Described as "the finest actor of the post-independence generation" by one expert on the Indian cinema, Om Puri was one of India's most respected and prolific screen personalities, having appeared in over 140 films over the course of his career. Thanks to starring work in such films as My Son the Fanatic and East Is East, Puri also earned recognition among a Western audience, and further established himself as an actor of great range and versatility.
Born in a rural area of northern India in 1950, Puri grew up planning to be a military man like his father. His ambitions shifted when, as a student at a Punjabi university, he joined a theatre group. With the support of his parents, Puri studied acting for three years at the National School of Drama in New Delhi, where he performed in a wide variety of works ranging from Indian folk plays to Kabuki drama to Shakespeare, the last of which gave him the opportunity to play Hamlet in Hindi. The actor followed his studies with a stint at the Indian Film Institute in Poona and then decided to try his luck in Bombay, India's film capital. Although he lacked the classically handsome features of most Indian film stars, Puri was able to find work based on the strength of his previous theatre experience. Once he began appearing on the screen, he found himself in great demand thanks in large part to his seemingly limitless versatility, and he became established over the years as one of his country's best-known actors.
After a starring role in Satyajit Ray's Sadgati (1981), which cast him as a member of India's caste of untouchables, Puri began attracting the notice of Western filmmakers. He appeared in Gandhi (1982), Wolf (1994), and City of Joy (1992), the last of which cast him as Patrick Swayze's unlikely savior. He had his greatest international success to date as the star of My Son the Fanatic (1997), a British satirical comedy written by Hanif Kureshi. As Parvez, a liberal-minded Pakistani taxi driver living in northern England who cannot understand his son's sudden alliance with a group of Islamic fundamentalists, Puri turned in a vivid, wryly-nuanced performance that many critics deemed as one of the year's best. The following year, he earned another lavish dose of acclaim for his portrayal of George Khan, another Pakistani patriarch living in England in East Is East. Where Puri's previous character had been laid-back and open-minded, Khan was rigid and conservative (despite his untraditional marriage to an English woman), and critics and audiences alike marveled at the actor's capacity for carving such distinctive characterizations from a superficially similar mold. He later revisited the character in 2010's West is West.
Puri continued to work at an astonishing rate, putting out a number of films a year, and continued to crossover to English markets with films like Charlie Wilson's War (2007) and The Hundred-Foot Journey (2010). Puri died in early 2017, at age 66.