He was certainly not the best villain of Hindi cinema. But he was larger than life. AJIT DUARA remembers Amrish Puri.
He dominated the screen with his height, bald head and booming voice.
AMRISH PURI may have been a man of many parts, but his performances were separated in two. He was a caricature villian like `Mogambo' ("Mr. India") in countless Hindi films but he also played key roles in more stimulating movies. He made his entrances and his exits, like the man of the stage he was, and never forgot his theatrical background.
Recognition came to him late, at the age of 40 and, once it did, he made up for lost time by acting as villain in every inane thing he was offered. At the end of his career, Puri was caught in a loud and stylised web of his own making. He became a parody of himself.
This was sad because in at least two roles in Shyam Benegal's films as a wealthy businessman in "Bhumika" (1977) and as one of the leading characters in the several separate, though interwoven narratives in "Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda" (1992) he was outstanding. A natural as patriarch in a male dominated society, this was the role he played best.
It is significant, almost to the point of clairvoyance, that Amrish Puri played major roles in two of Benegal's finest films.
In "Bhumika", the unhappy actress Usha, played by Smita Patil in her most memorable role, consents to be the mistress of Vinayak Kale (Puri). He keeps her in great style in his mansion but takes away her freedom.
A considerable portion of the film deals with their relationship and Puri is quite brilliant in the complex role of a middle-aged man who takes care of his bed-ridden wife, even as he keeps Usha as consort, with his wife's consent. But Usha is a caged bird in this palace and she fliess away.
Kale's wife is sorry to see her go and mutters sadly: "The beds change, the kitchens change. Men's masks change, but men don't change." Smita Patil is long gone and so is Amrish now. This was their finest film.
Later, in 1992, Puri took a sabbatical from Hindi melodrama of the "mogambo khush hua" kind and worked in Benegal's most interesting "Suraj Ka Saatwan Ghoda". This is a film about story telling. A young man called Manik Mulla (Rajit Kapur), bored out of his mind working as a railway employee in Allahabad, entertains his pals by telling them stories, ostensibly about his youth and supposedly about love.
Amrish Puri stars in one of the tales as a vain and pompous man. One still remembers the scene where he looks in the mirror, turning this way and that, with the sheer delight of seeing himself in the reflection.
Similarly, in better Hindi films Amrish Puri was always completely natural in the role of a senior member of the landed gentry. As the Punjabi land owner and father of the bride in Aditya Chopra's "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)", he was delightful in the role of a genial Punjabi patriarch who actually likes the man his daughter has fallen in love with (Shahrukh Khan) until he finds out that the rogue wants to marry the girl (Kajol). Then he is furious but Shahrukh refuses to elope and says he won't marry her unless he has the old man's consent.
Puri uses fine acting skill in showing the process by which he thaws in his attitude to the young man's startling new stand. So, on occasions, when the script demanded a degree of realism, Puri's theatre background allowed him to change gears without sweat and he turned from ogre to Prince Charming.
Apart from Shekhar Kapur's "Mr. India" (1987), the movie that turned him into a brand, Amrish also played a tantric mumbo-jumbo villian called Molaram in Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984). It was a forgettable role but it did give him international exposure, none of which he used. He preferred to stay in India and rant and rave in Hindi movies. He adored the publicity it got him everywhere he went in the country.
Amrish Puri was certainly not the best villain of Hindi cinema. He tended to be one-dimensional and would alter his style only if the director asked him to. Pran, Ajit, Amjad Khan and Sadashiv Amrapurkar have often played much more interesting characters and have added something of their own to their roles. Certainly, the greatest villain of all time in Hindi movies was Amjad Khan's Gabbar Singh in "Sholay". In terms of performance, Mogambo doesn't even come close.
But Amrish Puri was larger than life. He dominated the screen with his height, his huge, bald head and his booming voice. He was the greatest popcorn villain. When he came on, the crunching of corn in the movie theatre multplied, in synchrony with the sounds of crunching blows and cracking heads.
Send this article to Friends by