Om Puri: The man who presented the real faces of the subcontinent of India

Sharaf Rehman, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Abstract

The Indian film industry continues to turn out between 1600 to 2000 films every year, making it the largest movie producing country in the world. Yet, it would be a challenge for an average European or American moviegoer to name a film actor from the Indian subcontinent. Naming the films may be easier. For instance, the millennials may be able to name Slumdog Millionaire (2008), the Generation X crowd may mention Gandhi (1982), and the older audiences may recall The Party (1968) and Ganga Din (1939) as movies about the Indians and India. It was not until the movie Gandhi that Indian actors were given the opportunity to play as Indians. Sam Jaffe and Abner Biberman played as Indians in Ganga Din; Peter Sellers was the Indian actor in The Party, and Shirley MacLaine was the Princess Aouda in Around the World in 80 Days (1956). It is reasonable to assume that many film viewers may be unfamiliar with Om Puri, an actor who played in over 325 films in India, Pakistan, UK, and the United States of America, and made films in English, Bengali, Punjabi, and Tamil languages. Om Puri passed away in 2017. His name may be unfamiliar, his face and his work as an actor will remain unforgettable. Between Gandhi (1982) and Viceroy’s House (2017), Puri acted in two dozen films in the UK, Canada, and the United States of America. This paper discusses Puri’s work in the popular Hindi cinema, in the Indian Parallel Cinema, and in European and North American films.