January 7, 2017 5:04:18 pm
Nothing gives a bigger high to an actor than revisiting his previous works that are close to his heart and the ones that won him accolades once upon a time. And for an actor as versatile as Om Puri, there’s no dearth of such roles. However, not many know that among the many roles that he played during his career spanning decades in the film industry, the late actor regarded one of his lesser-known roles, closest to his heart. It is something that I discovered through an interesting episode.
Sometime in April 2015, I had the privilege to meet the actor for an interview when he was shooting in Pune for his first Marathi film ‘15 August Bhagile 26 January.’ It was a sheer coincidence that a week later, on a lazy Sunday, to rekindle my childhood memories, I happened to play the DVD of yesteryear’s teleserial Katha Sagar, which was run by Doordarshan back in 1986. The teleseries showcased episodes that were adaptations of international short stories written by famous writers. For no specific reason, among the five-six stories that the DVD contained, I chose to play ‘Nayi Sherwani’, which was based on Russian dramatist and short story writer Nikolai Gogol’s ‘The Overcoat.’
Directed by filmmaker Shyam Benegal, Nayi Sherwani immediately struck a chord with me. Set in Kashmir, the story, which sees Puri in the lead role as an aging clerk, revolves around his Nayi Sherwani and how he gets broken when he loses the sherwani to a couple of robbers. Unable to come to terms with the loss of his overcoat, the protagonist eventually dies. Interestingly, despite being in his early 30’s when Benegal cast him for the role in Nayi Sherwani, Puri not only looked convincing as a man of late 50s but also essayed the body language and emotions of the character like a seasoned actor – be it the scene of his banter with the local ‘darji’ (tailor) or the heart-wrenching scene where he cries like a baby after losing the overcoat.
Puri’s performance in Nayi Sherwani left me overwhelmed. Since his interview in Pune was still fresh in my mind, as an admirer of his craft, I dropped an SMS to him – “Hello Sir. Stumbled upon ‘Nayi Sherwani’. Simple story. Brilliantly told. Well-performed.” Quite unexpectedly, within two minutes of sending the SMS, I received a call from Om Puri, who was extremely curious to know how and where did I manage to see the story. I could literally feel his happiness on the phone. It seemed as if he had found a lost child. In his deep and baritone voice, he said, “I have been trying to search it (Nayi Sherwani) for a long long time and I couldn’t find anywhere. It is one of my favourite roles.”
That’s when I told him that it was a part of the DVD set of Katha Sagar which I had bought a few years ago. He asked me where did I buy it from and I mentioned the name of the famous bookstore that has branches across the country and suggested he may find it there. However, he said that he’s already been to the store I mentioned and was told that the Katha Sagar DVD set was out of order.
And then he threw his next question – “Can you give me?” Honestly, the question left me with a big dilemma at that moment. On one hand, I genuinely wanted to honour this great actor’s request, on the other I was unsure if I will be able to find such a priceless piece of work again, since the actor himself confessed of not finding it in the market. I politely told him that I will be more than happy to make a copy of the DVD and present it to him whenever he’s in Pune next. Relieved, he said though he is busy shooting in Punjab, he will now make a conscious effort to plan a trip to Pune only to collect the copy of Nayi Sherwani. Frankly, I assumed that he may have said it in the spur of the moment and will later forget about it.
The very next month, I got another call from Puri informing me that he will be in Pune next week. He jokingly inquired if I remember my promise about ‘Nayi Sherwani’ and I answered in affirmative. I took the opportunity to invite him to Indian Express, Pune office for the ‘Idea Exchange’ programme, to which he willingly agreed. Meanwhile, I got a copy of the DVD made for him and transferred it in a pen-drive, which I planned to present it to him post the event.
On the day of his visit, to the surprise of me and my colleagues, he reached much before time. The event lasted for almost two hours, after which as he was leaving I gave him the pen drive. And the statement he made after that made me realise how important was Nayi Sherwani to him – “It’s in this? It (pen drive) is so small? Since the past two hours I have been trying to notice if you are holding the DVD in your hand or not and couldn’t see anything. I thought you have completely forgotten about Nayi Sherwani and my purpose of coming to Pune has got wasted.”
Almost about a week later after his Pune visit, Puri again called me only to thank me and share that he finally managed to watch Nayi Sherwani and it refreshed his memory.
An honest confession. Today, when I look back at the incident, I wish I was a little less selfish then and had parted with the original DVD of Nayi Sherwani for the actor’s sake.
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