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Credit for Mogambo’s look goes to Amrish Puri, says Boney Kapoor on actor's 88th birth anniversary

The Mr India (1987) producer recalled that they had auditioned many artistes for the iconic role but remained unsatisfied. Finally, he, writer Javed Akhtar and director Shekhar Kapur came to the consensus that no one could play it better than Puri.

Our Correspondent

Before Amrish Puri became Mogambo in director Shekhar Kapur's Mr India (1987), he worked with producer Boney Kapoor on Hum Paanch (1980). On Puri's 88th birth anniversary today, Kapoor reminisced about his working relationship with the actor and his disciplined approach towards his characters.

“That was the time when Pran saheb and Premnathji were ruling the roost as villains and in prominent character roles,” Kapoor said. “Amrishji was working in theatre and had already done a few very good films with the likes of Shyam Benegal where he was appreciated a lot, but he had not got his due in the industry as yet.”

Kapoor signed Puri for Rs40,000 for Hum Paanch and promised him a bonus of Rs10,000 if the film succeeded. It became a hit and Puri was paid Rs50,000 as his fee. 

“For Hum Paanch, Amrishji understood the nuances of his character from [director] Bapu and added his own improvisatons to the look. The red shawl that he wore in the film was from the film Ponga Pandit (1975). The picture of the sun on the shawl symbolized power that he thought would add to the character of a zamindar,” Kapoor said.

Kapoor had predicted during Hum Paanch’s shoot that Amrish Puri would be in great demand in the future and would be able to charge Rs2.5–3 lakh, taking him into the category of Pran and Premnath, the highest paid villains at the time.

Afterwards, Puri landed key roles in Shakti (1982), Vidhaata (1982) and Hero (1983). For Mr India, which had Anil Kapoor and Sridevi in the lead, they were looking for someone new; someone who would be able to raise the character to cult levels, like Amjad Khan’s Gabbar Singh in Sholay or Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s Shakaal in Shaan (1980). They auditioned many artistes for two months but couldn’t find anyone. Later Kapoor, writer Javed Akhtar and director Shekhar Kapur came to the consensus that no one else could play Mogambo better than Puri.

In preparation, Puri got a sketch done of Mogambo in full costume, wig and accessories. Kapoor told Madhav the tailor that if he got the look right from the sketch, he would pay him double. And indeed, Madhav was paid Rs20,000 instead of his usual Rs10,000 for the film.

“Amrishji was so excited that he worked on his look with Madhav tailor and his make-up man Govind. While the dialogues and punchlines were written by Javed saheb, his look added chaar chaand in the personality of Mogambo. I will give all the credit to him for that look and the way he played Mogambo. The rest is history, as they say,” Kapoor said with a smile.