About The honoured, Rebellious and Om Puri

On Monday, the 18th of April 2005, Indian Actor Om Puri was honoured an OBE(Order of the British Empire). He is the first Indian actor to have been honoured with such a distinction.

Coming from the British, it’s a rare tribute to this so fine Indian actor, and the Indian Cinema as a whole. I talk of it highly because after Independence the Britishers have found it hard to bestow any official acknowledgements to Indians (read Asians) who have made a mark on the world map, one way or the other. Reflections are in the words of Amitabh Bachchan, who thinks Indians (again, read Asians), for the west, are merely worthy of taxi drivers and shop attendants in their films. Or at the best, Doctors. And to the fact when mentioned to him that a star of his stature is virtually unknown in the US Mainstream Cinema market, “Thats true for any Hollywood actor in India as well”, he hits back.

Dig a little deeper I decided, and I came across to an incident involving one of my favorite Authors, Amitav Ghosh, who calmly yet aggressively withdrew his Prize winning Book, The Glass Palace and declined to accept the Commonwealth Writers Prize because he did not want to “betray the spirit by allowing it to be incorporated within that particular memorialization of Empire that passes under the rubric of the Commonwealth”. This sent shocks in the literature world. It is hard to find people who stand by what they “write” for. In this case, I must mention, Mr Ghosh’s book (The Glass Palace), which went to the final round, has traced the impact of the British empire’s rule in South Asia.

But the biggest example of this rare form of rebellion comes with The Great Rabindranath Tagore, who gave away his Knighthood, 4 years after he had received it, protesting against the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in the holy city of Amritsar. It was probably, the best and the most telling gesture one could signify protest, after having a “Sir” preceding the name.

I have mentioned almost nothing of the great Mr Puri who made up for most of the inspiration for this post. Like his english movies, to a lot of extent, Om Puri, the real actor has been unknown to the audience in his own country. I have seen many of his movies, but glimpses of the brilliance of this actor who I thought, could go on to deserve something of the stature as the OBE, flashed in “Jaane bhi do yaaron” when he played the role of the always high on alcohol contractor, Ahuja. Pankaj Kapoor and Nasseruddin Shah, are the only actors in this guild, who I believe can come close to the class of Puri.

Of course, Om Puri has made us proud. And I am sure he can keep the OBE with him for a long time since the Britishers are a changed lot now. And so it should please the Indian Cinema lovers, and the likes of Mr Bachchan should have a sigh of relief that at least one actor from Indian Cinema wont have to play the taxi driver, shop attendant or a doctor in the west movies.

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