Critically acclaimed actor Om Puri, who makes us laugh, cry and reflect in his films, reminisces about Bollywood of yore and surprises us by talking about how he loves chasing women, albeit in his forthcoming release, Priyadarshans Mere Baap Pehle Aap.
You have often worked with Priyadarshan (Malamaal Weekly, Chup Chup Ke, Dhol) and now its Mere Baap Pehle Aap...
He is a very versatile director but for the past few years, he has been making healthy entertainers. Shooting for him is a big picnic and I feel very relaxed on his sets. He is capable of making serious films too. He recently made a wonderful film Kanjivaram. I didnt feature in it because he made it in Tamil.
You are playing a comical character in this one...
Yes, I play a middle-aged bachelor who is desperate to get married. So he keeps chasing women left, right and centre.
I believe this is the first time you have played such a character. Was it fun?
It was great fun. I always enjoy chasing women (laughs). What could be better than chasing charming women?
Apparently, you are dancing with them in a song from the film too. What was that like?
I was scared. I am not a dancer but Priyadarshan has been very clever. I just put myself in his hands. I did whatever he asked me to do. He has a great sense of humour and is very helpful to the actors. Half of the things we do come from him.
Have you wanted to be a part of any of his earlier films?
I wanted to be a part of Virasat and Kaala Pani but at that time I was not in his camp.
So you think there are camps in Bollywood?
Camps are bound to happen. Earlier, we were in the Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani camps. We did so much work with them. They also repeated the same actors like Smita, Shabana, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri in one film after the other.
Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani made wonderful films in the past. Why dont we see more of their work?
I dont know… there must be lack of finance. And they refuse to compromise. People take stars or resort to song and dance but Shyam and Govind dont. Though Govind Nihalani tried to work with stars in Dev — he had Amitabh Bachchan, Kareena and Fardeen Khan in that film — the film didnt do too well.
Who do you hold responsible for the star fixation?
Not the audience. When you give them good films they appreciate it, otherwise Taare Zameen Par shouldnt have run.
But it was backed by a star like Aamir Khan...
Aamir Khan makes an appearance after the interval and he is not the star of the film. And if it was because of Aamir Khan that the film became a hit, then why was Mangal Pandey not a hit? Look at Tashan. It is not doing well at all despite so many stars. Also, the kind of prices the stars are demanding for a single film — Rs 20 crore, Rs 25 crore, Rs 30 crore — is ridiculous.
What do you miss the most about your earlier days in Bollywood?
I miss the films of that era.
You said that you dont want to compromise on quality and want to do only meaningful films. Among your forthcoming films, which one is the most challenging?
Frankly, none of them are challenging. I have been here for 30 years. Jag Mundhras Shoot on Sight, besides Mukhbir and Delhi 6, are serious films. Mere Baap Pehle Aap is a breezy entertainer and so is Kushti. The latter is not exactly a comedy but its an interesting film. I am also doing a riotous comedy, Singh is Kinng, in which I play Mona Singh.
Jagmohan Mundhra cast you in the role of a fundamentalist and Naseer as a cop in Shoot on Sight. Which role was your first choice?
I was happy playing a fundamentalist but I quite like Naseers part too. The only thing is Naseer suited the character better because at that time my weight was on the heavier side. I had a paunch which doesnt suit a police officer, particularly a cop from the West. In India it is okay to be a policeman and have a paunch.
People are constantly comparing Naseeruddin Shah with you. Does it irk you?
It doesnt bother us. Acting is not akin to a wrestling match.
What do you think about Naseeruddin Shahs directorial venture?
He picked a difficult subject. He should have taken a simple narrative for his first film but he picked up a very complex subject.
Why dont you direct a film yourself?
I am happy to be in front of camera at the moment.