Amrish Puri, who appeared in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as the antagonist Mola Ram, was once described by the filmmaker as his ‘favourite villain, the best the world has ever produced and ever will’.
But initially, the actor turned down the part. June 22 marks Amrish Puri‘s birth anniversary, and on the occasion, here’s the story of how he initially refused to audition for the role.
Casting director Dolly Thakore sent stills of him from the horror film Gehrayee to Steven Spielberg, but he seemed to be disinterested in the part. He wrote in his autobiography The Act of Life that American casting agents came to India to meet with him, and instead of auditioning, he asked them to watch him perform on the sets of a film. To his surprise, they came.
He also refused to read a page of the script in English. “How does Spielberg know what language do I speak? He would know me as an actor,” the actor told the casting agents. Amrish eventually agreed to do the role and found the production very impressive. He described Spielberg as ‘very boyish, an unassuming kind of person’. About the crew, he said, “None of them had any ego, problems or reservations about my being an Indian. Unlike many of our actors in Indian films, there was expertise at all levels, and you couldn’t just do anything and get away with it.”
Spielberg was denied permission to shoot in India and ended up filming portions in Macau, Sri Lanka and London. Temple of Doom was banned in India at the time of release, and Amrish was even labelled an ‘anti-national’ in some circles. Satyajit Ray, according to his biographer Andrew Robinson, hated the film and said, “All but the first ten minutes of the film were ‘absolutely haywire, unbelievably bad’.”
Spielberg went on to make one more Indiana Jones film after Temple of Doom — 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A fifth film, also starring Harrison Ford in the lead role, recently began filming under the direction of James Mangold. Indiana Jones 5 will also feature Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Boyd Holbrook.