Om Puri is the Dustin Hoffman of India; he is incapable of giving a bad performance even in films that, otherwise, are terrible. He is one of our finest actors and can play serious roles and comedy with equal ease.
The best part in Unlikely Hero is on his early years. He comes from a poor family. His father, a clerk in the railways, served time in prison while the family lived on handouts from strangers. As a child, Om Puri caught smallpox. That was perhaps fortunate. It left marks that gave Indian cinema its most interesting face! He struggled for years as an actor until he got the break in Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya.
It is a moving story that calls for a better writer. The author, who is also his wife, is star-struck when it comes to luminaries but is disturbingly patronising when she writes on people who are less fortunate. Some of them are smelly; others cannot speak English properly. She tells us that Om Puri pronounces ‘October’ as ‘ak-too-ber’. I take it she pronounces it the way the Queen of England does!
The media has concentrated, inevitably, on the juicier bits from the book—Puri losing his virginity at the age of fourteen to a 55-year-old woman, his affair with his maid. This has upset the author. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. The leaks have boosted sales.
I met Om Puri twice, in Montreal and again in Locarno. He is a genuinely nice, unassuming person. The book succeeds in bringing that across.