Amrish Lal Puri (Hindi: अमरीश लाल पुरी; 22 June 1932 – 12 January 2005) was an Indian actor, who was an important figure in Indian theatre and cinema. He worked with notable playwrights of the time, such as Satyadev Dubey and Girish Karnad. He is remembered for playing 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 Puri was born in Lahore in then British India to a Punjabi-speaking family of Lala Nihal Singh Puri and Mst Ved Kaur. He had four siblings, elder brothers Chaman Puri and Madan Puri (both of whom also became actors), elder sister Chandrakanta, and a younger brother, Harish Puri. He later moved to Shimla and graduated from B.M. College, Himachal Pradesh.
Amrish Puri acted in more than 400 films between 1967 and 2005, and was one of the most successful villains in Bollywood. Puri first came to Mumbai following the footsteps of his elder brothers- Madan Puri and Chaman Puri, who were already established actors known for playing villainous roles. He failed his first screen test, and instead 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 a 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 relatively late age of 40.
Puri went on to work in Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Hollywood, Punjabi, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil films. Though he was successful in many regional films, he is best known for his work in Bollywood cinema.
Through the 1970s, Puri often worked in supporting roles, usually as the henchman of the main villain. He was noticed in the 1980 super-hit movie Hum Paanch in which he played the main villain. After that, he started getting cast as the main villain in other movies. In 1982, Puri played the main villain, Jagavar Choudhary in the Subhash Ghai super-hit film Vidhaata. That same year, he again played the main villain, JK in the movie Shakti starring two legends- Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. Next, in 1983, Subhash Ghai again cast him as the main villain, Pasha in the superhit movie Hero. Puri regularly featured in subsequent Subhash Ghai films.
Puri reigned supreme in villainous roles in the 1980s and 1990s. In those decades, there was hardly any Bollywood film that did not feature Puri as a villain. His dominating screen presence and baritone voice made him stand out amongst the other villains of the day. 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. His bald look gave him the flexibility to experiment different looks as a villain in subsequent movies. Puri 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!”
In villainous roles, Puri is best remembered as “Mogambo” in Mr. India, “Jagavar” in Vidhaata, “Thakral” in Meri Jung, “Bhujang” in Tridev, “Balwant Rai” in Ghayal, Barrister Chadda in Damini and “Thakur Durjan Singh” in Karan Arjun.
Since the 1990s until his death in 2005, Puri also featured in positive supporting roles in many movies. Some of his notable positive roles are Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Phool Aur Kaante, Gardish, Pardes, Virasat, Ghaatak and China Gate. He received the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor award for Meri Jung and Virasat.
Puri died on 12 January 2005, due to cerebral haemorrhage resulting from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome in Mumbai, Maharashtra, aged 72.