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Actor Om Puri, star in Bollywood and the West, dies at 66

FILE PHOTO – Bollywood actor Om Puri speaks during a press conference announcing that Toronto will host the first ever Punjabi International Film Academy Awards (PIFAA) in Toronto, April 12, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

MUMBAI, (REUTERS): Veteran actor Om Puri, who successfully straddled movie careers in Bollywood and the West, died on Friday in Mumbai.

Puri, 66, suffered cardiac arrest, his friend and actor Anupam Kher told Reuters.

Puri 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.

“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 Kyoon 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.

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 of Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra made the jump.

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