Ahead of the release of The Hundred Foot Journey, actor Om Puri talks about romancing British actor Helen Mirren in the film and why he is “jobless” in Bollywood. Excerpts:
What led you to take up The Hundred Foot Journey?
It is a very attractive project — co-produced by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and Oprah Winfrey. I play the head of an Indian family that moves to a village in southern France and opens an Indian eatery. Just across the road is a Michelin-starred French restaurant owned by Helen Mirren, who is such a great actor. Also, I was working with the wonderful award-winning director, Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). What more could I have asked for?
What is Lasse Hallström like in the director’s seat?
Lasse is a fantastic filmmaker. He is warm to the actors. It’s amazing how he knows what he wants but won’t tell you, because he wants it to take place naturally. He choreographs scenes with actors, you plan your mood, but on several occasions Lasse would just mess up what was decided — the ensuing awkward pause or movement would end up making the scene more real. I learned a lot from the experience.
Did you and Mirren share a great cinematic moment?
There is a scene in the film in which I am with her on the phone giving her the news of her winning an award. It’s a big deal for her character because she has been waiting for 20 years for this so she can finally open a special bottle of champagne. We have a playful moment in the scene, and instead of what we had rehearsed, she broke down. It was such powerful moment.
Did the producers visit the set?
Steven didn’t visit the sets because he didn’t want to interfere with the creative process in any way. I met Oprah and gave her a book by the spiritual guru Eknath Easwaran on mythology and spirituality. She is heavily into meditation and sent me a mail later thanking me for it.
You recently said that you don’t have any Hindi film offers at present. Why?
I am jobless at the moment. I did a couple of Punjabi films, but I have not done a Hindi one in the last 26 months. I am not complaining though. Hindi films don’t seem to have anything to offer my age group. The last role I enjoyed doing here was Chakravyuh, it wasn’t a very big part, but it was meaty. I enjoyed Agneepath too.