Veteran actor Satish Kaul, who had 300 Punjabi and Hindi films to his credit and became a household name after playing the role of Lord Indra in the TV show Mahabharat, died of Covid-19 on Saturday in Ludhiana. He was 76.
District epidemiologist Dr Ramesh Kumar said that Kaul was admitted at Sri Ram Charitable Hospital 3-4 days back. “He had fever and tested positive for Covid,” he said.
It was in 2011 that Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit, had shifted to Ludhiana to start an acting school but the project ran into losses leaving him penniless. For the past six years, Kaul had been putting up at the rented accommodation of one Satya Devi in Ludhiana. Two years ago, Kaul had come out in open about his financial issues and stated that he did not have money even to buy groceries and medicines following which Punjab government had given him Rs 5 lakh aid.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Satya Devi’s son Lakhbir Singh, said that Kaul had been feeling unwell since 3-4 days. “We shifted him to hospital where he tested positive for Covid.” Singh said that in his last days, Kaul had wished to speak to Jackie Shroff. “But we were unable to contact the actor over phone. Shroff had been in touch with him since some years and would often help him. No other actor from film industry helped him in his last days,” Singh said.
Kaul had last shot for two Punjab films — Billu Blackia and Jaggu Nikattu — that have not been released yet.
It was veteran actor, director and lyricist Gufi Paintal, who played the role of Shakuni Mama in the Mahabharat, who had picked Kaul for the role of Lord Indra in the epic show.
Speaking to The Sunday Express over phone from Mumbai, Paintal, who was also the casting director and production designer of the magnum opus, said that he and Kaul became very good friends very early in their careers. “I had worked with Kaul in my first film was ‘Dimple’, which was directed by Vijay Singhrao Patwardhan, father of actress Bhagyashree. I was playing the villain. In one of the sequences, I had to act that I was drowning in a lake. I did not know how to swim and actually started drowning. Kaul noticed it and was quick to save me,” recalled Paintal.
The veteran actor said while casting actors for Mahabharat’s casting, they were yet to find someone for the role Lord Indra. “He came to my office for a meeting and I offered him the role, which he readily accepted. He was already a well-established actor by then and it was our pleasure to have him on-board. He was one of the senior actors on the sets but always very grounded,” said Paintal.
The veteran actor said that Kaul was an introvert and a gentleman. “What has saddened us is the way we lost him”.
Kaul is survived by sister Sushma Kaul (62) who lives in Mumbai and is a casting director for Hindi and South Indian films. Sushma said she had last spoken to her brother 3-4 days. “I convinced him to visit a doctor and get himself tested for Covid. I could not travel to meet him because of Covid. I am shattered beyond words. He was in great pain for 6-7 years but wasn’t agreeing to shift to Mumbai,” she said.
Sushma said their father had migrated from Kashmir to Delhi. “Our father Mohan Lal Aima was a television director. In our family, my brother and uncle Omkar Nath Aima (also a film actor) were artistes. My father and uncle promoted Kashmiri music and culture through their works,” said Sushma.
Kaul had separated from his wife who moved to the US with their son.
Paintal said that Kaul had developed an inclination towards Punjabi film industry because of his fluency in the language. “He spoke Punjabi very well. We had many Punjabis working in Mumbai in those days and Kaul decided to try his luck in Punjabi films and he succeeded,” said Paintal.
The Punjabi film fraternity, while mourning Kaul’s demise, expressed that there was a strong and urgent need for an association in the industry to help those who struggle to meet their basic needs, after getting out of work.
Punjabi director Harjit Singh said, “Punjabi film industry is not an organized industry. There is no proper association to help our colleagues who suffer from financial problems. Veterans from the industry, such as Kaul, have suffered in old age. Something needs to be done urgently to address this issue.”
Jagmeet Singh Samundri, director of the film ‘Saka-The Martyrs of Nankana Sahib’, said, “Kaul was a a great artiste. We grew up seeing his films. It is saddening that he spent his last days in penury. He did not deserve it. He served this industry for years. There is an urgent need to have an association in Punjabi film industry to help such people”.
Kaul was known for his films such as Patola, Suhaag Chooda, Jatt Punjabi, Khel, Bandh Darwaaza, Sassi Punnu, Prem Prabhaat, Gunaaho Ka Faisla among others.
In a condolence message, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh described Kaul as a versatile actor, who played a pivotal role in the promotion of Punjabi cinema, art and culture. “Being a staunch votary of Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat, Satish Kaul would be ever remembered by one and all for his enormous contribution for making Punjabi cinema popular amongst the people,” he said in a statement.
Former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, in a tweet, said , “Saddened to know about the demise of Satish Kaul, perhaps the first superstar of Punjabi film industry, who was afflicted with Covid-19. I offer deep condolences to the near ones of this award winning actor”.