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Om Puri returns to Delhi stage - after 25 years

By Madhusree Chatterjee | PUBLISHED: 20, Dec 2012, 22:51 pm IST | UPDATED: 21, Dec 2012, 10:05 am IST

Om Puri returns to Delhi stage - after 25 years

New Delhi:  Character artist Om Puri has returned to the Delhi stage after nearly 25 years with a Punjabi play, "Teri Amrita", an adaptation of "Tumhari Amrita" by Javed Siddiqui based on A.C. Gurney's "Love Letters" at the Punjabi Theatre Festival Dec 19-22.

Puri, an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD), said re-connecting to the mainstream stage "at 64 years of age with a play in Punjabi - a language close to my heart - was like going back to one's first love".

"I was very nervous initially when I decided to make a comeback in theatre. I started off with theatre when I was a teenager and was spotted by directors of the Punjab Kala Manch at a college play. I want to act and will be producing theatre from now on," Om Puri said.

The play of unrequited love is set against the backdrop of the harrowing partition of the sub-continent in 1947. It sees Amrita Nigam and Zulfikar Haider meeting in childhood and forming a bond whose arc defines the play. It comments on partition, independence, changing politics and the new socio-cultural mosaic of the land through the doomed love of Zulfi and Amrita, who are separated by their religions and Zulfi's feudal family.

Both grow up to be successful individuals - Zulfi, a dour-faced cynical minister and Amrita an artist. The play, which is epistolary in nature, uses letters to carry the narrative forward. Zulfi's vacuum could never be filled in Amrita's life - it remains an ache till her tortured death.

Om Puri is cast as Zulfi opposite Divya Dutta as Amrita.

The orignal play, which won A.C. Gurney a Pulitzer in 1988, was first staged by Kathleen Turner and John Rubinstein in 1989 and has been performed several times. Siddiqui's Indian adaptation uses the religious and political aspects of partition and the multi-layered reality of post-independence India as the locale for the love story.

Puri says he would like to stage plays that people will pay to watch, but good scripts are difficult to come by. "Personally, I don't think after Mohan Rakesh, anyone else has written good scripts in Hindi because it does not have a tradition like Marathi and Bengali theatre.

"In Bengal, even the woman selling fish pays to watch theatre. When I went to Pune for the first time, I remember watching Sakharam Binder, a Marathi play by Vijay Tendulkar. I couldn't understand a word of it but I was riveted," Puri said.

"Theatre actors are quality actors," he said.

Recalling his inspirations on stage and on screen, Puri said one of his early mentors was Ebrahim Alkazi at the National School of Drama. "He taught me that theatre was a way of life," Puri said.

Two of his later influences were Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. "Benegal was like a historian who was known beyond cinema, and knew about social problems. He was like a walking encyclopedia. Shyam Benegal can be called a master," he said.

Puri said he has become choosy about his movies because he has reached that stage in life where he does not have to worry about paying his bills and sending his children to school.

"The 'faltu (commercial) films were for the sake of survival. There is a new movie, 'Ram Bhajan Zindabad', a political satire which stars me in the lead. It is a good script about legislation in Uttar Pradesh which provides rape victims an immediate assistance of Rs 25,000 on lodging an FIR. The movie takes a look at the nexus between doctors, policemen and politicos... I intend to make serious cinema and theatre," Puri said.

'Teri Amrita', being staged at Shriram Centre, has been brought to the capital by the Punjabi Academy and the Department of Arts, Culture and Languages of the Delhi government.