Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unlikely Hero

Puri, Nandita C., Unlikely Hero: Om Puri (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2009.)

Om Puri is one of the greatest actors the Indian film industry has ever produced, but this biography by his wife does not do anything for his enviable legacy. At best, it’s a bad biography, at worse, it’s unnecessary.

“Being a journalist of conscience, I have been brutally honest in my columns, even to the point of annoying my friends," writes Puri the biographer. Annoy, Mr Puri would surely be. The sad reality is this brutal honesty does not serve any purpose.

The focus of a biography is not to tell the story of a man -- he was born, he went to college, and he became famous and successful -- but try and understand and analyse how the man became what he is now. In this case, the biography should be able to tell us how Om Puri came to be such a nuanced actor.

This is something Mrs Puri fails to handle in the book. The author was a journalist once. The journalistic writing is evident here; it's all reportage, no in-depth analysis. Take for example, Puri's days as a struggling actor in Bollywood. He is one of the actors who was closely associated with the parallel cinema movement in the 1970s. The book could have seen the movement through the actor's eyes. Instead, Mrs Puri's retelling is haphazard, who gives us just the dates and the sequences. No insight.

It's a pity, especially when Mrs Puri had access to her subject to a degree which every biographer worth her salt would envy.

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