Monday morning brought sad tidings for the television fraternity. Gufi Paintal, best known for his brilliant portrayal of Shakuni Mama in BR Chopra's epic television series, Mahabharat, passed away. He had been hospitalised a week ago for age-related health issues. The veteran actor, 79, born Sarabjeet Singh Paintal, was an engineer before following in his brother Kanwarjit's footsteps to be an actor. After arriving in Mumbai in 1969, Paintal took up modelling, acting, and dabbled as an assistant director, before joining BR Films.
Having known Paintal before sharing screen space with him in Mahabharat, Gajendra Chauhan, who played Yudhishthira in the epic saga, shares, "Gufi saab was the GM [general manager] at BR Films when I started working there. We got the opportunity to work in the iconic mythology show because he was the casting director, besides essaying the role of Shakuni." Contrary to his manipulative character in the show, Paintal was a jovial person, shares Chauhan. "He had a fabulous sense of humour. He wrote poetry and would often sing when we went for shows. Gufi saab was always helpful. He has helped as an actor and a friend. My mother addressed him as brother, so he was my mama [uncle]."
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Among the actors who played the Kauravas in Mahabharat, it was Punnet Issar who was closest to Paintal. His character, Duryodhan, was, after all, the protÃ©gÃ©. In fact, Issar had collaborated with Paintal on the play, Mahabharat: The Epic Tale, before his hospitalisation. "When I set out to make the play, Mahabharat: The Epic Tale, from Duryodhan's perspective, how could I not have Gufi-ji playing Shakuni in it? We performed 80 shows with him. The way he essayed his part and spoke his lines, audiences would give him standing ovations." Remembering his audition for the 1988 show, the actor shares that it was Paintal who selected him to play Duryodhan. "They were keen to cast me as Bheem, but I requested that they test me for Duryodhan. I was not sure if they would give me the role, but after a week, my doorbell rang, and I opened the door to see Gufi Paintal standing there. He congratulated me, and said that I was Duryodhan. I was a nobody then. I was so moved that Gufi-ji had come to tell me the biggest news of my life. He had a keen interest in sher-shayari. When we met at parties, we would talk about the films, what kind of subjects were being made, and what was working. He had a great journey. He has gone with his boots on, with dignity." Paintal is survived by his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. His last rites were performed at the Andheri crematorium last evening.