11,790 people saw it on Lassi with Lavina
Jan 6, 2017. We lost the wonderful Om Puri today. He was 66. Here is the tribute to him at the Museum of the Moving Image in 2014.
The Hundred Foot Journey: Great Stars, Food, Fun
Disney’s ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ has been eagerly anticipated for a number of reasons: it is produced by three illustrious names, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake and directed by Lasse Hallström; it has the music of maestro AR Rahman and the beauty of South of France; it’s a delightful comedy with enough gourmet food in it to get the mouths of all foodies watering, with talented Indian-American actor Manish Dayal as the young culinary genius Hassan. In this film Dayal gets to interact with topnotch stalwarts like the remarkable Helen Mirren – and the equally wonderful Om Puri, both embroiled in quite a rowdy Indo-French food fight.
‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ is about the opening of a brash Indian restaurant right on the heels of a well-established elite Michelin-starred French restaurant. Just a hundred feet separate the two, as well as clashing cultures and cuisines.
A day before the premiere of the film in New York, the prestigious Museum of the Moving Image had a special screening of ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ and a well-deserved tribute to the inimitable Om Puri. The noted actor has acted in over 250 films including Ardh Satya, East Is East, My Son the Fanatic, and Mirch Masala. After a clip of some of his most memorable films was shown, he had a relaxed on-stage conversation with noted actor and culinary authority Madhur Jaffrey, who was able to bring the two worlds of cuisine and cinema together. Though probably not by design, both of them were in black, Om Puri in a loose black pathani suit, highlighting his head of silver hair.
A tribute to Om Puri at The Hundred Foot Journey
Om Puri – A Life in Theater & Cinema
For the packed hall of Indian and American movie-goers, it was like sitting in on a personal conversation as the two noted actors discussed everything from food to theater to cinema. Asked Jaffrey: “The film, as you know, is about food and being who I am, my first question to you is do you cook and if you, what do you cook?”
Retorted Puri, “I do cook reasonably well – but not like you! I mostly cook vegetarian food. I grew up as a vegetarian but then I started eating non-vegetarian – now I’m a fish-tarian.”
“You had wanted to join the army so how did your head change and how did you get into acting?” asked Jaffrey and the audience was treated to the tale of Puri’s growing up years. He held a job in the mornings and studied in the evenings. While in college in the 60’s, he participated in some theater festivals. Here he met a couple who had a semi-professional theater group and they asked him how much he was being paid at work. When he told them Rs. 125, they upped the amount to Rs. 150 and asked him to join their theater group instead. Om Puri said, “Sounds good!”
He recalls, “I was very shy and withdrawn, introverted but I had a lot of feelings, and looking at the world around me, particularly the disparities in society, used to disturb me. I was born in a very modest family and so when I started doing plays which were socially relevant, that gave a voice to my feeling. It made me feel lighter and I was able to convey and share my emotions with the audience – plus the claps of the audience – you get used to it and you get hooked on to it.”
The Hundred Foot Journey – A clash of cultures & cuisine
“Fat Noses Have No Place in Hindi Films!”
Asked about his distinctive, deep voice, he acknowledged that it was always basically good, he was born with it. He recalled with pride his three years at the National School of Drama in Delhi with its very tough training, exposure to world theater, substantial courses and the opportunities to also perform before live audiences. He said, “Slowly the National School has became a brand and today we have over a 100 actors in the Hindi film industry who have graduated from the National School of Drama.”
He recalled that he and Naseeruddin Shah were both in the same batch. Both also landed up in the FilmInstitute in Poona together. He joked, “We were the only two idiots who went to both schools!” Nor did they have any illusions about becoming Bollywood heroes: “The kind of looks you were supposed to have for the Hindi film industry, we didn’t have. We are not traditionally good looking – fat noses have no place in the Hindi film industry unfortunately! It’s not so in the west – otherwise Anthony Quinn would never have made it!”
Om Puri on the Acting Life…
Om Puri discussed some of his powerful roles in films like ‘Ardh Satya’ and ‘My Son, the Fanatic.’ Asked about how he prepared for ‘Ardh Satya’ for which he got a slew of national and international awards, he admitted, ” Incidentally, this was my lottery in the Hindi film industry – everyone sat back and noticed me. In terms of preparation, emotionally I was ready to play the part but I didn’t know how to ride a motor bike, which was almost a character in the film.
So I asked them to get me an old second hand motor bike and I started driving it around. When we were shooting on the street and we were crossing a signal circle – the policeman thought I was a real policeman because I was in uniform (and at that time my face was not known) – so he saluted me and I raised my hand to him!”
Asked to describe ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’, in which he plays Papa, the patriarch of the Kadam family, he said, “This is a very pleasant film, there are no guns and no stunts, no lies, no technical lies – men flying, heroes flying, bashing 30 people alone which you can’t do in real life, none of that is there. There are lot of emotions, there’s a lot of fun and humor. Food is a character in this film and let me tell you it’s a warm film and I hope you will all enjoy it – I know you will enjoy it!”
In closing, Madhur Jaffrey warned the audience, “You’ll come out of the movie very hungry.” To that, Om Puri in his distinctive voice added drolly, “That is for sure! That you will come out hungry. If you want to do your restaurant reservations, do them now in two minutes before the film starts!”
(C) Lavina Melwani
(A shorter version of this article first ran in The Hindu )