IN his 300-plus movie career he played everyone from world leaders to taxi drivers and police officers to vets.
Yesterday film fans and fellow actors paid tribute to Indian cinema legend Om Puri following his death at the age of just 66.
A star of both Bollywood and Hollywood, Puri was found dead at his Mumbai home yesterday morning. He had been at work on a film set the previous day.
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The news was broken by Indian filmmaker and social activist Ashoke Pandit, who said he was “sad and shocked” by the loss.
Meanwhile, Archie Panjabi, star of the BBC drama Shetland, paid tribute to her former co-star, who played her father in the 1999 comedy East is East, tweeting: “Devastated to hear of the sad loss of @OmRajeshPuri. He was a true gem. Rest in Peace.”
Priyanka Chopra, one of India’s biggest screen stars, shared a picture of herself with Puri on her Instagram page. The two worked together on the 2006 Hindi film Don, and Chopra said Puri’s death marks “the end of an era” but that his “legacy lives on”.
Born in the north Indian state of Haryana in 1950, Puri made his movie debut in the 1976 film Ghashiram Kotwal, going on to become a well-known figure in his country’s media before crossing over to international audiences.
Trailers for upcoming release Viceroy’s House, a drama about the end of British colonial rule in India in which he stars with Gillian Anderson, Hugh Bonneville and Michael Gambon, are currently on show in Scottish cinemas.
The period piece, directed by Bend It Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha, will be released in March.
Yesterday she shared a picture of them both on-set, saying: “Goodbye my dear, warm hearted, colossal actor and all round wonderful human being. I will miss showing you our work together and you teasing me about it over a drink. Love and peace.”
To audiences in India, Puri’s best-known works include the satirical Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and critically-acclaimed Sadgati.
However, his varied career saw him take on roles written by Chaucer and Shakespeare, appearing in adaptations of Canterbury Tales and MacBeth, the latter being a modern reinterpretation of the play.
His breakthrough film was the gritty 1983 drama Ardh Satya or Half Truth, about a young policeman’s crisis of conscience amid Indian politics and crime, and the depth and breadth of his work saw him go on to win a slew of many awards.
Actor and director Ananth Mahadevan, a close friend, praised his “sheer versatility”, telling the BBC World Service: “He was truly India’s international star.
“He was a man that proved that you needn’t be a very handsome-looking, tall, strapping guy to be a leading man.
“You needed loads of talent and that is what Om proved with his sensibility and sensitivity.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to pay tribute to the celebrated artist, who spent four decades in the spotlight.
Modi’s office tweeted: “The Prime Minister condoles the passing away of actor Om Puri & recalls his long career in theatre & films.”
Puri took on the role of Pakistani president Zia-ul-Haq in the 2007 Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson’s War, while 1997 picture My Son the Fanatic saw him play a taxi driver in northern England who falls in love with a prostitute while his son rejects his secular upbringing for a hardline version of Islam.
In 1992 he acted alongside Patrick Swayze in Calcutta-set City of Joy, while in 2014 he ruffled Helen Mirren’s feathers as a chef opening up an Indian restaurant across the street from her eaterie in rural France in The Hundred Foot Journey.
Meanwhile, the multi-award winning East is East saw Puri explore life as an immigrant in 1970s England as his mixed race family struggles with identity and cultural issues.
Jimi Mistry, who played one of Puri’s children, called the older actor an “inspiration”, saying: “Very sad news about Om Puri, the first great actor I ever worked with and a true inspiration and great man... thoughts go out to his family.”
Survived by his wife Nandita Puri and their son Ishaan, Puri was set to be cremated yesterday.
He was made an honorary officer of the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to British cinema in 2004 and, responding to his death, Sri Lankan actress Jacqueline Fernandez said the world had “lost a legend”, while Kunal Nayyar, star of the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, wrote: “Dear Om Puri, the truth you brought to everything you did, will never be matched ... your body may be gone, but your spirit will remain forever.”
In a tweet posted just a fortnight ago, Puri said: “I have no regrets at all. I have done quite well for myself. I don’t have a conventional face, but I have done well, and I am proud of it.”