Brothers-in-arms
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  Brothers-in-arms
   By: Nandita Puri
   January 18, 2005
Amrish Puri and Om Puri were brothers by default. Of course more than half of India thought they were real brothers.

Even respectable publications and television channels have been saying so the past few days. I have been taking condolence calls from Pakistan, Dubai and even as far as Italy.

Yes, they did have certain facial similarities. Both had booming voices. A similar built. Did nearly similar roles at times.

Both were typical Punjabis. And most importantly shared the same surname. And after years of trying to rectify this misimpression, they finally gave up. And said, “Yes, we are brothers.” And were obviously proud of the fact.

This, in spite of the fact that they were not even remotely related to each other. Neither did they come from the same town. Whilst the senior one came from Shimla, the younger one came from Patiala.

But they shared much more than sibling love — they respected each other professionally. No wonder, I keep saying that they were brothers not by blood, but by default.

And the late Amrish Puri enjoyed playing the older brother role every bit. There were times when he would admonish Om gently, every time the latter played some practical joke on him or humoured him — and this would be often.

Om would often joke that since every one thought they were brothers, he was entitled to a fair share of the ancestral property.

“We’d better settle out of court,” Om would often joke. “Oiye, kaminey. I will not give you a penny. Do what you want.” The latter would keep up the pretence.

Not only did he play the role of the patriarch to the hilt in his films (the last being in Hulchul), he loved playing it in real life too. And his personality helped him play the roles.

I remember an incident years ago in Manali. We were there for the filming of Maachis and Purisaab happened to be there for some other film. There was this local chaat house, which served mouth-watering delicacies.

Purisaab was keen to savour some and since I used to frequent the place daily, I decided to take him and Urmila bhabhi (his wife) there.

After having our fill, I went and quietly paid up at the counter. Purisaab wiped his hands and came to the counter and asked for the bill. The guy smiled and gestured to me saying that I had taken care of it.

Purisaab thundered, “Who gave you the permission to take money from her. Can’t you see I am around? How dare you?” This time round Mogambo was truly upset.

“But…s..s..sir…,” the poor chaatwala stammered. Purisaab would hear none of it. To my amusement he made the frightened guy return my money and insisted on paying himself. Later he turned around and warned me never to pay in his presence. “I am the head of the family,” he would say jokingly.

After that whenever I would go to the chaat house, the poor guy would first look around, make sure that Amrish Puri was nowhere around and then charge me!

Once actress Mita Vashist called me in the afternoon asking for Purisaab’s number. “I have to thank him. He is so thoughtful. He left a message on my answering machine, wishing us on our anniversary,” she mumbled something to that effect.

When she called to thank Amrish Puri, he was totally unaware as to what she was talking about. But he suddenly said, “Oiye. It must be that kamina Om.” When Mita replayed the message for me, I could not tell the difference. The impersonation was so good.

These and other such incidents keep flooding my mind. And these are the happy memories of Amrish Puri that I would like to keep. Ever concerned, ever thoughtful, ever present. In every occasion — happy or sad.

The last time I met him was at the premiere of Veer-Zara. In his customary hat. Much frailer though. But the commanding presence was obviously felt. It is going to take a while to get over this.
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