Ahoy, squirts. Quint here with some sad news for the people like me who love INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM as well as fans of Bollywood. Amrish Puri, who played Mola Ram in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM has died at the age of 72.
I'm completely ignorant of Indian Cinema, I'm sad to say. I'm pretty well versed in Japanese, Korean, Thai and French cinema, but I've never really grappled on to the Bollywood scene, of which Amrish Puri was well known. So, this obit comes from a fan of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Hopefully this little tribute will be updated by fans of his Bollywood work? Maybe Harry, Father Geek or Moriarty knows a bit more about his non-Indiana Jones work and will put some words down for Mr. Puri.
I've always been puzzled by the lukewarm fan reception of TEMPLE OF DOOM. Sure, it has the spottiest effects in the whole INDIANA JONES series and Kate Capshaw is a radically different female interest than the awesome Karen Allen in RAIDERS, but that's what I love about the movie. I love how it takes RAIDERS and flips it around. In RAIDERS, Indy's more of a loner, in TEMPLE he starts out with Short Round. In RAIDERS he always has his gun and whip on-hand. In TEMPLE, they go through great pains to strip him of these weapons. Marion Ravenwood in RAIDERS is a strong woman, Willie Scott however is a vain, helpless woman. In RAIDERS, his main villain is Belloq. Belloq is a great bad guy, but very reserved and subdued, giving the flashier villainous roles to the Nazis. In TEMPLE the main villain is Mola Ram as played by Mr. Puri. Larger than life, colorful, mean... the antithesis of Belloq.
Puri played Mola Ram with a mad flourish. He always had an insane twinkle in his eye that was almost supernatural. His luring of Indiana Jones to dark cult side is just evil and scary. The man radiated bad vibes in that role. And lets not forget his talent for ripping hearts out of bodies and helping to create the much maligned PG-13 rating. Puri's energy and screen presence was unique and will be missed.
Hey folks - Harry here... Amrish was featured in 221 feature films in over the course of his 33 year film career - spanning my entire life. For most westerners, most geeks like us that loved his relish dripping villain from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM - he was a great supporting character... that we never saw again in Western film. Well, now is a good time to discover Puri's other work. He won many awards in the Bollywood world for playing villains. He had the eyes, the sneer and timbre for it. The year after Mola Ram he played a supporting character in MERI JUNG, a "wrong man" style crime film where the main character is unjustly framed for a murder he did not committ and like a certain Doctor played by Harrison much later, the main character must find out who really did it. Well, of course it was Amrish. His murderer wasn't on screen much, but damn if he wasn't cool as hell. He picked up a best supporting actor award for the part. You might remember him as Kahn in Richard Attenborough's magnificent GANDHI, this is where Spielberg spotted him, btw for Indy. If you want to catch him in a particularly striking villain pose, check out the film, GADAR: EK PREM KATHA where he plays a particularly evil Pakistani character that is intent on destroying the peace found in India. The film is typical of the Bollywood sub-genre of evil Pakistani influence on the puritannical bliss of India, but then the two countries have been in disputes for a long long time. The film isn't particularly great, but Puri's villain holds quite a bit of that ol Mola Ram magic. Essentially - these are the 3 non-Indy roles I have seen Amrish Puri in. He was solid in all 3. If you know more of his work, please post in Talk Back below, I wouldn't mind discovering more of his work. Here's a reader who knows his work far better than me...
I just saw on your website that Amrish Puri, best known in the west for his portrayal of Mola Ram in TOD had passed on. As someone who grew up watching 2 or 3 indian movies a week, I wanted to throw in my two cents.
Amrish Puri was one of the biggest and most famous actors Bollywood has ever seen. So, while I can't begin to communicate what he meant to the movie-going public at large and to the Bollywood film industry, I can tell you what he meant to me: sleepless nights. Lots of sleepless nights. Ever since the age of 4, when I saw him go up against my childhood idol, Amitabh Bachhan, in Naseeb, Mr. Puri has been the very embodiment of terror and my first indication of the evils that humans are capable of. And he seemed to be in every third Bollywood movie released, raping women, starving children, smuggling drugs or planting bombs. All with that malevolent grin that actually made you believe he ENJOYED doing what he did. This was not a villain borne out of circumstance or necessity or even for the purpose of amassing wealth; this was a man doing evil because it gave him joy. He still shows up in the periphery of my nightmares sometimes; he's the one off in the corner flooding my bedroom or convincing my girlfriend to dump me.
Later in the 80's he found ways to parody his own image ala Vincent Price, mostly famously as Mogambo in the sci-fi flick Mr. India. And then, even later, he started playing good guys. He would start off as the mean father-in-law or the over-strict father, then realize the error of his ways and show his gentler side. But I could never accept Amrish Puri as a good guy. It seemed like that "Fat Guy in a Little Suit" Chris Farley sketch: someone trying to fit into something obviously not meant for them. His grin was too malicious, his eyes too terrifying to play mere good guys. These eyes could burrow deep into your soul and take something forever, and now here they were, begging frogiveness from their daughter-in-law for treating them poorly. Not that Mr. Puri was not a great actor in these roles. He could change his whole persona by a slight lowering of the eye-lids. But he was a goddamm force of nature. Him showing ANY sympathy would be akin to watching a tornado feed the hungry.
Not all of his movies were great. But I could always watch a movie with him as a bad guy. Those evil eyes, that grin that literally steals food from innocents, that voice that could make every cell shake. Because, no matter how bad the story was, you knew, always, you were going to get a mother-fucker of a villain.
When I look at all the horror movies on my shelf, I know I owe my love of getting the bejeezus scared out of me to Mr. Amrish Puri. I am going to go home tonight, dig up an old Puri movie and watch it. And then I will look foward to seeing him in my nightmares for weeks. Thank you for my battles with insomnia Mr. Puri! You will be missed.