Meet the Man Who Had His Heart Ripped Out in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'
If you’re a child of the ’80s, you probably still see his face etched in your nightmares: As Indiana Jones (and a nation of teenagers) looked on in horror, this man watched as his own beating heart was pulled from his chest, and then he was lowered face-first into molten lava. Credited only as “Sacrifice Victim” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, this poor, hopeless soul was played by an accomplished theater actor of Parsi descent named Nizwar Karanj. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s May 1984 release, we tracked down Karanj, 58, who’s now retired and living in Mumbai, India. (The scene’s heart-ripper, famed Bollywood star Amrish Puri, passed away in 2005.) Read on to find out how they filmed that volcano scene (It involved real fire.), which shot had to be removed because it was too gory for the censors, and what Indiana Jones means to Karanj now.
So you were discovered by the casting director while you were doing a show at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
That’s correct. I briefly met Steven Spielberg for about 10 minutes in an office in London. I didn’t hear from them for a while after that, and then my agent said they’d “penciled me in” for Indiana Jones. All I was told was, “You’ve got to go to Elstree Studios [in the U.K.] three weeks before filming because they had to make a body cast.”
Wait, back up — they told you nothing about the role but made you go in for a full body cast? Did you think this was just par for the course with American movies?
I asked them specifically, “Why is this happening?” And they said, “Because there’s going to be a scene where your body goes into molten lava, and we’ll be using this cast.” Actually, they made a lifelike face of mine for the film, including glass eyes. That was because, once the cage was lowered into this pit of molten lava, my body would disintegrate and you would see my face floating. But that scene was too gory for the censors, so they cut that! [Laughs.] If you ever get a chance to see the uncensored version, that will be there.
Did you ever receive a script for Temple of Doom?
No, I was never given a script. At all. The first day that I arrived on the set of Elstree, I was introduced to Steven and the rest of them, and they said, “Look, this is what it is: You’re a Thuggee and you’re going to be sacrificed, OK?” That set, with the Kali statue, was really incredible. And they said, “OK, you’re going to be in that cage. And they’re going to pull you towards it, and you’re going to die and you’re frightened. So: What would you say?” I said, “Well, I think I’d say ‘om namah shivaya.’ It’s a prayer type of thing that you say before you die; you pray to the god Shiva.” And then they checked that with Amrish Puri, and he said “Yeah, yeah, that’s right.”