Om Puri has died, aged 66. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Om Puri has died, aged 66. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

South Asia’s veteran film actor Om Puri dies at 66

The actor played unusual roles in Bollywood, British, Hollywood and Pakistani films of diverse genres in a career spanning four decades

January 6, 2017 6:33 PM (UTC+8)

Actor Om Puri, who made a mark in Bollywood, British, Hollywood and Pakistani films of diverse genres, died of heart attack at his Mumbai home early on Friday, his family has announced.

He was 66.

Puri, who was still active in films, had been at a shoot on Thursday. His driver raised the alarm when he did not answer his doorbell on Friday morning.

Film-maker Ashoke Pandit, a close friend of Puri, was among the first to arrive at the actor’s home in Lokhandwala, Andheri, to pay his last respects.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences and recalled his long career in theatre and films.

Puri’s Bollywood friends were shocked by his death.

Actor Shabana Azmi, who worked with him in a number of serious films such as Sparch, Dharavi and Mandi, tweeted: “Om Puri! You have left us all too early.. i am so so sorry..The fun the laughter the arguments so vividly etched in my mind..Will miss you.”

Director Mahesh Bhatt tweeted: “Goodbye Om! A part of me goes with you today. How can I ever forget those passionate nights we spent together talking about cinema & life?”

Veteran actor Anupam Kher tweeted: “Seeing him lying on his bed looking so calm can’t believe that one of our greatest actors #OmPuri is no more. Deeply saddened & shocked.”

In a career that spanned four decades, Puri acted in over 100 films, often taking unconventional roles when most film heroes of the time were running around trees with their heroines yodelling.

Puri was among the pioneers of the ‘parallel cinema’ movement in India led by directors such as Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, Kumar Sahni and Govind Nihalani, and actors including Naseeruddin Shah, Amarish Puri, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil.

Born in a Punjabi family in Ambala, Haryana, Puri graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. As an actor, he learned his basics in 1973 from the National School of Drama, New Delhi, where actor Naseeruddin Shah was a co-student.

While studying at the institute, he did not have a decent shirt to wear and had to borrow one from Shah.

He made his debut in the 1976 Marathi film Ghashiram Kotwal.

Most of his fans and critics remember him for his roles in early Hindi films such as Bhumika (1977), Aakrosh (1980), Aarohan (1982) and Ardha Satya (1983),

He had a perfect diction and could easily  switch from one language to another, including Urdu. Gradually, he became a much sought-after actor from South Asia to take on roles in English films.

He earned international fame through British films inclduing My Son the Fanatic, East Is East, and The Parole Officer. He also had a cameo in the Oscar-winning Richard Attenborough film Gandhi and worked on television shows Jewel in the Crown and The Canterbury Tales.

He was awarded an honorary OBE in 2004 for his services to British film and won Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India in 1990.

He also appeared in a number of Hollywood films including City of Joy (1992), Wolf (1994), and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). He played the Pakistani General Zia-ul-Haq in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007).

In 2014, he appeared alongside Helen Mirren in Steven Spielberg’s American comedy The Hundred-Foot Journey.

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