In 1971 he appeared in his first film, Prem Pujari although the first film he had signed for was Reshma Aur Sheraaa which released in 1971. This was followed by many villain or supporting roles in numerous art films such as Shyam Benegal’s Nishant, Manthan, and Bhumika and Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda. He also appeared in Govind Nihalani’s film, Party in 1984.
Amrish Puri grew to became a staple of Hindi films in the 1980s playing mostly villainous roles, and attracting the most acclaim for his work in the 1987 hit film Mr. India, directed by Shekhar Kapur. He played an egotistical international super-villain, Mogambo, who frequently refers to himself in the third-person, expressing satisfaction at the actions of his underlings with the phrase, Mogambo khush hua (Mogambo is pleased). Since then the Mogambo catchphrase has become one of the best recognized lines in Hindi Cinema.
He also went on to play many positive supporting roles, including his famous role as Baldev Singh, the conservative father who eventually lets his daughter marry her love instead of being forced into an arranged marriage, in the Bollywood blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995). Other positive roles include Group Captain Varghese, a Malayali officer in the Indian Air Force based movie Vijeta, an ailing idealistic father in Ghatak: Lethal. He was a kind-hearted American businessman in Pardes (1997) and a genial grandfather in the films Chori Chori Chupke Chupke and Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai. He is also known to play a strict old man in comedy movies like Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate, where he played a retired cop and Muskurahat where he played a retired judge.
His last films included Kisna: The Warrior Poet and Kachchi Sadak, which were released some time after his death.
He starred as the sadistic jailor in Kalapani in which co-acted Padmashri Mohanlal.
He is best known in Punjabi cinema for his role as the landlord villain Joginder Singh in the legendary film Chan Pardesi (1980). He also starred as the villain Zalam Singh in the religious Punjabi film Sat Sri Akal (1977). After twenty years, he returned to Punjabi cinema to make a brief appearance as the Sufi Saint in the acclaimed film Shaheed Uddham Singh (2000).
He also appeared in Telugu movies such as Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari, Major Chandrakanth, Aditya 369, Kondaveeti Donga, Aswamedham, Aakhari Poratam etc.
He appeared in the Tamil film Dalapathi (1991), directed by Mani Ratnam, opposite Rajnikanth and Mammootty, Tamil and Malayalam superstars respectively. After Dalapathi, Amrish Puri made his second and last appearance in the Rajinkanth’s film “Baba” (2002) in which he played the role of an evil tantrik who helps politicians and other evil elements to succeed in their hideous schemes.
He acted in some Kannada movies during the early days of his career. He played the protagonist role in a black & white off beat Kannada movie Kaadu directed by Girish Karnad.He also acted in some other mainstream films.
He is known to international audiences for his roles as Khan in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) and as the main antagonist Mola Ram in the Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). He shaved his head for the role, and it created such an impression that he kept his head shaved and became one of the most popular villains in Hindi Cinema. Amrish and Spielberg shared a great rapport and Spielberg often said in interviews that, “Amrish is my favorite villain- The best the world has ever produced and ever will!