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

Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin