Don't go by his age. Om Puri is as diverse, versatile and passionate about films as most of the new breeds of actors are. He's a man who's navigated his career with a peerless instinct for quality and self respect. His movies have defined more than a dozen different moments in our cultural lives. When you meet him, he has an old fashioned politeness and you notice that he doesn't laugh much. But of the Bollywood stars who've made a business out of laughter on screen, he is one of the most enduring. In East is East, he got you in a tickle-tackle eleven years ago, but in the sequel to the decade long film, West Is West, you will see your favourite George Khan played by Om in a more mature humour that is rarely seen in today's time. If his three decades and more in the public sphere have taught us anything about this man named Om Puri, it's that he simply doesn't give a good goddamn b****ks. UK's Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent meets the man who doesn't need you to be in on his joke. Now you got that didn't you, you Baster?
"Commercial cinema has not recognised the power of storytelling"
Not only West Is West but even Indian films right from Aakrosh, Ardh Satya, Malaamal Weekly, Bheja Fry, etc are such occasional examples from Indian cinema that didn't have any big star but still worked critically at the box office. Unfortunately, the commercial cinema has not recognised the power of storytelling and that's why they still depend on big stars to pull in the crowds.
"Even if audiences haven't seen East Is East, it doesn't matter. West is West is a different story all together"
I went back to East Is East only when we started shooting West Is West only because I wanted to familiarize myself with the peculiar accent as it's not spoken anywhere in the world. Otherwise, the script is very detailed. Fortunately, for the people who've not seen East Is East, it doesn't matter because West Is West is a different story all together. The film moves from the UK to Pakistan and the boy Sajid grows, that's about it. Of course, my role of George Khan too becomes three dimensional.
"It's as pity that we are still looked down upon as a dance and song making cinema"
Indian cinema should become ambitious. The fact that we have such a huge audience at home, we've never bothered about the international community. I mean, all said and done, when we say that Indian cinema has reached the West, we mean that it's only reached the Indians or the Asian in the West. Audience other than Indians still think that Bollywood is dancing around the trees. This is the image of Bollywood in the Western mind. It is still there and it's sad.
"Indian films lack commitment and professionalism and above all, we lack good scripts"
There are about ten filmmakers in Mumbai who are making good cinema and who are making cinema of international standards. Take Farhan Akhtar for example. Technically and subject wise, his films are as good as any western film. In spite of American cinema thriving, we have survived. Whereas the other countries in Europe couldn't survive, whether it is Spain, Italy, France, Germany, etc. Bollywood must now go beyond and get that respect that we deserve in the international cinema and we have the talent. Indian films lack commitment and professionalism and above all, we lack good scripts.
"Marketing has taken over but the product has to be good"
Audiences are ready to come out of their mind sets. Aamir Khan being a rich actor can afford the kind of publicity he did for a message driven film like Taare Zameen Par. But the same cannot be true for West is West. We rely on journalists and a word of mouth to push or market our films. Marketing has taken over but the product has to be good. If the product is not good, the publicity doesn't help. There are lots of examples with big stars whose films have fallen flat on their face.
"Aqib Khan is a very bright actor and when I was at his age I was very dumb"
Small kids and young actors motivate me a lot. Aqib Khan is a very bright actor and when I was at his age I was very dumb. But today's children are exposed to stuff that we weren't. I can have an adult talk with my thirteen year old son. In today's time, training is not necessary to become a successful actor. But the training will only help to enrich your talent. You need attitude and the right balance of being an actor and being real.
"You laugh and you think and that should be a quality of a good humour"
I am a half Brit (laughs). I think the humour that doesn't carry a purpose or a meaning behind it doesn't sustain. It fails to evoke laughter. Humour in Chaplin films, the humour that R.K Laxman brings in his cartoons, etc. You laugh and you think and that should be a quality of a good humour. British had a television series called 'Yes, Prime Minister'. On those lines we had done 'Kakkaji Kahin' in which I played the main character. It was humour and satire and that's the difference.
"It's sad to know why Indian Film Industry can't notice the talented Ila Arun"
I laughed a lot and cried a little while watching West Is West. It's a mature take from its predecessor. Thanks to Ila Arun we do get moist eyed. Ila Arun's character symbolises Pakistan's working class women. It's sad to know why Indian Film Industry can't notice the talented Ila Arun or even Seema Biswas for that matter who is doing no films as of now. I have no idea why. They both are hugely talented and it's a pity to know why they are used so less in our movies.
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