'A tale of two wives': Was Om Puri's whole life a regret?

Farhana Farook
·Contributor
·10-min read
'A tale of two wives': Was Om Puri's whole life a regret?

On Om Puri’s fourth death anniversary, we revisit the legendary actor’s personal life filled with rancour and regret.

He rode the parallel cinema wave between the ’70s-’80s with a blitzkrieg of films like Aakrosh, Arohan, Ardh Satya, Sadgati, Mirch Masala and Dharavi. He could contrast serious narratives with a cult comedy like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and mainstream fare like Narsimha. Straddling both art and mart with more than 350 films, Om Puri featured amongst India’s finest actors.

More from Yahoo Tragic Tales series:

He was also a true-blue crossover star - matching talent with Hollywood biggies like Patrick Swayze in City Of Joy, Jack Nicholson in Wolf, Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War and Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey… Featuring in British ventures like Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, My Son The Fanatic and East Is East (1999)... and finally being made honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2004.

Ironically, in his personal life Om cut a tragic figure with the proverbial Shakespearean flaw. Abandoning his first wife, filmmaker Seema Kapoor, when she was expecting their baby to marry journalist/writer Nandita Puri, his narrative was a perpetual vacillation between his past and present, between remorse and redemption.

On December 22, 2016, a month before he passed away, a harrowed Om reportedly told first wife Seema, with whom he dreamt of spending his autumnal years, “Pashchataap (regret), prayashchit (penance)… sandhi (peace) kar lein?” To which she replied, “Aap se ladai thodi hai. Why are you destroying yourself?”

But destroy he did. Om could find no way out of the labyrinth of confusion he had landed himself in. Someone for whom the world was a stage, breathed his last alone… flung down on the kitchen floor, decimated by a massive heart-attack…

First Wife Seema Kapoor

Writer and filmmaker Seema Kapoor (sister of actor Annu Kapoor) spent a large part of her life in Jhalawar in Rajasthan. She was around 19 when she first met Om Puri in 1979 in Mumbai. His caring nature drew her to him. The relationship grew over a decade.

“We didn’t have much money as he was struggling. He’d get me kharbuza (musk melon) because that’s what he could afford,” Seema shared in an interview. She valued the fact that Om respected women. “He never spoke disrespectfully about his past relationships. As a woman it made me feel safe as well,” she said.

They got married in 1990. Towards the end of 1991, Om got involved with writer/journalist Nandita Puri. “Ending the relationship for a third person… seemed strange,” shared Seema. She was pregnant but she chose to walk away rather than malign him publicly.

“I didn’t want to humiliate someone I’d loved so much… You can win everything in the world by a fight… property, wealth, status... but never love!” said Seema, who went off to Jhalawar.

It was a difficult pregnancy and the baby was stillborn. In due time, Seema and Om got divorced. She returned to Mumbai and wrote for TV serials and directed documentaries. Om tried staying in touch but Seema kept a distance because she didn’t want to go through turmoil again.

LIFE WITH NANDITA

Om met Nandita on the set of City Of Joy (1992), which she’d visited to interview him. Reportedly, they got married in 1993. The couple had a son named Ishaan.

Going through ups and downs, the relationship took a turn for the worse when Nandita exposed Om’s past relationships in her biography on her actor husband, Unlikely Hero: The Story Of Om Puri in 2009. The book revealed his relationships with maid Shanti when he was 14 and a lady named Laxmi.

“My wife has reduced a sacred part of my life to lurid gossip. I’d shared these dark secrets with my wife as all husbands do. If she chose to make them public, at least she should’ve made sure to maintain a dignity about experiences that are a valuable part of my life,” a hurt Om reportedly said.

“This lady whom Nandita talks about in such an undignified manner was Laxmi, who raised me and my brother’s orphaned children. My relationship with this wonderful woman was homage to her loyalty for looking after me unconditionally,” said a livid Om.

“The story of my life is unique. I’ve gone through great hardships. It could have proved inspirational for teenagers. Rather it was written with distaste, only to popularise it. I was sacrificed for Nandita’s ambitions,” he expressed his dismay.

In defence Nandita reportedly said, “This is all such a mistake. My book on my husband is a biography. The book is about Om, the man and the actor. Om has all the human foibles, just like all of us.”

Things turned uglier when Nandita reportedly filed an allegation of domestic violence against Om. Amid legal hassles and property disputes, the two eventually opted for a judicial separation after 26 years of marriage. “I feared Ishaan would be devastated with the divorce. He was born premature. Today’s he’s so much more confident. I’ve worked at it,” said Om who was extremely attached to his teenaged son.

However, he bore no ill-will for Nandita. “I wish Nandita the best; she has a lot of potential. Sadly, she hasn’t used it. I never expected her to cook, clean and wash for me. She had all the time to pursue her interests.

REKINDLING A BOND

There was yet another twist in Om’s chaotic personal life. In the early 2000s, Om underwent an operation. He also suffered a paralytic stroke and developed a knee problem. He reconnected with first wife Seema. “I was not a 25-year-old nor was I a beautiful heroine. I was an aging 47-48 year old woman. We were like two old friends. He found unconditional support in me,” revealed Seema in an interview.

On his part, Om accepted the relationship and reportedly said, “When Nandita and I got involved, Seema walked out gracefully. She didn’t speak a word to the press… In retrospect, I’ve been unfair to Seema… After we divorced, she lived alone for 20 years but didn’t remarry… I want to be with her… Seema has waited for so long, I hope she still does.”

Seema revealed the reunion was not easy. “He was undergoing depression. To ease his hurt, he had only one recourse – alcohol! He had already suffered 50 per cent nerve damage.”

She concedes Om was under emotional duress. “He was trying hard to sort things out. But a stage came when I gave up and started maintaining a distance. I was not tired of waiting… I could have waited for an entire lifetime. I just got tired of all the negativity. I felt suffocated,” she lamented in an interview.

Reportedly, on the evening of January 5, the actor had gone to meet his son Ishaan. Nandita and Ishaan were at a party. Om sat drinking in his car, waiting for them. But he couldn’t meet Ishaan. The same evening, Om had also called Seema asking her from where she picked up grains for feeding the birds.

On January 6, the star was found dead at his Lokhandwala Oakland Park residence. Reportedly, he died of a heart attack. He had fallen in the kitchen at night and injured himself. His driver, who arrived at the flat early morning, found his body. He was 67.

“In Hindu dharm feeding birds is believed to grant moksha (liberation). Perhaps, I gave him the address of moksha!” said Seema. She believes theirs was a ‘karmic bond’. “Or else there was no reason why I chose to suffer… The ultimate suffering is that I will never see him again.”

While Seema organised a prayer meet in his memory at a Gurudwara in Mumbai, Nandita too organised a separate prayer meet at the ISKCON temple.

Colleague Naseeruddin Shah shocked at his friend’s demise reportedly said, “His personal problems had left his mental and physical health in a shambles. Om was suffering during the last few years…Though his death was sudden, I can’t say it was unexpected… death has relieved him of all the stress."

In 2017, there was news that Seema and Nandita were planning to make films on Om. While Seema wanted to make a film on the man she knew, Nandita reportedly announced that her biopic would be based on her controversial book Unlikely Hero. More recently, Ishaan and Nandita launched a YouTube channel, Puri Baatein to celebrate Om’s incredible legacy.

When once asked what he wanted in life, Om had replied, “Peace of mind!” Hope he has found it finally… far away from all honours and homages.

Unravelling the world of classic Bollywood cinema - here’s more from Farhana Farook.