PURI: MOGAMBO’S WICKED, WICKED WAYS
It was a cold winter’s morning
in Mumbai. Most of Mumbai’s film
fraternity had assembled at a bungalow in the suburb of Juhu to bid
farewell to an actor most Indians had grown to hate.
Film villain Amrish Puri had
succumbed to myelodysplastic syndrome -- an illness that had been slowly
creeping up on him over the past months.
12 January 2005, Amrish Puri ended months of struggle with the illness.
And in his passing away – he brought to a close an era of his trademark
wickedness on the Bollywood screen.
One for the Art
Amrish Puri was born in Naushera
in Punjab in 1932. He graduated from BM College in Shimla, Himachal
Pradesh, and in the ‘50s, he moved to Mumbai.
His elder brother – Madan Puri
-- had already made a name for himself as a villain on the Hindi screen.
But, younger brother Amrish failed a screen test to play the hero in 1954.
He worked for a while as an employee of the Ministry of Labour. In time,
however, the theatre beckoned and Amrish Puri began to take up roles in
playwright Satyadev Dubey’s plays. He soon became a familiar face at
Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre.
What attracted the audience
immediately to Amrish Puri was his deep, resonant, baritone voice. He
realized the importance of that voice, when he began getting offers for ad
jingles in the early days of radio commercials.
1971, he was cast as a bad guy in the film Reshma aur Shera. He was
nearly 40 years old when he made his debut on the screen. But, though he
was a latecomer, Lady Luck had a great career plan for him.
After getting his foot into the
Bombay Talkies, he was offered a handful of significant roles (mostly as
bad guys) by Shyam Benegal in his art films. This was the ‘70s -- the
years of the powerful parallel cinema movement. Amrish Puri played roles
in “parallel” films like Nishant, Manthan, Bhumika, Kalyug and
Mandi, thus sharing screen time with “art” legends like Smita
Patil, Nareeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi.
His finest (and most memorable)
art film role was Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya in which he played
a counter-point role opposite Om Puri’s rebellious cop.
In 1987, however, one film
changed his entire career graph.
The Making of Mogambo
In the mid-80s, director Shekar
Kapur (fresh after the success of his film Masoom) was ready to
make yet another film for children based on the “invisible man”
premise. Anil Kapoor was to play the hero – Mr. India. And Kapur
was on the look out for a villain to play the super baddie. The
director chose Amrish Puri to play the villain whose name was Mogambo.
Kapur claims that Amrish Puri
was given a mental sketch of the villain. It was the actor’s own
inventiveness that inked in the character of Mogambo. Amrish Puri played
Mogambo as part-monster and part-caricature. And it remained his
that time, Amjad Khan’s Gabbar Singh act in Sholay was considered
the height of villainy on the Indian screen. When Mogambo hit the screen
with his rumbling laugh and his deep-throat trademark line –“Mogambo
khush hua” – Gabbar Singh had found himself competition.
Just let’s say, Mogambo became
the second-most notorious baddie of the Indian screen – all time. And,
of course, the role catapulted Amrish Puri to the top (or should we say
the bottom?) of the bad-guy’s ladder. He
found a place among the most despicable fiends of the Hindi movie screen!
Two Villains in the Family!
Puris now had two leading “villains” in the family fold! But,
Amrish Puri’s evil doings did not end there. Naturally, he was offered
the plum roles in Bollywood’s criminal gallery. But, 1984 also saw him
achieve a target that most Indian actors would have killed for. A
Hollywood studio offered him a significant role in a Steven Spielberg
The film was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – the
sequel to Spielberg’s immensely popular Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Amrish Puri was to play the villainous Mola Ram – a Kali-worshipping tantric
– who tries to eliminate Harrison Ford and company.
Unfortunately – in India –
the film ran into much flak – since the priest was the villain of the
piece. Till date, the film has not been released in the theatres in India.
Puri was offered many more films in Hollywood. But, he claimed, that most
of the roles showed him (and Indians) in a “regressive” light. So,
he returned to India and continued his villainy at the Mumbai studios. With
the Temple of Doom stint, Amrish Puri considered his brief (but
successful) fling with international fame complete!
Villain was also a Gentleman
is a well-known fact that a villain is always rated by the hatred he
generates in the minds of his audience. It
is also an irony, that some of Bollywood’s best-known “villains”
have been the industry’s greatest gentlemen. Amrish Puri was no
And, as is the trend in
Bollywood, at some point in every villain’s life, he is given a chance
to “reform”. And so it was with Amrish Puri.
In 1995, the “wicked,
bloodthirsty villain” got to play one of his most endearing roles. The
film was to become Bollywood’s mega-hit – Dilwale Dulhaniya Le
Jayenge (DDLJ )–
and Amrish Puri was appropriately cast as the heroine’s authoritarian
father. In the film, he creates a situation that tests the two young
lovers – Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol – with months of heartbreak,
stretched across two continents, twenty-odd reels and several popular song
sequences. As in most Hindi films, the
climax of the DDLJ takes place between the hero and the
“villain”. Yes -- it was Shah Rukh Khan versus Amrish Puri in the last
reel! But, it was a climax with a difference – and the public just loved
the very-Indian moral at the end of the tale. DDLJ
created yet another dimension for Amrish Puri’s repertoire as an actor.
He began to get offers to play the “father” in films. And -- to his
credit – he created quite a range of “fathers” even within the
narrow confines of the Hindi film scripts.
He played Anil Kapoor’s father in Viraasat -- as a colossus
-- that the son later has to emulate in life. As Tabu’s widower-father,
he even “fell in love” with Kamaal Hasaan (in drag) in the hilarious Chachi
420. And amongst his last roles he had, he played the heroine’s
father -- as a punching bag --
in Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. By
now, however, the illness had begun creeping up on the actor.
Subhash Ghai cast him in his latest film Kisna. However, the story
goes, that the actor did not attend the first filming schedule of the
movie. This upset the filmmaker very much. It was much later Ghai learned
that the actor was suffering from the blood disorder. Amrish
Puri completed Kisna – often battling his illness to complete his
12 January, this “beloved villain” of the Hindi screen fought his last
battle. He succumbed to a brain haemorrhage in a hospital in Mumbai.
Mogambo was no more!