When Mr India released in 1987, Amrish Puri’s Mogambo, with his signature line ‘Mogambo khush hua’ quickly became the most popular villain after Sholay’s Gabbar. In the years since Mogambo has been studied by many film historians and Amrish Puri’s performance has often been termed as the reason why the character turned out to be such a success. But, not many know that Amrish Puri wasn’t the first choice for this role. In his autobiography The Act of Life, Puri had shared that over 60 per cent of the film had already been shot by director Shekhar Kapur when he was roped in to play the role of the villainous invader.
Puri had shared that he was “a bit apprehensive” as more than half the film had already been shot. “I thought to myself, ‘inhe ab jaakar meri yaad aayi? (Now they remember me?)’” In an earlier interview with IANS, Anupam Kher had shared that he was the one who had shot for the film but was replaced halfway through.
Talking about his Mogambo, Puri had detailed in his autobiography that he was given all the freedom by the director to design his character. Amrish shared that Mogambo was “conceived as a Hitler-like character” but his nationality was not specified. “His nationality wasn’t clear and the foreign origins weren’t specified, though he definitely looked like an invader, the name had to be unusual, mysterious and hard-hitting,” he said. The name Mogambo, he said, came from a 1953 Hollywood film starring Clark Gable.
The shooting schedule was gruelling as Amrish Puri said that he did not see the daylight for 15-20 days. “The grand sets of Mr India were put up at RK Studios. I never saw daylight for 15-20 days since Mogambo existed and died inside his den,” he wrote.
Mogambo’s signature dialogue is popular to this day, as is Puri’s gesture of tapping on the crystal ball on the armrest of his throne. Puri shared how that action came about. “I remember I was sitting on this throne, while the lights were being adjusted. Now just to get the feel of the character, I started tapping my fingers on the throne, wearing all those rings. It seemed like an eerie gesture and a very sinister sound emerged. Shekhar is very observant, he noticed it and said, ‘Hold it – this is what I want’. And it became one of Mogambo’s trademark gestures in the film,” he recalled.
Amrish Puri’s Mogambo had a very specific costume and he detailed that Kapur gave him all the liberty to create his own look. “One thing was sure that black is associated with negative and garish colours embellished with golden embroidery would have a shocking value. So the outcome was regality and regality of evil. My makeup was not heinous, but I suggested that the moustache should be removed and the eyebrows should be arched in a particular way. Just with this slight permutation, Mogambo’s face acquired a peculiar look,” he wrote.
Amrish Puri’s Mogambo is still remembered as one of the most popular villains of Hindi cinema.