His sexual exploits, boyish conspiracies, right-wing socialism. In a tell-all biography, Nandita C Puri reveals an Om Puri his audiences have never imagined
A smoky cop, a frail rickshaw wallah, a corrupt chief minister, a stately Pakistani president; we know Om Puri in many avatars. Now, a new biography by his wife Nandita C Puri reveals a man we have never met — an introverted boy counting his ladoos, a shy student once molested by his pandit, a racy teenager who almost married his domestic help, a chauvinist ladies’ man who adopts stray pups. A man vulnerable and sometimes too kind. When Nandita landed at Om’s door as a cub reporter, he asked her to write the biography. Back then, it was a ploy to woo her. He could not have presaged this result. Extracts:
OF A PUMP AND A BED
Om grew up in an environment almost devoid of women. His mother, Tara Devi was the only woman he knew for years until he reached his Mamaji’s place in Sanaur. [T]here were no girls of his age and the only women he knew were his maternal aunts and the maids. So it was but natural for Om to take a liking to older women. He must have been around fourteen when he was ‘deflowered’. A fifty-five-year-old woman, Santi, used to provide general help in his maternal uncle’s house. Twice a day, water was drawn into the house with a hand pump and Om was asked to assist Santi in the job. Days went by and Om kept pressing the pump backwards and forwards, till one day he realized that Santi would first touch, then caress and finally fondle him during the task. The young boy began to get turned on without knowing what was happening to him.
One day there was a power failure and in the dark, Santi grabbed Om, who was by then totally aroused. They slept together and the fourteen-year-old felt really great having ‘come of age’. Dark, greying, with a toothless grin, always dressed in half-torn salwars, Santi was Om’s first lover.
The fourteen-year-old’s lust for Santi spilled over into a kind of attraction towards another older woman. This was his badi maami or older maternal aunt, Gomti Devi. It was perhaps this infatuation that led Om to caress the exposed navel of his other aunt, Satya Devi, one summer night on the family terrace under a moonlit sky. Though it was the younger aunt he was physically caressing, it was actually the aura of his older aunt that had overwhelmed him…
Whatever the reason, his naïve act led to his shame and expulsion from the Kapoor household and Om was left to fend for himself.
THE MAID HE ALMOST MARRIED
[In 1986, when his girlfriend Mala left him, Om was living in an apartment in a complex called Trishul where his] staff consisted of a mother and daughter duo from Andhra Pradesh, Amma and her daughter Lakshmi. When they first came to Trishul, they stank a lot as they used to work in the local Versova fish market. It took a lot of coaxing on Om’s part and several rounds of scrubbing with soap on their part to get rid of the stink.
Initially, Lakshmi and Amma used to serve part-time but seeing Om’s hapless predicament with his nephews after Mala’s departure, they stayed on to work full-time. Between them, they did all the housework and Lakshmi took pains to manage things well. Also, whenever Om was at home, she made an extra effort to cook special food for him and walked around the house coyly. She even flirted with him playfully. Om did not fail to notice all this.
‘Dark, greying, with a toothless grin and half-torn salwars, 55-yearold Santi was Om’s first lover. He was just 14 at the time’
Lakshmi had a dark and voluptuous matronly appearance and Om found her suitably attractive. Thus, their short-term physical relationship began. A few months later, Om realized that Lakshmi was getting quite attached to him. And since he was feeling grateful to her, on the spur of the moment, he decided to marry her… Om thought he too could set an example for society. Or maybe he felt his reel life, where he acted out socially meaningful roles, should spill over into his real life.
‘Thank God I woke up quickly from my idealistic stupor and did not commit to Lakshmi. We had nothing, absolutely nothing in common,’ Om says. Lakshmi soon began to get very possessive about him… Om did not like this and decided to terminate their short affair. Lakshmi, however, was not one to take it lying down. [She] tried to climb onto the terrace rail and announced she was going to jump seven storeys down. When Om pulled her back, she yelled hysterically, ‘Nahin, mujhe marne do! (No, let me die!)’ Om could not have asked for a more melodramatic scene of a break-up than this!
FIRST SMELL OF MONEY
On a holiday to Delhi, Naseer prodded him to go to Pune, but funds were the main hindrance that kept Om away. He applied for a Punjab government scholarship which did not come immediately. In the meantime, a friend from NSD, Neelam Mansingh asked her friend, a businessman, Jugnu Singh to sponsor Om. Jugnu agreed and on that assurance Om joined FTII. But Jugnu’sfunds never materialized…
‘Om was grateful to Lakshmi, who had come to work in his house from the Versova fish market. He decided to marry her’
Om got in and was able to manage the two years’ acting course in Pune due to the kindness of some friends and teachers. One such person was Girish Karnad. During the interview, students were asked to recite two passages, one of their choice and one that had been sent by the institute. Om’s passage was Mark Anthony’s speech from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Om was good. But the interview board wondered why they should take Om as a student. ‘He doesn’t look like a hero, nor like a villain, nor a comedian. What use will he be of to the industry?’ they chorused.
‘‘That is not our problem,’ Karnad, who was then the director of FTII, insisted… During his first summer vacation, Karnad recommended Om to B.V. Karanth to play the lead in his hour-long children’s film, Chor Chor Chhup Jaaye. That was Om Puri’s first film and he played a vagabond. His first co-actor was a monkey called Ramu. He made friends with Ramu and sported an unkempt look to go with his character in the film. When the payment was handed to him, Om did not know how to react. He had never seen so much money together – all of three thousand rupees! But he ensured that the money saw him through the entire FTII course.