Om Puri dies of heart attack

Actor Om Puri (with Indian actress Ila Arun) at the premiere of West Is West in 2010.
Actor Om Puri (with Indian actress Ila Arun) at the premiere of West Is West in 2010.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MUMBAI • Indian character actor Om Puri, who appeared in hit films such as Gandhi (1982) and successfully straddled movie careers in Bollywood and the West, died yesterday in Mumbai. He was 66.

He died of a heart attack at his home, a family member told the Press Trust of India.

Puri's distinctive baritone and ability to switch seamlessly between art house, Bollywood, Hollywood and British film made him an international star, one of the few Indian actors to cross over to the West before the likes of Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra made the jump.

Puri appeared in a number of British films, notably Gandhi, the epic about the life of India's independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi. He starred in the 1999 Bafta-winning comedy East Is East as a fish-and-chip shop owner who struggles to get his British family to follow the strict Pakistani customs he is used to.

He also acted in major Hollywood movies, including City Of Joy (1992) with Patrick Swayze; Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson; and Charlie Wilson's War (2007) with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Most recently, he starred in The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), opposite Helen Mirren.

"He showed that you didn't have to be 'fair' and 'good-looking' to be a protagonist," said Saeed Akhtar Mirza, who directed Puri in one of his earliest films, Why Should Albert Pinto Be Angry? (1980). "It was just the force of his personality and his performance."

Several Bollywood stars, fans and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to pay their respects. "Who dare say Om Puri is no more? He lives through his work," actor Kamal Hassan tweeted.

Puri was born in Ambala, now in Haryana state, to a Punjabi family in 1950.

An alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India and later, the National School of Drama, he made his debut in the mid-1970s before going on to star in a number of major Hindi hits as well as, controversially, some Pakistani movies.

He was known in India for edgy arthouse movies such as Aakrosh (1980) and Ardh Satya (1982), for which he won the National Indian Film Award for Best Actor.

"Though I did try to resist commercial films for quite some time, I succumbed to it finally as money was equally important as art," he wrote in his autobiography.

"But as an artist, I never compromised on what I had to do on-screen, even if the film was not up to the standard."

He was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, for his services to the film industry in 1990.

In 2004 he became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to British cinema.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'Om Puri dies of heart attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe