Amrish Lal Singh Puri ( 22 June 1932 – 12 January 2005) was a leading theatre and film actor from India, who was a key player in the Indian theatre movement that picked up steam in the 1960s. He worked with notable playwrights of the time, such as Satyadev Dubey and Girish Karnad. However, he is primarily remembered for essaying iconic negative roles in Hindi cinema as well as other Indian and international film industries. To Indian audiences he is the most remembered for his role as Mogambo in Shekhar Kapur’s Hindi film Mr. India (1987), and to Western audiences he is best known as Mola Ram in Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
Amrish Singh Puri was born in Lahore, Punjab, present Pakistan. His siblings include elder brothers actors Chaman Singh Puri, Madan Puri, older sister Chandrakanta and younger brother Harish Singh Puri. He later moved to Shimla and graduated from B.M. College, Himachal Pradesh.
Amrish Puri came to Bombay in the footsteps of his elder brothers, who was already established actors known for playing negative roles. He failed his first screen test, and found a job with the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC). At the same time, he started performing at the Prithvi Theatre, in plays written by Satyadev Dubey. He 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 late age of 40.
He went on to work in Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Hollywood, Punjabi, Malayalam, 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 films. His dominating screen presence and baritone voice made him stand out amongst the other villains of the day. He is best known for his role as Mogambo in the 1987 blockbuster, Mr. India and for his portrayal of Mola Ram, the antagonist in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
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 Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). He shaved his head for the role, and it created such an impression that he kept his head shaved and became one of the most popular villains in Hindi Cinema. Amrish and Spielberg shared a great rapport and Spielberg often said in interviews, “Amrish is my favorite villain- The best the world has ever produced and ever will!”
It is rumoured that he may have portrayed the antagonist Scar in the Hindi dub of the 1994 blockbuster The Lion King.
He died on 12 January 2005, due to cerebral haemorrhage resulting from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome in Mumbai, Maharashtra, aged 72.