Tellingly, there are no very early pictures of Om Puri, a plain man destined to be
photographed over and over again, in the later years of his life. For that matter, as his wife
Nandita’s gritty biography reveals, he has no birth certificate either; he does not in fact know when he was born. What is clear, however, is that he was born, as his friend and rival Naseeruddin Shah once evocatively put it, “with a wooden spoon in his mouth.” And there hangs a life-story as compelling as the plots of the most powerful films Om has ever acted in.
Born in Ambala, and raised by barely educated and poor parents in a succession of dusty Punjab towns, Om’s early memories are of his hands being tied to his bed to prevent him from scratching his smallpox ulcers; of picking and eating the good bits of cheaply-bought rotten mangoes; of washing cups and glasses in a local tea stall; of going to school only at the age of eight, thanks to the charity of relatives; of giving tuitions while studying for his matriculation...