Chunky Pandey shot to instant stardom with his launchpad, Aag Hi Aag in 1987, and followed it up with major hits such as Paap Ki Duniya (1988), Tezaab (1989) and Aakhen (1993). But his success proved short-lived. Left with no work, he switched over to Bangladeshi movies only to return a few years later without any success. The millennials know him primarily as a comedian for his movies like Housefull series, but he has proved his versatility in negative characters lately. Pandey is now making his digital debut with Abhay 2, a web series to be premiered on August 14 on Zee 5. In a freewheeling conversation with Outlook's Giridhar Jha, the 57-year-old actor speaks from his heart about his journey in the film industry, his actress-daughter Ananya Pandey, nepotism and much more. Excerpts from the interview:
Your character in your upcoming web series Abhay 2 looks quite interesting in the trailer. Tell us about it.
I am playing a three-dimensional character in Abhay 2. He is a different person in the morning, a different person in the afternoon and turns into an evil man by night. It is something like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde type of role. The character of the common man that I portray in the morning is so simple, so lovable that even children make fun of him. You will feel so sorry for him that you would like to help him. He shares a beautiful relationship with his wife. But he transforms into a mean character at night. It is completely in contrast to what his persona is during the day.
So, which part did you like to do more, Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?
To be honest, I have always been a huge admirer of Prem Chopra, Ajit, Jeevan, Amjad Khan, Amrish Puri, Shakti Kapoor, and Gulshan Grover and many other actors who played villains. Whenever I used to go to the theatre to watch a movie, I would see whether it had a villain good enough to match the hero. Finally, I got an opportunity to play such a character in the past few years in films like Vidya Balan’s Begum Jaan (2017), Prabhas’s Saaho (2019) and Sanjay Dutt’s Prassthanam (2019). In all these movies, I had grey and dark characters but in Abhay 2, my character has so many shades. So, I loved the Dr Hyde part more.
You have been doing comedy in recent years in films like Housefull series, but in recent times, you seem to have seamlessly changed the track with negative roles. It is surprising to see such a shift…
My gurus were Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha. Shatru-ji had played the villain so beautifully in Rampur Ka Laxman (1972). Then, I had my training under Kadar Khan and Shakti Kapoor, who were equally good at doing villain’s roles and comedy. I started off with actors like them and I imbibed so much from them. After 30 years, I got the opportunity to show that side of me. I am very happy about that.
Comic and negative characters are two different things. How do you strike a balance between the two?
I have always been inspired by the versatility of both Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor. When Shakti would come on screen, I would hate him as an audience and when he would do comedy, I would laugh out loud. I always thought of emulating them. Thankfully, Sajid Nadidadwala gave me an opportunity to do comedy in Housefull series. It feels great that the audiences liked my character in the film.
Now, you are making your digital debut? How important is the over the top (OTT) platform for an actor like you?
We are primarily the big-screen actors but the over-the-top (OTT) platform has its own advantages. Firstly, there is no censorship. Secondly, you also do not have to depend on big stars to pull in the audience. Anybody can make it run. Its viewership is at your home, bedroom, bathroom, and even in your car. So the makers are confident that they are going to get the audiences in big numbers on such platforms. They bring good content to hold the attention of the viewers. It is very similar to television but it has censorship. Also, it does not have the budget of the OTT shows. Both are good platforms, which have opened up so many avenues for the new and old actors of all hues. Now you realise how the entertainment industry is full of talented people. So many different actors are leaving a big impression through different shows. I think the entertainment industry is going through its golden era. Never had I seen a better time for this industry during the 33 years of my career.
Now, films are being premiered directly on such platforms. Is it not a big loss to the theatres?
I remember when I made my debut in 1987, people would say that VHS cassettes would spell doom for cinema, and they said the same thing when VCD/DVD came. When television and satellite channels became big, it was said that the days of feature films were numbered. Now, the same debate is going on when OTT has arrived. But I think both theatres and OTT will co-exist. However, watching a movie on OTT may not remain in your memory for long, but going to a theatre is an altogether different experience. You go out with your family and laugh and cry with everyone in the auditorium. You munch popcorn, eat samosas and enjoy the whole experience. That is deeply ingrained inside all of us. That is not going to go away. Of course, there has been a break because of the Coronavirus pandemic but in the next six months or so, I am optimistic that things will be back to normal. It is the best form of entertainment for the audience.
