From being a leading man in the ‘80s, to becoming a superstar in Bangladesh, simultaneously playing the quintessential hero’s best friend, dabbling in a variety of genres and impressing audiences with one act after another, Chunky Panday is one of the most prolific actors in Bollywood. Recently, the actor wowed audiences yet again with a new avatar in Begum Jaan. In a conversation with Komal Sharma, Pandey talks about portraying evil to perfection. Excerpts from the interview.
What was your first reaction when the opportunity to play Kabir was offered to you?
I was quite shocked when they narrated the role. To have called me for a role like this, I thought these guys must have had a few extra drinks the previous night. Honestly, I didn’t know why they were offering me this role. When I was auditioning for this film, Housefull 3 released on that weekend. So while auditioning, the assistant director, the cameraman were cracking up and saying, ‘You know what, Pasta is auditioning for the devil’s role!’
What was it like working with the captain of the ship, Srijit Mukherji?
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get this film. Then, after a week, I met Srijit and he said he had locked me for this role. My reaction was, ‘Oh God, what’s next?’ He said the next step was to lose Chunky Pandey, and I was, like, ‘You want Chunky Pandey to play this role and you are asking me to lose him too?’ He said, ‘Yes, because I have watched you on screen for the last 20 to 25 years and you have a very unique streak. I need you to lose that. Another striking feature is your long hair, let me take that away from you.’
He tried to go one step further too by wanting to shave my eyebrows off, and I flatly refused! Then he blackened my teeth, put me in a lungi and made sure I changed my physique too. He wanted me to look lanky, sinister and also look like a common man. He did not let me watch the original film because he wanted me to be worse than that. I think he succeeded because my wife too got a minor-heart attack when she saw me as Kabir, my dog came to bite me, and the airways manager refused to give me my boarding pass and said, ‘We will give it to Chunky Pandey only.’ So he managed to convince people that it was not me.
What kind of challenges did you face while shooting this film?
Nothing was more challenging than the location, which was so far and had snakes and scorpions. Also, Srijit did workshops with all the actors, except me, as he knew exactly what he wanted from me and he got what he was looking for.
We saw you in a drastically different avatar in Begum Jaan. What kind of preparation you did to get into the skin of your character?
They did my mundan, which has never been done before. I mean, I had to sacrifice my hair. That was a very big change. When shooting the introduction bit, I had to do 15 retakes. I was unable to get it right. But Srijit helped me through it. So, basically, all my preparation was done on the sets. I didn’t have to rehearse much.
Did you have even the slightest doubt before giving the nod to playing Kabir in Begum Jaan?
For me, there was never a nod. I was amused because I thought Srijit had to go through various points of ‘okays’ from the producers to cast me. For me, it was a refreshing role as I had to play a dark character, someone so dark that I had never imagined I would ever get an offer like this. It was a very big jump from playing Aakhri Pasta to Kabir.
Begum Jaan was packed with some really talented actors. As an artiste, how did you creatively feed off them?
Getting to work in a film with Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi… is a blessing and I feel lucky to be cast with them. I was glad to get to do my bit in front of these veterans. I am fortunate to have had the chance to work with great actors like Govinda, Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor or may be Akshay, Shah Rukh, Ritesh, or Anil Kapoor. I have worked with so many people and have just realised that the better the actor working with you, the better is your performance.
What do you prefer – playing light-hearted characters or characters with shades of grey?
The dark arena is a new dimension, which has opened up to me now, and I have already received two to three offers for roles like this. It’s such an interesting area and I like that.
You have been a part of several films. What continues to drive you?
To be a new person every day. My life is so unpredictable and so exciting. For 30 years, I have played the hero, I have played supporting roles, comedy and now a villain. I don’t care how long my role is in the film as long as it is something the film can’t do without. The idea is to remain in people’s hearts and minds forever.
You have seen many ups and downs in your life. How do you define success and failure?
Life is like a game, like cricket. When you are at the crease, you may not hit a century or a six or a four, but you shouldn’t get out. The idea is to stay in the game.