By: Omair Alavi
I have never heard of an actor whose name starts main ‘OM’ except Om Prakash, Om Shivpuri (both late) and Om Puri – all Bollywood actors of repute. So, when I was informed by my editor last year that the only living Om is coming to Pakistan and I was nominated to interview him, I was more than super excited. Sadly, due to some foreign based newspaper that could have interviewed him anywhere in the world decided to take the time from local journalists and I couldn’t make the cut. I folded my sleeves, told the editor to wait for Om sahab’s biggest interview and bear with me. When he did return to Karachi to complete the shooting of Actor In Law, I asked the producer Fizza Ali Meerza for an audience with the fellow Om and she said that Puri sahib might only give you half an hour; I was like OK. We went to his room just one day after 23rd March (India had beaten Pakistan the previous day in World T20) and Puri sahib was dressed in green kurta shalwar and wearing the badge featuring the Pakistan flag. Before he could say anything, I told him that sir, no one has played a Pakistani more than you on screen – in England, Hollywood, India and now in Pakistan and he was like bhai waah, bethye, bada maza aanay wala hai.
I have always told an uncle of mine that he resembles Om Puri but in fact Om Puri resembled every old man who you want to be friends with. When I asked him why he did a smaller role in Disco Dancer, he didn’t answer the question but said abay Disco Dancer bhi dekhi hui hai … kitne saal k thay jab aayi thi. I said 4. He replied 4 saal ki umer main cinema and I said actually I saw Kaalia when I was 3 and we had a good laugh. He didn’t mind talking about Indo-Pakistan tension and said that since his father was stationed in British Army in Rawalpindi he wanted to visit his ancestral home because he was born 3 years after Independence. He then asked me whether I had been to India and when I replied in positive, he said maza aaya tha? I said I would love to go and visit my relatives again and that’s exactly what he wanted to hear. He said that there should be a No Man’s Land for the two countries where at least older relatives can meet their long-lost ones, once before they did.
He was mighty impressed when I told him that I knew he wasn’t related to Amrish Puri and clan and for that, he stood up and hugged me. Even in India, he said, people still argue if the two were brothers or not. He wanted people to call him and Naseer Uddin Shah brothers as they began their careers together. Struggled together and reached stardom together. When I asked him why he didn’t play Naseer’s friend in Masoom (a role that was played by a much older Saeed Jaffery), he thought and thought and said Shekhar (Kapur) se poochunga k mujhe q nah lia tha. I usually go all ballistic in interview but here I was in awe of the man who sat for at least half a day for his brilliant make up in Wolf, was at his comic best in Chachi 420, Abdullah in The Ghost And The Darkness, the daring inspector in countless flicks including Ardh Satya, Ghayal, Drokaal, Gupt, Maqbool, Aan, Dev, Don, the Colonel who went Seven Samurai in China Gate, Hazari Pal in City of Joy, the entertaining Khadak Singh in Hera Pheri, the deranged Muslim in Rang de Basanti, President Zia ul Haq in Charlie Wilson’s War, Abu in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the understanding moulvi in Bajrangi Bhaijan or George Khan, the character that made his East is East character world famous. He also confirmed that the decision to be address Zaheer in mosque during East in East was his own because every Muslim’s real name is known to the moulvi, be it George for the outside world. He also said that he knows so much about Islam and Pakistan because he has lived with Muslims whenever he has been abroad and have many friends; he said that incident like APS Tragedy had equal effect in India instead of fighting among ourselves, we should fight the common enemy.
The interview began at noon and lasted more than 2 hours and 30 minutes, since it was a Friday, I was getting late for the prayers; he cited that and said k hamare haan pawney teen tak ka waqt hota hai, aap k haan bhi aisa hi hoga, nahi? Before I exited, he showed me the number of DVDs he brought of his films from Clifton that in his opinion weren’t even available in India; he also took a stash of tinned foods and asked for names of places where he can visit during the night. The interview appeared the next week and everyone liked it as well as it was titled The Reel Pakistani – he even thanked me for that on his final visit to Karachi in August during the promotion tour and told me Alavi sahib, phir kab ban rahay hain hamaray mehmaan. Will meet you up there, sir jee!
Story first published: 7th January 2017