Om Puri finds it hard to play Zia-ul Haq

Veteran actor Om Puri had a tough time getting into the skin of the character of Zia-ul Haq, the late Pakistan president, in the international venture "Charlie Wilson's War" that also stars Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.
The diligent actor that he is, Puri was in a fix. "I didn't know how to play former president of Pakistan Zia-ul Haq in Mike Nichols' 'Charlie Wilson's War'," Puri told IANS.

"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 working of a very clever mind," he said.

He finally consulted actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha who knew Zia.

"He knew Zia-ul Haq very well, met him many times. Shatrughan told me something very interesting about the Pakistani leader. He used to laugh a lot. I incorporated that trait into my performance," he said.

"I didn't want to play him as a caricature. There's always the danger of going overboard. But Zia had to be portrayed as a bargainer...a brotherly though bullying bargainer," he added.

The actor went to Los Angeles to discuss costume and makeup and for a script reading with director 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," he said.

"This one was important because it was my first international project in two and a half 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 got to work with actors like Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman for the first time."

The prolific 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).

Apparently, Nichols' last film "Closer" about a marital quartet featuring Julia Roberts was banned in India for its strong sexual verbal content.

Indo-Asian News Service