“Sometimes he played, sometimes he fought, sometimes he swore, sometimes he drank. Om Puri would never want us to sit here and be serious. He’d want us to celebrate his magnificent career, life, talent — and the future of his family, and of the country he loved so dearly,” began compère Tom Alter, speaking at Om Puri’s memorial on Monday afternoon. While a growing group of fans gathered outside the hall at Iskon Temple in Juhu, Puri’s friends, close associates, and family sat inside, facing the photograph of the actor, garlanded in white roses.
Trailing behind the photograph was a string of mourners, lining up to place flowers under the frame and pay their respects with folded hands. To the right of the photo a silver lamp burned brightly. His wife Nandita, who had organised the memorial service, and son Ishaan sat somberly next to it. Amitabh Bachchan, accompanied by son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai sat at the back, respectfully avoiding public attention. Anoop Jalota, and later, Mickey Nerula, took the stage, singing ghazals that evoked Om Puri’s illustrious life. Other stars that made an appearance were Ila Arun and her daughter Ishita Arun, Poonam Dhillon, Talat Aziz, and Arvinder Singh.
One most prominent person at the memorial was Puri’s FTII classmate and friend, Naseeruddin Shah, who spoke for nearly 15 minutes, relating memories of going to the National School of Drama with Puri and working with him in movies afterwards. “I met him on July 15, 1970,” Shah said, “when we had first been admitted to NSD. He began with such a humble background — sleeping on a charpai in the corridor of his house — and achieved the kind of success that most of us can only fantasise about.”
Following Shah, filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalini shared their memories of working with Puri in their films. Alter read out a letter written by President Pranab Mukherjee to Ishaan. “I am sad to hear of the passing away of your father, Shri Om Puri, a veteran and iconic actor, who delighted fans all over the world with his masterful screen presence and performance. The Indian film industry has lost a highly talented and acclaimed actor who played memorable roles in numerous movies. He will always be remembered for his powerful and versatile acting, which brought life into the celluloid characters he played in films,” the letter read. “I’ve done eight films with him,” said Ila Arun after the ceremony. “He was like a brother. It is a personal loss. He was a great actor and excellent human being. I don’t even know how to react to his demise.”
Another prayer meeting in the Akrosh actor’s memory was organised by Seema Puri on Monday afternoon at the Gurudwara in Mumbai’s Four Bungalows. She was flanked by her brother actor Annu Kapoor and other relatives. The meeting was attended by a number of friends of Puri and colleagues from the film industry including, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Mita Vashisht, Jackie Shroff and Sarika. Some of the film personalities such as Shabana Azmi, Nihalani and Jalota attended both the events.