When Amrish Puri almost turned down Mr. India, he was cast as Mogambo after 60% of the film was shot: “Ab inko yaad aayi”

When Mr India was released in 1987, Amrish Puri’s Mogambo, with its signature “Mogambo khush hua” line, quickly became the most popular villain after Sholay’s Gabbar. In the years since Mogambo has been studied by many film historians, Amrish Puri’s portrayal has often been cited as the reason the character has proved so successful. But not many know that Amrish Puri was not the first choice for this role. In his autobiography, The Act of Life, Puri revealed that by the time director Shekhar Kapur was cast in the role of the villain, over 60 percent of the film had already been shot.

Puri had shared that he was “a little concerned” as more than half of the film has already been shot. “I figured, ‘inhe ab jaakar meri yaad aayi? (Now do you remember me?)’” In a previous interview with IANS, Anupam Kher had revealed that he was the one who shot for the film but was replaced halfway through.

Discussing his Mogambo, Puri detailed in his autobiography that the director gave him complete freedom to create his character. Amrish shared that Mogambo was “conceived as a Hitler-like character” but his nationality was not specified. “His nationality was not clear and foreign origin was not stated, although he definitely looked like an intruder, the name had to be unusual, mysterious and badass,” he said. The name Mogambo, he said, came from a 1953 Hollywood film starring Clark Gable.

The shooting schedule was grueling as Amrish Puri said he hadn’t seen daylight for 15 to 20 days. “Mr. India’s amazing sets were built at RK Studios. I haven’t seen daylight for 15 to 20 days since Mogambo existed and died in his cave,” he wrote.

Amrish Puri in Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India.

Mogambo’s signature dialogue remains popular to this day, as does Puri’s gesture of tapping the crystal ball on the armrest of his throne. Puri shared how this action came about. “I remember sitting on this throne while the lights were being adjusted. Just to get a feel for the character, I started tapping the throne with my fingers while wearing all these rings. It seemed to be an eerie gesture and a very eerie sound was made. Shekhar is very observant, he noticed and said, “Wait a minute – that’s what I want”. And it became one of Mogambo’s trademarks in the film,” he recalled.

Amrish Puris Mogambo had a very specific costume and he explained that Kapur gave him complete freedom to create his own look. “One thing was certain, black is associated with negative and garish colors embellished with gold embroidery would have shocking value. So the result was royalty and royalty of evil. My makeup wasn’t hideous, but I suggested removing the mustache and arching the eyebrows in a certain way. Just this slight change gave Mogambo’s face a peculiar look,” he wrote.

Amrish Puri’s Mogambo is still considered one of Hindi cinema’s most popular villains.

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