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Noted Indian actor Om Puri dead at 66

Actor Om Puri attends the New York premiere of The Hundred-Foot Journey at the Ziegfeld Theatre on August 4, 2014. Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images / AFP
Actor Om Puri attends the New York premiere of The Hundred-Foot Journey at the Ziegfeld Theatre on August 4, 2014. Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images / AFP

NEW DELHI // The noted Indian character actor Om Puri died in Mumbai on Friday after suffering a heart attack. He was 66.

During a 35-year career, Puri appeared not only in mainstream Indian films but also many British and American movies. He had a cameo role the acclaimed epic Gandhi but was best known in Britain for the Bafta-winning East Is East, in which he played George Khan, a Pakistani fish-and-chip shop owner married to a British woman and living in the north of England but struggling to come to terms with his more westernised children. More recently he starred with Helen Mirren in The Hundred Foot Journey.

He also worked in Hollywood, appearing in City of Joy with Patrick Swayze, Wolf with Jack Nicholson and played General Zia Ul Haq in Charlie Wilson’s War opposite Tom Hanks.

Puri was also one of the few Indian actors to act in Pakistani films. Puri was outspoken on India’s ban on Pakistani actors working in Bollywood, following tensions in Kashmir., saying “Pakistani artists are not terrorists.”

It was considered a controversial remark and he was criticised for it but Pakistan is mourning him as much as India, with prominent media coverage. H

Puri also spoke out over the controversial lynching of a Mulsim over beef, saying those who wanted to ban the slaughter of cows were “hypocrites.”

The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and a host of leading movie stars led a flood of condolences appearing on Twitter on Friday.

Om Puri born in Ambala in Haryana state into a Punjabi family. His father worked on the railways. As he had no birth certificate, he did not know his birth date but his mother recalled he had been born two days after the Hindu festival Dussehra, which in 1950 fell in October, so he worked out that he was born on October 18.

He graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune and made his film debut in 1976 in the film Ghashiram Kotwai, for which he said he was paid “peanuts”. His breakthrough film was the 1983 gritty drama Ardh Satya or Half Truth, about a young policeman’s crisis of conscience as he deals with the nexus of crime and politics in India.

As well as mainstream films, he also acted in art house and low-budget movies and in popular Hindi television serials. He was equally at home playing comedy as character parts and acclaimed in both.

Puri won a raft of acting awards in his career. In 1990 he received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award and in 2004, he was awarded an honorary OBE (officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to British cinema.

Actor and director Anath Mahadevan, who was a close friend, said, “It’s a personal loss and loss to cinema because he was truly India’s international star. He proved you neede’t be a very handsome-looking, tall, strapping guy to be a leading man. You needed loads of talent.”

Puri was married twice. His first marriage in 1991 to Seema Kapoor — sister of the actor Annu Kapoor — lasted only eight months. In 1993 he married the journalist Nandita Puri, with whom he had a son, Ishaan. They separated in 2013.

Puri was working on a film when he died and had several more lined up. A few weeks before his death he wrote on Twitter: “I have no regrets at all. I didn’t have a conventional face but I have done well and I am proud of it.

He was created on Friday in Mumbai.

*Associated Press

Updated: January 6, 2017 04:00 AM