Sensationalism is not to be condoned, but Om Puri does not sound particularly sensible when he lambasts his wife who has written his biography on one day and apologises the next – both publicly. So, if she gave a TV interview and responded to queries about his sexual experiences, he compounded the damage by clarifying in the newspapers. I have not watched her interview, but I read his views.
From the reader’s point of view he is, for the purpose of the book Unlikely Hero: The Story Of Om Puri, a subject. We might care that his wife has penned it only to the extent that it may have added dimensions of familiarity, although it is not essential.
There are some disturbing aspects to the way he has conveyed his anger and his regret within the span of one day. The few details so far mention his sexual encounter with his 55-year-old maid Santi at the age of 14; then followed a long affair with a woman for 14 years. Here is what he said about his wife and some more:
I was shocked by her revelations. It was so cheap. She was talking about my sexual encounters as though those were my biggest achievements!
In the interview, from the way he talks it appears as though he is more concerned about his reputation and he does mention it. It is like pointing towards a wart and saying, ‘do you think this is my face’? Even those who would not notice or comment on it will be drawn towards it.
Mahatma Gandhi spoke of his experiences with sexuality in The Story of My Experiments With Truth. But was that all there was to his life. I had hoped when my life was chronicled it would be an inspirational story.
We don’t know what has been highlighted and from her account the book is about the actor and the man. And while one appreciates that he had to collect money on the train and wear borrowed clothes, the fact is that he got to the Film Institute. Not many destitutes do. Also, this is the story about so many people in the film industry itself. Some have died in penury. And some made it due to talent or luck. After all, even Akshay Kumar was a chef. As for Gandhiji, he did not have problems marketing his experiments, in fact they may not be all he did but they have come to represent what he did not do!
Om’s wife says:
Om has all the human foibles, just like all of us. He had sex as an adolescent with his maid and then he had a long liaison with the other lady who was also a maid. This was his way of coming out of his other relationships and demolishing class differences. If Om has any objection to her being called a maid he’s just being unrealistic.
Demolishing class differences? Yech. What the heck is this? One would take issue with her over this, but listen to Om’s version:
This lady whom Nandita talks in such an undignified manner was Laxmi, who raised me and my brother’s orphaned children. My relationship with this wonderful woman was a homage to her loyalty for looking after me unconditionally. But it was not a furtive and sleazy experience. It was beautiful. Why make such a tamasha out of these very sensitive moments…
What is this – some sexual asylum? He was paying homage? Why did he not just go ahead and erect a statue or name a tulsi plant after her? Has anyone bothered to even ask what happened to the first maid? I was shocked to read that he is worried that now he’ll be compared to actor Shiney Ahuja (accused of raping his maid). This is sick. It is okay to do it but not be outed for it only because of a case in the news? His attitude of paying homage makes one wonder whether he was as sensitised as a teenager, and if so what did he do?
He is upset that his wife did not show him the manuscript. She did not have to. When he is with her, is he acting? No, right? He knew she was writing his story and he talks about sharing these details with her. It would be silly for him to expect her to only talk about train rides and torn chappals. Yesterday he accused her of sensationalism and today he is apologising:
“My anger should have been projected at the publishers for trying to pre-sell my wife’s book by leaking out only the sexual episodes. My story doesn’t need this kind of publicity.”
As a matter of fact, it does. Most books do. Whether it is Naipaul or Nehru, a slightly sexual angle makes it more attractive, especially when the image is different or a public mask has to be worn.
The publishers will leak out these bits because it won’t be terribly interesting to know immediately how he prepared for the role of the cop in Ardh Satya, the film that truly gave him that push. He has spoken several times about his stint in Hollywood long before the mainstream actors did.
Had the affair been with someone from the same profession or a prominent lady – and don’t tell us there weren’t any – would he have been less virulent? Is he being protective about Laxmi? Then, why would he not be protective about a big name? Can’t such women be vulnerable, especially since time has passed and they may be leading their own lives?
His public apology is an about-turn since his wife has been getting calls and his son is “under scrutiny”:
I’m not in Mumbai to protect them from the damage I’ve caused. I can’t sleep or focus on my work. I don’t want our child to suffer for the mistakes I have made. I therefore sincerely apologise to my wife and to my son for being so rash.
If he had a real problem he could have taken a flight from Chandigarh where he is shooting. It takes two hours to reach Mumbai, and he could have consoled to his wife, called up the person who interviewed her, talked to the publishers. That would not help the book, for people know him and not his wife.
Just when I was to out this up, there is another story a few hours ago in which he praises his wife and her work:
The book is a tribute to my friends, my colleagues, my mentors and the women in my life. I am proud of my story, my childhood and my journey and I see it as an inspirational story for millions of Indians.
Did he not say he had not seen even a page of the book? The tamasha has not only been created but recreated by him publicly. Or was it the publisher’s idea?
Well, shall I just call this my homage to Om Puri’s fine talent?
“The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson