The day before he died, veteran actor Om Puri went into a photo studio that his family used often, with an unusual request.
“He wanted to make a photo chart titled ‘My Mentors’,” says Rajeev Bhatija, the 43-year-old owner of Mohan Colour Lab in Versova, “with the names and photographs of 10 people who had moulded him into the actor he was.”
He walked in hair unkempt, tired after two days of shooting for the film Tubelight, but as energetic as ever, Bhatija says, and asked him to start taking notes. “I asked him why the urgency and he said there was no better time to give his mentors a tribute.”
In order of importance, Puri dictated nine names — the late thespian Harpal Tiwana, actor Naseeruddin Shah, theatre director Ebrahim Alkazi, actor and director Girish Karnad, directors Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal, casting director Priscilla John, theatrical agent Jeremy Conway and Lis Nelson.
“The last name he asked me to write was his own. He had had something to do with it, he said, but not as much as the others. I put down Mr Om Puri, and he said, ‘Om Puri. I’m only Om Puri,” says Bhatija.
Puri added that he was not sure whether he wanted to make copies for his surviving mentors or just frame the chart and put it up in his Andheri home, but that he would come back with the photographs.
The legendary actor, one of India’s most critically acclaimed, died on Friday, of a massive heart attack. He was 66.
Mohan Color Lab is one of the many places where his presence before the camera will be missed. “He called me ‘Choti Dayan [Little Devil]’ because I never gave him discounts,” says receptionist Farida Shafi. “It still feels like he’ll walk in to the store laughing, tapping us all on our heads to say hello.”