Anger within the Labyrinth: The Recurrent Fights of Om Puri

Curator's Note

A dam of emotions breaks forth from the silence of the protagonist, played by Om Puri, in Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh/Cry of the Wounded (1980) as he publicly murders his sister. This action evidences his realisation that he is completely helpless as one of many persecuted poor; at the same time, in this action lies his ultimate fight to act with agency against the rich and empowered (in this case, landlords, their side-kicks) who puppeteer every action of the poverty stricken lives before them. In Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), we hear the anguish, rage and desperation of Hindu-Muslim riots tearing India apart in 1947, through Om Puri’s distinctive voice, as the grief-crazed father who kills another’s son in retaliation of his own son’s murder. Portraying these roles, a young Om Puri, lashes out time and again - in Ardh Satya/Half Truth (1983), against the inherent corruption in the system of law and order (the Police, in this film) and his inner demons in being drawn into the chakravyuh or labyrinth of the giant order of misgovernance. In later years, the actor ages, but this fire of youthful convictions and belief in action against injustice, reignites time and again: as in the eyes of the older Om Puri as he evokes in us, the audience, the anguish of living through the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Maachis/MatchesWhen I sat interviewing Om Puri in his living room in Mumbai in July 2016, I saw this indomitable fire again, in person, as he spoke of the futility of making meaningless cinema. His voice rang out with the conviction that I had heard so many times since my youth, long before Dolby dominated and modulated audio sensory experience at theatres. His distinctive gravelly voice continues to ring in my mind even though its bearer is no more. I share some of his convictions in the accompanying excerpts from his interview with me. Who will carry these thoughts forward? I wait to hear the same conviction, if not the same voice from another screen.

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