Om Puri calls Shotgun to understand Zia


By IndiaFM

Diligent actor that he is, Om Puri was in a fix. "I didn't know how to play the former president of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq in Mike Nichols's Charlie Wilson's War. There's practically no visual document on him which I could consult. In any case, I wouldn't want to imitate the man's physical mannerisms. I just want to get a grip on some of his personality traits to understand the workings of a very clever mind."

Om finally consulted Shatrughan Sinha. "He knew Zia-ul -Haq very well, met him many times. Shatrughan told me something very interesting about the Pakistani premiere. He used to laugh a lot. I incorporated that trait into my performance. I didn't want to play him as a caricature. There's always the danger of going over-board. But Zia had to be portrayed as a bargainer….a brotherly though bullying bargainer." Om went to Los Angeles to discuss costume, makeup and for a script-reading with director Mike Nichols before working on the film. "Interestingly, we had the script-reading on 9/11. I asked Mike if it was pre-planned, since a lot of today's American politics has its antecedents in what happened during Zia's times. Mike laughed and said it was just a coincidence."

This is Om's second film with Mike Nichols. "I earlier did Ghost with him. Though I had a very small part in it, it left a lasting impact. The part in Charlie Wilson's War is much larger. I've some very important scenes. This one was important because it was my first international project in 2 ½ years. I had to say no to two international assignments in between, one because of my bad back and the other because of work in India."

"We couldn’t shoot in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we shot in Morocco. I'm happy I got to work with actors like Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman for the first time."

Incidentally, the prolific Mike Nichols has made classics like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate early in his career. He also directed Meryl Streep in two of her best-known works Silkwood and Heartburn (both based on real incidents). Nichols's last film Closer about a marital quartet featuring Julia Roberts, was banned in India for its strong sexual verbal content.