Memories of Mogambo

Remembering Amrish Puri: Most likable villain of Bollywood

Cinema

January 12, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Memories of Mogambo

Apart from his Bollywood, Puri also worked in Kannada, Marathi, Hollywood, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil & Telugu film industries

On the 16th death anniversary of Bollywood’s favourite villain, Amrish Puri, Media India Group revisits the legendary actor’s presence on silver screen.

A deep baritone erupts into thunderous laughter and out of the darkness, enters a towering figure, piercing through the mist with a pair of glowing bulbous eyes, chilling enough to stare down generations into submission.

Mogambo khush hua,” (Mogambo is happy) a low voice ushers, like the calm before the storm, and the rest, is history.

This is a man who etched an eternal image of villainy in the minds of thousands of Indian cinema-lovers. With fearfully elaborate roles and spine-chilling performances, Amrish Puri showed the world that he was indeed the best bad guy on celluloid.

“People often remember the heroes in films, but if there is one man who made us admire even the villainous roles, it has to be the iconic actor Amrish Puri,” says Rashmi Kumar, a Delhi-based student of films.

As someone who only started his career in his early 40s, Puri had to swim against the tide in more ways than one. “Although he was a regular feature in films of Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani, when it came to popular films, Puri had to overcome the towering image of his elder brother, Madan Puri, and a host of well-established villains to carve a place for himself,” Kumar explains.

Beginning with Nagina (1986), Puri managed to create a great legacy of characters that is now synonymous with the term villain. Called one of the greatest baddies by Steven Spielberg, who directed him in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)Puri’s era demarcated a before and after for villains but the actor was not limited to playing the baddie.

Most film villains often become victims of their image and are unable to go beyond the popular perception. Unlike Pran, and to some extent, Amjad Khan, most baddies right from Jeevan, Madan Puri, KN Singh, Ranjeet and Prem Chopra found it difficult to attract the kind of roles a ‘supporting’ artist would enjoy. “In this aspect, Amrish Puri stood poles apart from the rest. Puri’s films with Priyadarshan beginning with Muskurahat (1992) and Gardish (1993) marked a decorous turn in commercial films where he seemingly went beyond being a Shashi Kapoor or Rishi Kapoor in an Amitabh Bachchan film or even Govinda in the 1980s where he played the able second fiddle to everyone from Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Sanjay Dutt and Anil Kapoor,” adds Yukti Kapoor, a Pune-based film studies professor.

“A remake of his own Malayalam film, Kilukkam (1991), Priyan’s Muskurahat (1992) was marketed solely on Amrish Puri’s presence in an era long before small or indie films became fashionable where a character actor could be the face of a film,” adds Kapoor.

His success in avant-garde cinema was instant, though the same could not be said about mainstream cinema. “Those weren’t easy years. Recognition was hard to come by and I had a family to support. I took on every villain’s role that came my way,” Puri later stated during an interview.

Amrish Puri as Mogambo in Mr. India

Most remembered for his role as Mogambo in Shekhar Kapur’s Hindi film Mr. India (1987), Puri had been an important part of the Indian theatre and cinema for about 40 years, during which he acted in over 450 films and gained an unparalleled status of the most iconic villain in Indian cinema between the 1970s and early 2000s.

Though it can still scare some, Mogambo was not your typical villain, says Kumar. “Mogambo was diabolical yet endearing and children loved him! He made it his own by lending him his persona, his inimitable charm and liveliness,” adds Kumar.

By the 2000s the kind of films where Puri could play the standard Hindi film villain were dying a slow death and the resurrection of Bachchan, post-Mohabbatein (2000), saw the advent of former heroes as fathers and elder brothers or crazy uncles but Puri was still in demand.

One of the last films to feature an out and out classic Hindi film villain, Gadar- Ek Prem Katha (2001) would have been unimaginable without Amrish Puri. “Life came a full circle for Amrish Puri a few months before his death in 2005 when this time Subhash Ghai got Amrish Puri to play the ‘Amrish Puri’ role in Kisna (2005), one of the last films that Puri did,” Kapoor adds.

Apart from his exceptional career in Bollywood, Puri also worked in Kannada, Marathi, Hollywood, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu film industries. To Puri’s western audiences, he is best known as Mola Ram in Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).

“The talk of the cine-town also, interestingly, suggests that director Ali Abbas Zafar has been planning to make a sequel to Mr. India. I am sure it is not going to be the same with Puri and Sridevi,” Kapoor says, “but one thing I am sure of is that wherever Mogambo is, Mogambo khush hai (Mogambo is happy).”

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