmony-1© Dost I like her personality like Kumar mentioned free spirit kinda girl, she carries herself very well,
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Harmony-1© Jan 09, 2017 08:28pm
@IMTIAZ ALI KHAN - I agree...may be not 'beauty' in the strict sense but she has certain grace about her. My earlier comment was just a jovial banter. I think you got it but others (touchy lot) didn't :)
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Imtiaz ali khan Jan 09, 2017 11:04pm
@Harmony-1© Yeah I got it just fine, our people in South Asia are very emotional.
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