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Last Updated 17.10.2019 | 9:47 PM IST
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Book Review: Unlikely Hero Om Puri

When it takes more than 100 pages of ‘Unlikely Hero Om Puri’ to arrive at the much awaited section detailing the actor’s sex-capades during his growing up, younger and not-so-young years, you know for sure that this biography is much more than a sleaze saga that many were trying to paint it as. Of course one does tend to wonder if this was all a part of one big promotional/marketing plan because at the end of the day, every movie and biography enthusiast is aware about the existence of this Nandita C. Puri’s book. Still, it doesn’t even require any scratching the surface to find out that ‘Unlikely Hero Om Puri’ has a lot more to offer than that five page extract about the most intimate details of the actor’s life which are already our in open. Well, whether intentionally or unintentionally!

There are two most attractive things about this book that make one pick it up pronto and start turning over the pages:

a) It is short and concise and lasts only 200 pages. For an actor with over 35 years of acting experience behind him, one may have expected a voluminous outing. However, as Nandita (author and Om Puri’s wife) clarifies at the very beginning, the idea was to chop things down than balloon them due to which the book was cut down to half at the editing table.

b) The layout and presentation. Right from the cover design to the print to the paper quality to the textual representation, the book works in catching your attention. Going by the subject (Om Puri) under study, one wouldn’t have expected a fluorescent presentation to begin with. However, on numerous occasions the entire reading (of some other books in the past) becomes a painful exercise when the presentation becomes a little too intellectual and ‘business-like’ for comfort.

Thankfully, that’s not the case here with ‘Unlikely Hero Om Puri’ turning out to be an easy and comfortable read which doesn’t try to portray an intelligent picture of either the subject or the author.

Moreover, there are added benefits of an author being closely related to the subject. This is another factor that works strongly for the book due to one major reason – ‘Pictures’. Almost every page has at least one picture from Om Puri’s personal collections that gives a good insight into the life and times of the actor right from his childhood days. Whether it’s his picture as a boy scout or the one where he is receiving some of the most prestigious awards at an international level, one gets a real good peek into how Om Puri has grown over the years.

Another factor that stands out in the book (mainly due to the pictures) is Om Puri’s relationship with his friends and family. Whether it is him spending time with his wife and son in various parts of the world or sharing a round of drinks with Naseeruddin Shah while comfortably seated on a floor to revisiting his place of upbringing and reuniting with his family to his marriage ceremony to his own private moments while sleeping – there is this and a lot more told through pictures (all in black & white) which further makes the book a engrossing read.

From ‘presenting the truth’ perspective, Nandita has claimed (at more than a couple of occasions) that she has tried to be as impartial as possible while staying true to her journalist ethics in spite of the man at the hot seat being her husband. However, she has also put a disclaimer of sorts by stating that when the idea of a biography was presented to Om Puri, he wanted it to be done his way with only those facts about his life being revealed that he wished to. Though Nandita has denied being influenced by these demands of her husband, one can sense that she has buckled down (compromise would be too harsh a word!) at a few places.

For example, in every (seemingly or out rightly) wrong act of his, there is a positive spin being put to the tale. Things are mostly told from Om Puri’s point of view, whether it is about his numerous link ups or break ups, his relationship with his co-students in or fellow actors or even the last decade and a half that the couple has shared together. Yes, there have been some bitter moments about his life that have been brought on paper as well but they seem to have been ‘controlled’ than brought ‘as is’.

Moreover, one would have looked forward to a little more insight into his period of struggle (how he got his first few films, the length he had to go in order to make an impression, him evolving as an actor etc. etc.) but there isn’t much more than touching the surface that happens. Also, it seems like professionally Om Puri had a fairly spotless journey of 35 years with no discomfort while working in any of the movie, no argument with a director, no misunderstandings, no hard feelings and no bitterness around any of the incidents on the sets. Of course, all of these tid-bits about his life may have suited tabloid journalism more but if there is a biography being presented, one does expect a little more detailing.

Nevertheless, as stated earlier, Om and Nandita were quite sure about what would go in the book lest it hurts any person’s sentiments. This is the reason why one takes it all with a pinch of salt. However, there are number of other interesting facts/trivia/incidents that keep a reader’s interest alive all through ‘Unlikely Hero Om Puri’. These are:

– Patrick Swayze considering him to be his true Guru

– His screen name being Vilom Puri and Azdak Puri in some of his earlier films

– Reasons behind his scarred face

– His love hate relationship with his dad

– His ever lasting friendship with Naseeruddin Shah

– How David Dhawan found him boring and humour-less when they were room mates

– Him stepping in for roles (Ardh Satya and Droh Kaal) originally written for Amitabh Bachchan

– His role as a family man when he supported his brother’s family for years

– Him being molested by a Pandit in his younger days

Before concluding, one is bound to refer back to those five pages from the book that has brought it into notice during last fortnight. If one actually draws parallels for this book with a two hour movie, these five pages are akin to an ‘item number’ which attract audiences to theatres. However, once the lights go dim, you are engrossed in the story which is being told on screen and the ‘item number’ relegates itself to be just an added attraction.

Similarly when it comes to the book, for all the voyeurs it is not really a bad ploy to read about the aunts and the maids and the co-stars and the friend’s sister with whom Om Puri did have some passionate affairs at some point in his life. However, for those who are actually interested in knowing the personal and professional journey of one of the most gifted actors from the country and a known international personality, ‘Unlikely Hero Om Puri’ turns out to be a good read.

Price: Rs. 395/=

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