Venerable. Vulnerable. The Unguarded Om Puri.

Curator's Note

In India’s current ultra-nationalist environment, when the label of “anti-national” is being wielded as a weapon against celebrities and everyday citizens alike to silence dissent, it is important to acknowledge Om Puri’s willingness to be just as political in his public life and media persona as he was with his work. In television interviews Puri spoke openly on being perceptive to the hardship and injustice that he saw around him and how he saw this work as a response to it. While mainstream Bollywood actors are encouraged to distance themselves from the reactionary aspects of their work to protect their commercial viability, Puri always acknowledged that his work came from an intensely political place. He was an actor committed to acting - not one who was wedded to a hyper-controlled ‘image’ dictated by PR agencies and branding contracts. In a ‘No Comments’ industry where established actors refrain from expressing even the most innocuous opinion for the fear of attracting public and political ire, Om Puri’s candour often came at the price of controversy. In 2011, he was forced to apologise for his comment that Indian politicians were “uneducated” (he later remarked in another interview that he only issued this apology because his young son feared for his safety). He was vocal on the subject of positive India- Pakistan relations, a subject that would be considered career-Kryptonite by most. In 2015, a police complaint was filed against him for making alleged anti-Army remarks in an interview where he supported the rights of Pakistani actors to work in India. For an actor acclaimed for his serious roles, he often didn’t take his star image seriously. He was self-deprecating in interviews, willing to poke fun at his unconventional looks (“Anthony Quinn wasn’t much of a looker either!”, he said in a Hindi-language television interview). It was this balance between being conscientious and self-effacing that allowed him to transform and adapt between varied roles; from the serious to the comic, and from arthouse to the commercial. In a film industry notorious for its sanitised and manicured media personalities, it was this very ability to be imperfect and unguarded that distinguishes Om Puri and foregrounds the humanity that he brought to his work.

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