Amrish Puri

Bollywood's best-known villain

Amrish Puri, actor: born 22 June 1932; married (one son, one daughter); died Bombay 12 January 2005.

Almost 40 when he made his film début, Amrish Puri emerged as Bollywood's best-known villain, acting in over 220 films. His booming voice, menacingly beady eyes and evil-looking face lent reality to the wicked men he played, almost invariably a ruthless gangster or the hateful, unrelenting and scheming father of a simpering Bollywood heroine.

The man millions of Indians loved to hate was also one of the first Bollywood stars to cross over successfully into Hollywood. In 1984 he played Mola Ram, the evil and terrifying high priest with horns on his head and surrounded by skulls in Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Puri shaved his head for the role and it created such an abiding impression that he remained bald thereafter.

Puri had almost turned down this role on the grounds that the film's plot was no different from a formulaic Bollywood production, offering him no challenge. But it was Richard Attenborough, in whose epic film Gandhi (1982) Puri had played a small role, who convinced him to accept the part, pointing out that it was Spielberg's cinematic technique that made his extravaganzas special.

But Puri earned instant notoriety in 1987 for playing Mogambo, the light-hearted villain with the arching eyebrows and blood-curdling laugh in Mr India, directed by Shekhar Kapur. His portrayal of Mogambo, determined to conquer the world, became a metaphor for the ugliness and greed lurking in mankind. One of his lines in the film, "Mogambo khush hua" ("Mogambo has become happy"), delivered with Puri's characteristic venom-spewing intensity, in his booming voice, figures amongst the most memorable in Bollywood folklore. It is also one that is repeated frequently in jest, frivolity and sarcasm by millions across India even today.

Born 1932, into a middle-class family in northern Punjab state, Puri studied in the former imperial summer capital, Simla, before moving to Bombay to join his brother Madan, a middling Bollywood star. In 1954 he auditioned for a lead role, but was rejected on grounds of having a crude and harsh face.

Puri then turned his attention to theatre and this became his abiding interest. He also lent his voice to numerous advertisement jingles. But the lure of Bollywood never left him and his first break came in 1971 with a small role the film Reshma aur Shera ("Reshma and Shera"), a Romeo and Juliet-style love story set in India's western desert state of Rajasthan.

After his somewhat forgettable début, a disillusioned Puri returned to Bombay's lively theatre circuit. In 1978 he was approached by the director Subhash Ghai to play the villain in Krodhi ("The angry one"). Initially he resisted, saying that compared with theatre, characters in Bollywood films were loud and undefined. But he soon succumbed to the lure of Bollywood and harnessed his forceful personality, charm and liveliness to play the villain to perfection.

Puri starred in numerous little-known films but remained on the periphery of Bollywood renown. "Those were not easy years for me," he once said:

Recognition was hard and I had a family to support so I took on any and every villain's role that came my way.

In the late 1970s Puri was cast by the art cinema director Shyam Benegal in films such as Manthan ("Churning", 1976) and Bhumika ("Role", 1977), and these helped further his career. But his big break came in 1982 when he played the villain in the box-office hit Vidhaata ("God"). The same year he attracted global audiences with a cameo role in Gandhi and two years later featured in the Indiana Jones spectacular. His Mogambo three years later firmly established Puri as a Bollywood legend.

In later years Puri showed his versatility by switching to character roles. The comedy Hulchul ("Uproar"), released last month, was his final hit.

In real life, Puri was the opposite of the villainous characters he played - kind, generous, considerate and helpful to his friends. He was also vain about his celebrated voice, requesting journalists who interviewed him to erase their recordings swiftly, fearful that his baritone might somehow be misused.

Kuldip Singh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Systems and Network Support Analyst

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Systems Support Analyst

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests