Don’t mind auditioning for a good part: Chunky Pandey
The actor on his decades in Bollywood, working on Jawaani Jaaneman, his hunger for better roles, and being known as Ananya Panday’s father
Chunky Pandey has been in the movie business for almost 40 years now. Once billed among the biggest stars, his recent roles have swayed between the comedic (Housefull 1-4) and the villainous (Prasthanam, Saaho). So it was a surprise seeing him in Jawaani Jaaneman, in a part that didn’t need him to make faces or glower menacingly. Instead, he was playing a London club owner named Rocky, issuing tabs and mortal reckoning to his best friend Jazz (Saif Ali Khan). It was a quiet, reassuring turn culminating in an emotional final scene between the actors.
“This was my fourth outing with Saif — after Mumbai Meri Jaan, Bullet Raja and Humshakals,” Chunky says. “We were friends in the first film (released in 1999), and we got to play friends once again. The only sad part was that we were shooting in a nightclub with no real alcohol.”
Chunky, 57, relates to the film’s easygoing themes. Saif’s character is a footloose womaniser with no intention of growing up. Reluctantly, he warms to his estranged daughter (Alaya F) but is jumpy about serious commitments in life. “Sometimes I feel if I wasn’t married, I could have become that character,” Chunky says. “We all have that flamboyant, carefree side in us. I know so many people who are above 50 and are just drifting through life…”
Chunky broke out with multi-starrer films in the late 80s. In 1993, he teamed up with Govinda for Aankhen, the biggest blockbuster of that year. But opportunities petered out with the rise of the Khans and the advent of the ‘solo-hero’ film. Caught in a career slump, Chunky moved to Dhallywood — the Bangladeshi film industry where he delivered several hits and became a household name.
His return to Hindi film was gradual and circuitous. After a fallow period between 1997 and 2003, he took up supporting turns in films like Qayamat: City Under Threat, Don and Ram Gopal Verma’s D. Comedies flung him back to success: his Indo-Italian caricature ‘Akhri Pasta’ became a draw in the long-running Housefull franchise. “I think I’ve had a great inning,” Chunky says. “Of late, I’ve been getting a lot of lovely negative roles: in Saaho, Begum Jaan, Prasthanam. So I feel I’ve covered a lot but there’s so much still to do.”
That would include more emotionally-layered roles in the vein of Jawaani Jaaneman. “I hope someone explores me in that area,” he says. “I don’t even mind going and auditioning for a good part.”
Last month, Chunky made his Marathi debut in the comedy Vikun Taak. He’s presently working on a feature film and two web-shows. He welcomes the positive strides in the industry, including the fusion of commercial and artistic sensibilities. “The good old commercial cinema will never die in India,” he says. “We still love our heroes. We love to see them fight, dance and sing. But it’s good to see the other kind of cinema become so big.”
Last year, Chunky’s daughter, Ananya, made her screen debut in Student of the Year 2. She also starred in Mudassar Aziz’s Pati Patni Aur Woh. With awards pouring in, the newcomer has bagged big-ticket titles like Khaali Peeli and Vijay Deverakonda’s Hindi debut. Chunky, who confesses to have never won an award, says he is overjoyed with Ananya’s success. “My father was a noted heart surgeon,” he mentions. “Once he had gone to a conference in Delhi and was identified as ‘Chunky Pandey’s father’. He’d called me up and said he’s proud of me. Today, I feel the same way about Ananya.”