Amrish Lal Puri (June 22, 1932 – January 12, 2005) was an iconic Indian actor who appeared primarily in negative roles in Hindi movies.
His most remembered roles are Mogambo in Mr India (1987) and Mola Ram in the Hollywood film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
He played character roles and was well-known as a villain. His striking bass voice, the ability to extend his eyes widely out of their eyelids during climactic scenes and outsize acting style made him a convincing villain in even the most melodramatic movies.
Puri was born in Nawanshahr to Lala Nihal Chand and Ved Kaur. He had four siblings, elder brothers Chaman Puri and Madan Puri (both of whom also became actors), younger brother Harish Puri and elder sister Chandrakanta.
He graduated from B.M. College in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.
When Amrish reached Mumbai his brother Madan Puri was already an established actor, known for playing villain roles.
Amrish failed his first screen test and had to find a job with LIC.
Meanwhile he started performing at the Prithvi Theatre, in plays written by Satyadev Dubey, eventually became well-known as stage actor and won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1979.
This theatre recognition soon led to work in television ads and eventually to films at the age of 40.
He went on to work in Hindi, Kannada, Hollywood, Punjabi, Telugu and Tamil films. Though he was successful in all of these industries, he is best known for his work in Bollywood cinema.
He has appeared in over four hundred movies. His dominating screen presence and booming voice made him stand out amongst a sea of actors.
Amrish Puri also acted in Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom.
In 1970 he appeared in his first film, [Prem Pujari] although the first film he had signed for was [Reshma Aur Sheraaa] which released in 1971.
This was followed by many villain or supporting roles in numerous art films such as Shyam Benegal’s Nishant, Manthan, and Bhumika and Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda.
He also appeared in Govind Nihalani’s film, Party in 1984.
He attracted a great deal of attention for his work in the 1987 hit film Mr. India, directed by Shekhar Kapur. He played the evil Mogambo, who encouraged his underlings with the phrase, Mogambo khush hua (Mogambo is pleased). The phrase became very popular and remains one of his most famous dialogues.
He became a staple of Hindi films in the 1980s playing mostly villainous roles.
He also went on to play many positive supporting roles, including his famous role as Baldev Singh in the Indian blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995).
While he is best known for his work as a villain, he has also played the “good guy” at times. He acted as Group Captain Varghese, a Malayali officer in the Indian Air Force based movie Vijeta.
He was a kind-hearted American businessman in Pardes (1997) and a genial grandfather in the film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001).
His last film was Kachchi sadak . The film was released a few days after his death.
He is known to international audiences for his roles as Khan in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) and as the main antagonist Mola Ram in the Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
He starred as the sadistic jailor in Kalapani in which co-acted Padmashri Mohanlal, the Megastar of Malayalam industry.
He is best known in Punjabi cinema for his role as the landlord villain Joginder Singh in the legendary film Chan Pardesi (1980). He also starred as the villain Zalam Singh in the religious Punjabi film Sat Sri Akal (1977). After twenty years, he returned to Punjabi cinema to make a brief appearance as the Sufi Saint in the acclaimed film Shaheed Uddham Singh (2000).
He also appeared in Telugu movies such as Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari, Major Chandrakanth, Aditya-369, Kondaveeti Donga, Aswamedham, Aakhari Poratam etc.
He appeared in the Tamil film Dalapathi (1991), directed by Mani Ratnam, opposite Rajnikanth and Mammootty, Tamil and Malayalam superstars respectively. After Dalapathi, Amrish Puri made his second and last appearance in the Rajinkanth’s film “Baba” (2002) in which he played the role of an evil tantrik who helps politicians and other evil elements to succeed in their hideous schemes.
He acted in some Kannada movies during the early days of his career. He played the hero in a black and white Kannada movie “Kaadu”.
He married Urmila Divekar on 5 January 1957, at the Shri Krishna Temple in Wadala. The couple have two children, son Rajeev Puri and daughter Namrata Puri. His son Rajeev is a businessman. He has four grandchildren, Sachi, Harsh Vardhan, Shantanu Bagwe and Krish Bagwe. His daughter-in-law, Meena, is a professional physiotherapist.
Amrish had a passion for collecting hats, and bought a hat or two on every trip abroad. He had a collection of over 200 hats from across the world.
Amrish was a very religious person by heart and a Shiva devotee.
He died in Mumbai in 2005 after a brain hemorrhage at the age of 72.
His autobiography The Act of Life was published in 2006 and is seen as the document of the cinema of his times.