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Star in Bollywood and the West, India’s Om Puri Dies at 66


Cast members Helen Mirren and Om Puri arrive for the British gala screening of "The Hundred-Foot Journey" in London, Sept. 3, 2014.

Veteran Indian actor Om Puri, who successfully straddled movie careers in Bollywood and the West, died Friday in Mumbai of cardiac arrest, his friend and actor Anupam Kher told Reuters.

Puri, 66, cut his teeth in the 1980s with alternative art cinema that found a niche audience in India, playing several memorable characters that depicted the angst of the times.

He also worked in several Hollywood and British films, including The Reluctant Fundamentalist, East is East, and most recently in The Hundred-Foot Journey, opposite Britain’s Helen Mirren.

Actor broke barriers

“He showed that you didn’t have to be ‘fair’ and ‘good-looking’ to be a protagonist,” Saeed Akhtar Mirza, who directed Puri in one of his earliest films, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai (Why does Albert Pinto get Angry?), told Reuters.

“It was just the force of his personality and his performance.”

Several Bollywood stars, fans and Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to pay their respects.

“Who dare say Om Puri is no more? He lives through his work,” actor Kamal Hassan tweeted.

Bollywood, Hollywood, Britain

An alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India and later, the National School of Drama, the actor’s work in Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (Half-Truth) and later Aakrosh (Rage) won him several accolades.

Along with Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil, Puri was seen as one of the stars of the alternative cinema movement that contrasted sharply with Bollywood’s often crass content.

His distinctive baritone and ability to switch seamlessly between art house, Bollywood, Hollywood and British film, made him an international star, one of the few Indian actors to cross over to the West before the likes Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra made the jump.

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