For the generation of viewers growing up in the late 1980s, Gufi Paintal was a familiar face thanks to his role as the conniving Shakuni mama in BR Chopra’s epic TV serial Mahabharat. Not many know that the veteran actor, who died on Monday following age-related issues, also played an important role in casting many of the key characters of the series. He was 79.
It was Gufi Paintal, said actor Mukesh Khanna, who called him to audition for what would go on to become his career-defining role of Bhishma in Mahabharat. Their association which started with the classic Doordarshan serial also led to Khanna casting his co-star in the 2013 TV film Hamara Hero Shaktimaan in the former’s Shaktimaan franchise.
“I had a long relationship with him since ‘Mahabharat’ and I cast him in Hamara Hero Shaktimaan, in which he played Dr Jackal. In Mahabharat, we had long confrontational scenes together, which were beautifully written by Rahi Masoom Raza. One of the most popular characters of ‘Mahabharat’ was Shakuni and he portrayed it so well,” Khanna told PTI.
According to the actor, Gufi Paintal didn’t want to be an actor, even though his younger brother Paintal was in the same profession.
Gufi Paintal was surprised when BR Chopra asked him to take up the role of Shakuni, the king of Gandhara and an expert in the game of dice.
“He had joined BR Chopra’s office and was casting for Mahabharat. Everyone was cast for Mahabharat except for the part of Shakuni mama and he was confused who Chopra sahab would cast for this role. He was slightly taken aback when Chopra sahab said he should play it. He took on the challenge and performed so well,” Khanna said.
Pankaj Dheer, who essayed the character of Karn in Mahabharat, remembered Gufi Paintal as “a multi-talented boy”.
“He was the casting director of Mahabharat, he was also an assistant. I think he had also directed a few episodes of Mahabharat. I regarded him as a better director than an actor. Later, he directed me in a few series such as Kanoon and Beta for the Chopras on Doordarshan. We also did a series called Akbar and Birbal,” Dheer told PTI.
The late actor, whose real name was Saravjit Singh Paintal, was also a lyricist.
“He loved writing songs, and he has recorded a couple of songs as well. He would recite poetry and would tell us about what he is doing. This was one of his hobbies and he was very good at it,” added Dheer.
Gufi Paintal worked closely with Ravi Chopra, who co-directed Mahabharat with his father BR Chopra.
“He was an assistant to Ravi Chopra and he had a small cabin, where he would have details about the character each actor would play,” Khanna recalled.
He also recounted an anecdote when Gufi Paintal was refused a seat in the train because of his on-screen avatar.
“We got in the first class compartment, but we had bought a second-class compartment ticket. The ticket collector said, ‘Come, Shakuni mama and Bhishma pitamaha’… Once we got in, we were waiting for a seat to be allotted to us. While we were waiting, one of the passengers said, ‘We will accommodate Bhishma Pitamaha but not Shakuni mama’. I had told him this was happening because of his onscreen image,” Khanna said.
Dheer said Gufi Paintal was “a good friend” with whom he and co-star Puneet Issar spent a lot of time together on set as the villainous trio of Shakuni, Karn and Duryodhan.
“He was a good friend and we did most of the scenes together in ‘Mahabharat’. As Shakuni, he was very impressive. Till date people try to copy him but they are not able to reach his style of performance. It is a big loss for the industry,” he added.
Gajendra Chauhan, popular as the eldest Pandav brother Yudhishthir in Mahabharat, expressed his gratitude towards the late actor for casting him in the serial.
“We shot for three years together. We became family. He was a close colleague… We would meet often and we did stage shows together up until six months ago when his health started deteriorating. We kept praying for him but God had a different decision. We will pray for him and his soul,” Chauhan told PTI.
Gufi Paintal is survived by his son, daughter-in-law and a grandchild.