Probably one of the few stalwart actors in the Hindi film industry to have captivated the audiences with his exceptional portrayal of negative roles, Amrish Puri was an actor who could nail any role and ace it to perfection.
Who can ever forget Mogambo from Mr India (1987), an iconic role inspired from Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and Pakistani president Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq? Or the megalomaniac chief minister Balraj Chauhan from Nayak: The Real Hero (2001)?
He was one of my favourite actors and continues to remain so. An actor whose illustrious filmography is one that present-day actors should really look up to, Puri showed that while heroes were definitely loved by audiences, it takes a negative character to make a film truly unforgettable.
The veteran artist had acted in over 400 films in languages including Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Punjabi, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil and even forayed into Hollywood.
In fact, it was Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic, Gandhi (1982), that opened the doors of world cinema for Puri. He was cast in a brief role as ‘Khan’ in the film.
Shortly after, Puri found none other than famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg knocking at his doors, wanting to cast him in a titular, negative role in his upcoming installation from the Indiana Jones series.
Masterfully acing the menacing role of a Thuggee priest involved in occult rituals, it is said that Puri wasn’t very keen on Mola Ram initially. He had even blatantly refused to take the role.
But Spielberg, who was already blown away by Puri’s dominating screen presence and baritone voice from previous films, was insistent to keep pursuing him.
It was finally Attenborough who convinced him to take up the character of Mola Ram.
The rest as we know, is a negative role that made Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) an unforgettable film that went down in the annals of world cinema.
Such was Spielberg’s fascination with Puri that in one of his interviews, Spielberg has said, “Amrish is my favourite villain—The best the world has ever produced and ever will.”
Even here, Puri went out-and-out with his absolute embodiment of the character. He shaved his head for the very first time.
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That one step went on to become a trademark for him for many of his films in the Hindi film industry.
On his death anniversary, we pay tribute to the legendary actor, who besides winning the hearts of Indian audiences, captivated legendary directors such as Attenborough and Spielberg with skills that had no contenders.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)