How do you look back at your journey of 33 years in the film industry?
If I have to start my career afresh, I would like to repeat everything, good or bad, which I did in the past 33 years. Every actor has a different journey during which he experiences joys and sorrows and all kinds of mixed emotions. After giving one of the biggest-ever Bollywood hits, Aankhen (1993), I had at one point only one film, N. N. Sippy’s Teesra Kaun (1994). You face such situations, too. I then went to Bangladesh to do movies there. After making debut with Aag Hi Aag, I went on to do many big hits, such as Paap Ki Duniya, Vishwatma, and Tejaab, which would have been a Rs 500-crore blockbuster today. I have through all of that. But I am grateful to my audiences for the love they showered on me. I keep telling my daughter (actress Ananya Pandey) that you have to earn the love of the audiences and respect them. When her first film, Student of the Year 2 (2019) was about to be released, I was worried whether she would be accepted by the audiences. Every father wants his children to do well in life.
You had a golden run in the first six years of your career when you delivered mega hits, from Aag Hi Aag and Paap Ki Duniya to Tejaab and Aankhen. And then, you almost disappeared. How did you handle failure in those days?
I often tell my daughter that it is very easy to handle failure because when you are a failure, nobody is bothered about you. Nobody will look at you even if you cry. But when you are successful, then it becomes difficult or even impossible to handle it. I did so many hit films for six years and then I suddenly had no work. That is why I tell her that it is very difficult to hold on to success. You have to keep that momentum. In failure, however, you have to keep yourself busy. You do not have to lose heart. I established my own entertainment company and went away to Bangladesh for work because giving up was not an option. My father used to say that you have to understand the game of cricket to know about life. In a cricket match, you cannot hit a four or a six on every ball but if you keep batting, you will get a chance to hit the fours and the sixes. You have to keep going and play your innings.
You were a top star in the early ‘90s before some of your friends from Bandra took over the industry and became superstars? What went wrong with your career? Was it bad selection of roles or something else?
In our industry, it is all about hits and misses. You get so many films to do which somebody else was supposed to do and you miss out on many other films because you could not do them because of your busy schedule. Such ups and downs happen. As I said before, every actor has a different journey. There are so many permutations and combinations. It has always been like that since the inception of the film industry. You keep hearing stories how this role or that role was supposed to be done by another actor. Sometimes you realise that you should have done that role but as you gain experience, you realise that it is normal. There are only a few actors and only a few roles and there is no formula to make hits here. Had there been one, everybody would have made hit films. If anybody says he has a formula, he is lying.
Now, your daughter Ananya Pandey is a star in her own right but she is often targeted by trolls over nepotism. How does she handle the allegations that she is getting the roles because of her father?
I have told my daughter clearly that such things are going to happen. I tell her that everybody is not going to praise her, some will criticise her too. You have to take such things in your stride. I tell her how she has to set out for her own journey as an actor. She went for two auditions on her own to get the roles. I keep telling her that she has to be honest to her work and work hard. I also tell her that these things should not matter when you are confident. But then, she is barely 21 and has to learn a lot in her career and life. As a parent, you do feel when you hear such things. But then, when I had come to the industry, I too had to hear such things. Some people had alleged that I got my break on the recommendation of Rekha, who happened to a friend of my mother. But the fact is that neither did I nor my producer Pahlaj Nihalani know Rekha at that time. Actually, I met her for the first time at the premiere of my first film. So it is not a new thing for people to say such things. Actually, those who are not in the industry do not know how it functions. There is a process to get a role here. You have to go through the auditions and suit the character before anybody offers you a role.
After Abhay 2, what next?
Two more shows have been confirmed but I cannot comment on them at the moment. All I can say is that both are interesting characters and you will see a different Chunky Pandey in them later this year.
But I am sure you are not going to stop playing your popular comic character in the Housefull series? Your fans will be disappointed if you do that.
Let’s see. Sajid Nadiadwala has been saying that he will make Housefull 5 soon. There is another big-budget, commercial comedy of mine in the pipeline, which will also be announced shortly.