New Delhi: Veteran actor Om Puri, known for his work in Indian, Pakistani, British and American cinema, died of a heart attack on Friday morning. He was 66.
Born in Ambala, Haryana, to a Punjabi family, Puri was an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and the National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi.
After making his acting debut in the 1976 Marathi film Ghashiram Kotwal, directed by K. Hariharan and Mani Kaul, along with 16 graduates of the FTII, the actor came to be known majorly for spearheading the parallel cinema movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Films like Bhavni Bhavai (1980), Sadgati (1981), Ardh Satya (1983), Mirch Masala (1986) and Dharavi (1992) broke the massy commercial mould ordinarily followed by Bollywood in those days and brought actors like Puri, Naseeruddin Shah (also a co-student at the NSD), Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil and directors like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani to the fore.
Puri received the National Film Award for Best Actor for his performances in director Govind Nihalani’s cop-drama Ardh Satya and Shyam Benegal’s Arohan (1982).
The actor who also diversified into comic roles with cult classics like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) was more inclined towards commercial entertainers later in his career, appearing in pivotal roles in hits like Chachi 420 (1997), Hera Pheri (2000) and Malamaal Weekly (2006).
The critically acclaimed actor wasn’t sought-after only in India but also for British and Hollywood films, one of the select few ever in the industry to cross over. He had a cameo in Richard Attenborough’s cult classic Gandhi (1982) and appeared in films like City of Joy (1992) opposite Patrick Swayze, Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson, The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) opposite Val Kilmer, Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), a Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts-starrer, and most recently,in The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) with Helen Mirren. His notable work on television includes Shyam Benegal’s historical drama Bharat Ek Khoj and political satire Kakaji Kahin.
A 1990 recipient of the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, the actor will also be remembered for the famous baritone he lent to Disney’s money-spinner The Jungle Book last year. He is survived by his son Ishaan.