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Madan Puri’s 10 excellent bad-guy roles

On his 32nd death anniversary, we take a look at some of Puri's memorable villainous roles.

Sonal Pandya

A ubiquitous presence in Hindi films for nearly five decades, the character actor Madan Puri played all kinds of roles on screen from bad man to sidekick to father figure. Assuming any profession from lawyer to politician, Puri famously referred to himself (as part of the supporting cast in the film) as “the aloo-pyaaz that can be put into any dish”. On his 32nd death anniversary today (13 January), we take a look at some of his memorable villainous roles.

1.  Ratan in Jeet (1949)

After making his debut in Ahinsa (1946), Madan Puri found himself cast as the competitor for Suraiya’s affections in Mohan Sinha’s Jeet (1949); one of his early roles that set up his shady persona for the big screen. Set in a newly independent India, Jeet starred Suraiya and Dev Anand as neighbours who fall in love. Suraiya’s Jeet is forward-thinking and a do-gooder. Dev Anand’s Vijay is meeker as the adopted younger brother of Maa (Durga Khote) whose son Ratan has just arrived from USA. The opportunistic Ratan wants to marry Jeet (mostly for her fortune) and gets his mother to convince Vijay to give up Jeet and leave the family house. Suraiya and Dev Anand, who were probably in the middle of their own romance at the time, were forced apart onscreen by Ratan’s schemes.

2. John Chang in Howrah Bridge (1958)

In Shakti Samanta’s early noir thriller, Puri played John Chang. Author Siddharth Bhatia called Puri the “quintessential Chinaman” when he took on stereotypical roles in the 1950s and 1960s as the questionable man from the East. With co-stars Ashok Kumar, Madhubala and Helen, Madan Puri played John Chang, a hotel owner who also fronts as a smuggler. Ashok Kumar’s Prem is out to uncover his brother’s murderer and Puri’s Chang, along with fellow baddie KN Singh, has done enough to be labelled as a suspect in the film.

3. Joseph Wong in China Town (1962)

Once again, for Shakti Samanta, Puri became Joseph Wong in the tale of twin brothers separated at birth. Shammi Kapoor played brothers, Shekhar and Mike, one good and one bad. When Mike is arrested by the police, Shekhar (a small-time singer) is trained by them to infiltrate the smuggler’s gang and discover what really goes on in the Blue Dragon hotel owned by Mr Wong. Turns out Wong’s an opium smuggler and Shekhar has to catch the bad guys and reunite his family with his long lost brother, Shankar aka Mike. Wong had kidnapped the young boy in a bid to blackmail his father from going to the police.

4. Tejpal in Hamraaz (1967)

In the Raaj Kumar-Vimmi-Sunil Dutt love triangle, Puri was Tejpal, an unscrupulous man who takes advantage of a newly remarried Meena (Vimmi) who has recently discovered her daughter who she thought was stillborn at birth is alive. Tejpal adopts the little girl (Baby Sarika). It turns out little Sarika’s father and Meena’s first husband Captain Rajesh (Raaj Kumar) is still alive and is looking for his daughter. But shockingly Meena has turned up dead and all the clues implicate Meena’s second husband Kumar (Sunil Dutt). The no-good Tejpal has a bigger hand in all this than anyone suspects.

5. Charan Das in Upkar (1967)

Puri was especially callous in Manoj Kumar’s National Award-winning film Upkar (1967). Kumar is Bharat, the dutiful older brother who sends his younger brother Puran abroad to study. However, upon his return to India, on the insistence of his greedy uncle Charan Das, Puran wants the whole share of the family’s assets so he can lead a comfortable life. Surprisingly, Pran who played Malang, was actually essaying a sympathetic role this time around and Puri, with Kanhaiyalal as the moneylender Lala Dhaniram, were the real mischief-makers of the film.

6. Nekiram in Roti Kapada Aur Makaan (1974)

Manoj Kumar reunited with Puri with Roti Kapada Aur Makaan. Kumar stepped into the shoes of Bharat once again as he tried to show the inequality between the nation’s graduates and the inadequate job market. As he tries his best to help his family and get his sister Champa married, Bharat is unfairly tempted by the corrupt and evil Nekiram (Puri) who offers him an illegal business proposition. Kumar balanced out the good and bad characters with Puri and Aruna Irani versus the businessman Mohan (Shashi Kapoor) and the helpful Sikh man Harnam Singh (Prem Nath).

7. Seth Jamunadas in Chor Machaye Shor (1974)

In Ashok Roy’s Chor Machaye Shor, Puri rises up the ladder to essay a wicked politician, Seth Jamunadas, who frames Shashi Kapoor’s Vijay for raping his girlfriend Rekha (Mumtaz) so that she can marry his own son. When Vijay goes to jail, he is understandably livid. But his actions thereafter are deplorable. He tries to rape Rekha as he is already accused of the crime before coming to his senses. Vijay is then consumed to bringing Seth Jamunadas and his cronies to task for their conduct. The film, however, is remembered more for its song ‘Le Jayenge Le Jayenge’ which inspired the title of Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995).  

8. Samant in Deewaar (1975)

In the iconic Yash Chopra feature Deewaar (1975), Puri played a rival smuggler, Samant, to Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay. Samant owns the docks until Vijay comes along and challenges him to become a competitor in the business. Once he makes an enemy out of him, Puri’s Samant decides to hit Vijay where it hurts, by killing his expectant girlfriend Anita (Parveen Babi). The act takes an enraged Vijay down a path of self-destruction. Going up against Sholay and Aandhi at the Filmfare Awards, Deewaar picked most of the major awards including Best Film and Best Director.

9. KK Singh in Vidhaata (1982)

During the 1970s and 1980s, Puri and Dilip Kumar worked together on six films including Subhash Ghai’s Vidhaata (1982). Puri played a criminal associate of Kumar in the newer avatar as the smuggler, Shobraj. In Puri's biography, My Father, the Villain, by his son Kamlesh Puri, a funny incident from the Vidhaata’s shooting was revealed. Kamlesh wrote, “In a scene on the beach, Dilip Kumar was confronted by Madan Puri and six of his henchman. Dilip Kumar, being a perfectionist, took a dozen retakes. Madanji decided to liven up the proceedings and loudly said, ‘Arre yaar, Yusuf, mere saamne nervous mat hona' (Yusuf, don't be nervous in front of me).’ Everybody burst out laughing. Dilip Saab hugged Mandanji and the shot was taken.”

10. Ratan Das in The Great Gambler (1979)

Working with Shakti Samanta again in The Great Gambler, in a story similar to Don (1978), Puri played Ratan Das, an underworld don and casino owner, who recruits a card shark, Jai, who almost never loses to play against his rivals in order to blackmail them for important information. In the same book, Kamlesh Puri noted the longevity of his father’s career referring to the saying: "If you want to make a movie, then all that you need is an Arriflex camera, some raw stock and Madan Puri." From the 1940s to the 1980s, Puri’s characters loomed large in Hindi cinema.