New Delhi: Govind Nihalani, the man behind some of Om Puri's most memorable films, Aakrosh and Ardh Satya, remembers him as someone who never let his stardom overshadow the actor in him.
Nihalani, 76, says Puri's appeal lay in the fact that he never developed a style, a prerequisite for stardom.
Puri died on January 6 this year at the age of 66.
"Om never tried to achieve stardom. That was his biggest strength. The love of your audience is very real. They want you to do everything -- dance, fight, comedy. You have to develop a style and keep doing that. That style becomes a part of your acting," Nihalani told PTI in an interview here.
The veteran director, who introduced a retrospective on the actor's work at the Habitat Film Festival here, says the audience never expected Puri to repeat himself.
"When you saw Om, you expected a great performance and character and you got it. He had the stardom without the stardust."
Nihalani gave Puri his first major break with Aakrosh, where he played an oppressed peasant who did not even need to speak to express his anguish. There was also the five-hour telefilm Tamas, an epic saga of Partition based on a novel of Bhisham Sahni, where Puri played a man belonging to a low caste who unwittingly becomes a tool in the hands of a conniving contractor.
For many cineastes, Puri's finest performance, however, was in Nihalani's Ardh Satya, considered one of the truest portrayals of the police force, as the idealistic young policeman, Anant Welankar, at odds with the deep-rooted corruption in his own department.
According to Nihalani, Puri became the go-to man for roles of a struggler at a time when the recently-independent nation was in turmoil. "He became synonymous with a person who constantly struggled to achieve something positive in his life. He was best in characters that didn't come from the privileged class. He became the face of that phase of the struggle of our country. This is what Om achieved."
Nihalani remembers Puri as an emotional actor, who sometimes would end up ruining a perfect take because he became too involved with the character.
"If at all there was a weakness in the actor, it was that he could not control his emotions. He would become so emotional that I had to reshoot a scene. But shall I call it a weakness or a quality that had to be handled with care?" Nihalani recalls.
The director believes this was one of the reasons for his success in international cinema in films such as East Is East, Charlie Wilson's War, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Hundred-Foot Journey.
"Nobody expected him to become so popular, especially in the West where English was not his mother tongue. He became acceptable because of the kind of human being he was and also through his performances, which were so real and sounded so true. They loved him there."