The locale in the film is rugged and moist, a far cry from the dusty northern Indian plains where Om Puri was born as the son of a lowly Railway employee who struggled to make both ends meet. Here now in north Kerala, the actor is already a celebrity, brought in to profile the protagonist in a film that portrays the battles of the underprivileged in a Wayanad village trapped in feudal ethos.
Puravrutham (Legend) was a Malayalam film Om Puri acted three decades ago, thus getting introduced to Mollywood that had a professional competition running chiefly between stars Mammootty and Mohanlal. The director of the 1988 movie, though, wasn’t a commercial filmmaker in the basic sense of the term. Lenin Rajendran, known to be off-beat in his approach to cinema, had only the previous year made Swathi Thirunal, essaying the life of an early 19th-century Travancore king who was also a patron of the arts and music composer himself.
Puravrutham, too, was a period film, though essaying a period much later than the Maharajas. It’s about the travails of the suppressed class in a small fiefdom that has a local landlord virtually conducting himself as the emperor. Yasama (colloquial abbreviation of ‘Yajamanan’, the master), as he is called, decides life of people under his imagined jurisdiction which the others also generally conceive to be true. But Raman doesn’t. He is young, straightforward and rebellious. Has intense looks that suitably brighten up, courtesy Om Puri’s famously fierce eyes. He strives to fight against the injustices in the social system that shows no eagerness to reform. The reel-life travails the actor undergoes in the process perhaps bear shades similar to his own pre-teen Ambala days when Om Puri was into odd jobs that gifted him with a string of sour experiences.
In Puravrutham, the actor (then 38 years old) shows a large degree of adaptability though his general body language still retains a streak of unfamiliarity for the average viewer to see him as a fellow Malayali. The timings aren’t bad, the lips sync rather well with the voice-giver’s and the way he holds the mundu around the waist isn’t particularly affected. Raman’s intimate conversations with his wife (Devu, by actress Revathi) do retain sediments of roughness associated with both the character and quintessential Om Puri roles in movies.
The projected brusqueness apart, the actor has been known to have developed warm relations with not just his fellow actors, but even the rustic residents of hilly Tirunelli where the film was shot. Director Rajendran, in an interview to a website in the aftermath of Om Puri’s death on January 6, 2017, recalls the actor’s ways of repeating in the film set some of the difficult Malayalam words his character had to deliver. His warmth also earned Om Puri friends among the tribals, adds the filmmaker, now 65.
Five years after Puravrutham, Malayalam cinema saw another such work that focused on the master-servant relations. That, too, was made by an arthouse director: veteran Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Vidheyan (1993, with Mammootty doing the central role), however, goes by the other side of it: the servility innate in certain human beings that make them comfortable with life status quo.
In 1988 itself, Om Puri did act in another movie but that (titled Samvalsarangal) didn’t release. It took another 28 years for the actor to revisit Malayalam cinema. His role as a yogi in Adupuliyattam won wide acclaim, but its month of release happened to be in a year that turned out to be penultimate in the life of Om Puri.