Om and Naseer: Four Decades of a Friendship

Curator's Note

It is difficult to talk about Om Puri without talking about Naseeruddin Shah. With a friendship spanning over four decades, the warmth of their relationship informed each other’s career and performance in more than one ways. Shah said in an interview that Puri is one of those rare persons in the industry whom he could frankly critique, and in turn be critiqued by. Puri and Shah met at the prestigious National School of Drama in the 1970s where Puri was an acting student and Shah was pursuing a directorial course. They then went on to continue their education at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. In fact, it was Shah, who had joined FTII first, who coaxed Puri into joining him there. Two of the most rigorously trained actors in the industry, both maintained a steady distaste for mainstream commercial Hindi cinema. But both acknowledged the necessity of lending their talent to commercial films, if only for pecuniary reasons. In fact, it can be argued that the Hindi Film Industry really squandered these two very talented actors, never giving them their full due – whether in terms of roles that did justice to their acting prowess or the recognition and adulation that they rightly deserve. Puri and Shah have acted in 27 films together. Notable among these are Bhumika (1977), Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), Mandi (1983), Hey Ram (2000) and Maqbool (2004), among others. Both also went on to play prominent roles in international films, bolstering the presence of Indian actors in the transnational scene. In a recent interview, Shah teased Puri saying, “I was jealous that Om got offered a role in an international film before me”. This was because while Shah was fluent in English from an early age, Puri started learning the language at a later stage, and initially struggled with it. But he however learnt the language, and went on to work in more than twenty English-language films. This only stands testimony to his dedication to his craft. When asked about Puri’s success and accolades after Govind Nihlani’s Ardh Satya/Half Truth (1983), Shah had commented, “I am very proud of it. Om was born with a wooden spoon in his mouth”. Shah has played the role of a Punjabi from Delhi in a film, while Puri has played a British Muslim in another film; their friendship seems like the golden dream of a bygone era of mutual respect, admiration, and harmony against the current political backdrop of India.

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