His death went unnoticed on June 5, less than a week ago. The actor was famous for playing the role of wily Shakuni in B.R. Chopra’s popular Mahabharat tele series from late 1980s. Born in Pakistan and trained as an Engineer he served in Indian Army for sometime before choosing showbiz as career. He was actor Gufi Paintal.
The heavy metal music which accompanied his limpy walk, his villainous glare as he cuddled a pair of dice, rolling over his palms still rings a bell. He was no doubt a central character of Mahabharat. The 18 day war which ended in a Pyrrhic victory for the Pandavas over the Kauravas was arguably a war of his making, which played into the hands of Sri Krishna’s ultimate desire to eradicate evilness from the earth’s surface.
Gufi Paintal played Shakuni’s role aplomb, with perfection and grace as a fish to water. In our legendary epic an arrogant Duryodhan imprisoned his maternal Uncle Shakuni and his brothers with the intention of killing them. All of them died of starvation saving Shakuni by feeding him their quota of allocated food to stay alive so that their wily brother can survive to take revenge on another day on the egotistical Duryodhan.
Shakuni lived another day. He thrived and as a payback took his revenge by manipulating his nephew against his cousins Pandavas, fully knowing that ultimately the Pandavas are going to be victorious in the protracted war. Shakuni had his last laugh as the entire Kaurav Dynasty perished in the ill fated war.
Though seen as the bad guy in the epic, some see Shakuni as a patriot. He loved his sister Gandhari and wanted her to marry Pandu, the crown prince rather than a blind Dhritarastra. He felt humiliated as Gandhari chose to marry the blind man after accepting the marriage proposal from Bhisma Pitamah, the custodian of Kuru Dynasty.
So Shakuni vowed to see the Kingdom of Hastinapur destroyed by prolonging his stay in his sister’s house and scheming towards his goal by instigating an ambitious Duryodhan against the Pandavas.
Shakuni, the sly fox judged people using his guile and used them like pawns in game of dice, a game in which he was an expert. One of them was Karna – the valiant, generous but illegitimate son of SURYA (Sun God), a close friend and confidant of Duryodhan. Karna was seen as a person of utility by shrewd Shakuni as he was the only one who could match Arjun in Archery.
In a scene from B R Chopra’s famous teleseries, Shakuni plots the death of the Pandavas planning to roast them alive inside the famous inflammable palace called LAKHYA GRIHA (The Jade House). When Duryodhan was about the divulge the plot to his buddy Karna, Shakuni dissuaded him – “There is no question about Karna’s dedication towards you, my dear nephew Duryodhan. But he is just a pawn, part of my larger game towards your goal of attaining the Kingship of Hastinapur.
Kingship is better than Kinship. It won’t be wise to divulge all plans to him. Yet, keep your friendship alive, as he is our asset, an invaluable weapon to take on Arjuna. No doubt Karna is a man of principle. But such folks can be of dangerous proposition as a principled person can’t compromise on his values and can have an independent streak. He can never be trusted to be part of such heinous conspiracy lest he puts a spanner in the wheels of my plan. It’s prudent to tell him only those stuff as and when needed”.
In another scene our Shakuni, also addressed as “Mamashree” (Maternal Uncle), a well earned sobriquiet, steps into a room where his nephews Duryodhan, Dushashan and their friend Karna were laughing and chatting when Yudhistir’s coronation ceremony was taking place at another location.
Sakuni delivers his monologue ridiculing Duryodhan – “HASO BHANJE, HASO. KYON KI MURKH WOHI HAI JO RONE KE WAQT PAR HASTE HAIN” (Go on laughing, my nephews. Morons are those who laugh at the time of crying). He was alluding to Duryadhan’s laughing when his bête noire, the eldest Pandav was being anointed as the King. Many catchy dialogues including this were written by Rahi Masoom Reza in that teleseries.
As a shewd strategist, Shakuni was confident of implementing his master plan to success over the gullible Pandav brother. But he was afraid of one person of matching intelligence who could throw a spanner in his scheming wheels. It was non other than Sri Krishna who was firmly in the Pandav’s camp.
Shakuni would go on – “YEH VASUDEV KRISHNA HI MERI CHAAL PEHCHAAN SAKTA HAI. USE KISI BHI TARAH UN PANDAVON SE ALAG KARNA HOGA”, “It is only Vasudev Krishna who could see through my scheming, no one else can. We should keep him apart from the five Pandav brothers”. But Sri Krishna was smart enough not to walk into Shakuni’s trap.
For our generations and many more to come the face of “Kapati” treacherous Shakuni will be synonymous with that of the role played by this nondescript actor.
RIP Gufi Paintal.
(Author is an Odia technocrat living in the USA. Views are personal)