Om Puri: The day I met a film giant and my family's hero

It was a scorching hot day, and Cannes was bubbling over with celebrities as always.

I was there to cover the film adaption of a hit stage play called East Is East.

The cast was a mixture of established British TV stars like Lesley Nicol and young, up and coming British Asian actors like Archie Panjabi and Jimi Mistry.

But all were in thrall to Om Puri, greeting him with reverence when he arrived for our interview. Yours truly was rather star struck as well.

In fact the picture (above) taken that day is among only a handful of images of me that my mum displays at home.

He was an actor who meant something to all generations.

The story of his poor upbringing, how this Punjabi boy was working to help support his family aged seven, was almost mythical to we fellow Punjabis.

When he began acting, he soon made an impact in all regions of Indian cinema - Punjabi, Marathi, Hindi, English speaking.

In the early 70s in an early role he acted in the Punjabi film Chan Pardesi, alongside my late uncle Mohinder Mastana. So Om Puri was a big deal in our house.

Nina Nannar's uncle Mohinder Mastana acted alongside Om Puri as the future East Is East star began his career. Credit: Nina Nannar

He was never going to be a romantic leading man - that pockmarked face, that nose - he himself recently remarked that considering he didn't have a "conventional face", he did rather well in the film industry.

It was no surprise that he was among only a small number of Indian actors who made the crossover from Bollywood to Hollywood in City of Joy, Wolf and Gandhi.

More recently he starred alongside Helen Mirren in The Hundred Foot Journey.

But it was East is East in 1999 that really signalled his huge talent to the world.

Puri played George Khan, a Pakistani father married to a British woman in Northern England and trying to instill his traditional values on his children, who were far more interested in assimilating into the West.

His character was a brute and extreme but it was to the credit of Om Puri that in his hands, it was hard to hate George Khan.

Om Puri was highly decorated in India after a stellar career on stage and screen. Credit: PA

What he portrayed was a truth that in most Asian families in Britain is still played out today.

That clash between East and West. That need to be true to your roots whilst absorbing the culture in which you now live, that need to respect your parents and their beliefs, whilst at the same time, assimilating into Western society.

Om Puri was supreme in this film and indeed in the follow up, West is West.

Puri was equally at home in Eastern and Western cinema, a man who meant something to the generation who watched his many award-winning roles in Indian cinema, and those who followed and watched his scene-stealing performances in British and American film.

He was one of the greatest actors that India, home to the most productive film industry in the world, has ever produced.

There really is no other actor who could take his place.