Actor Girija Shankar, known for his portrayal of Dhritarashtra in Mahabharat, has only fond memories of old friend and co-star Gufi Paintal, who died this month of age-related illness. Gufi had played the role of Shakuni in the hit show and is still remembered for his signature walk and his dialogue delivery. Girija says the limp was not planned but was actually a result of his hip joint problem which surfaced at the time of beginning of the show. He claims to have advised Gufi to take his hip problem in his stride and incorporate his difficulty in walking as a part of his character. Also read: Mahabharat actor Girija Shankar on Adipurush: ‘There’s no need to use this tapori langauge, they could have done better’
When Girija Shankar gave Gufi Paintal an idea
Remembering Gufi in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Girija says, “He was a very dear and close friend of mine. Actually I knew him much before Mahabharat happened. He was a wonderful person, very helpful and very positive. It’s very sad and tragic that he left us a few days ago. I have very good memories with him, especially during Mahabharat. What I still remember is when he started playing Shakuni, he started having a problem with his hip joint and hip bones at that time. So originally, he didn’t work on the character of Shakuni as the way he portrayed throughout Mahabharat. He was very worried and conscious of the problem and often used to talk to me about it. He would say, ‘I don’t know what to do, how to do it, I can’t walk properly, I can’t walk straight, I don’t know how I’m going to completely carry on this character of Shakuni.'”
Girija continues, “I was also a little concerned, but then I told him, ‘hey, look, don’t get conscious and worried. If you are not able to walk straight as Shakuni, you should actually make it a characteristic of Shakuni that he’s not a straight thinking and straight walking man rather he’s contrived and he has a limping quality in his physical appearance as well, which actually goes with the character.’ He was very receptive and happy and said, ‘this is fine’. So it became a signature walk of Shakuni that he’s not a straight man and he doesn’t think straight. So this is how it is. He was very happy and thanked me a lot and said, ‘GirIja, you saved my life.'”
Girija and Gufi’s another TV show
Girija also enjoyed working on a TV show called Chunni simultaneously. It was directed by Gufi Paintal under the BR Films banner and was a story of two friends from Punjab. Girija played the role of one of the two friends, Hardayal Singh. “Gufi was very fond of me and was happy to cast me and I was also very thankful and happy because I was playing something totally different while playing Dhritarashtra in Mahabharat,” he says.
“Sometimes he used to get stuck at how to treat a scene, especially in very dramatic scenes. So he used to let me be free and say, ‘okay, you can perform, walk and move the way you want and I will set the shot like that.’ That was very kind of him. He was very happy with the entire outcome of the shots and the serial. It was a wonderful experience with him,” he adds.
Enquire about how long they knew each other and pat comes the reply, “I met him for the first time in 1983 when Chopra saab was making Aaj Ki Awaz. They had cast me into a very small cameo which I played and they were very happy. Since then, I have known Gufi for almost 40 years. We’ll miss him. He was a great soul, great friend.” Aaj Ki Awaz was directed by Ravi Chopra and produced by BR Chopra. Gufi also had a small role in the scenes from a mental hospital.
What Girija Shankar is up to these days
Girija is currently working on multiple projects. He is settled in the US but has been shuttling between India and US for a documentary shoot. He says its a documentary in Punjabi and English. He is also working on a short film based on a true story. It will be shot in Himachal. “Both of them are very close to my heart,” he says. He is also busy with an English film being shot in the USA. “We have already started the development and pre-production. Hopefully we should be able to go on the floor by the end of this year. That’s how it is and life is good.”