Chunky Panday on being part of Saaho, reprising role in Housefull 4, and giving advice to daughter Ananya
Chunky Panday admits Saaho was the first time he had to keep aloof to get into the skin of his character Devraj.
Chunky Panday may be best known for his comic roles but he always yearned to explore negative characters as he feared getting typecast. There have been directors who realised that he can pull off the ‘wickedness’ with ease. Two years ago, Panday surprised us as Kabir, a mercenary for hire, in a menacing look in Vidya Balan-starrer Begum Jaan. It led to his next villainous role and this time, in one of the most anticipated films of 2019 – Saaho, the action thriller that brings back Baahubali Prabhas to the 70mm. The film is scheduled to release in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam on 30 August.
With salt-and-pepper hair, stone-cold eyes and a cigar in his hand, 56-year-old Panday plays one of the antagonists in Sujeeth's directorial venture.
“Yes, I always wanted to play a villain, and just to think that I got such a big film, is very exciting. If you see me, in what you may call it as the second innings, it has always been about crazy characters, whether it was Aakhri Pasta (Housefull franchise) or the Nepali character I played in Apna Sapna Money Money, or the villain in Begum Jaan. I am so glad to play Devraj in Saaho. There are a lot of surprise elements in this action-revenge drama, and my character is so evil. You have not seen anything like this on an Indian screen, in the Hindi cinema before. The closest that could come to Saaho is perhaps Dhoom. It has a very intricate screenplay. You have to stay glued on. You can’t move as it goes so fast, and it has the combination of many stories and lot of characters,” says an excited Panday, who, thereafter punctuates every sentence with a soft laugh.
Impressed with his performance in Begum Jaan, Sujeeth approached Panday for Saaho. “Sujeeth couldn’t recognise me, and he actually freaked out when he saw that character. Baahubali had just released. He told me he wanted to create something more exciting because Saaho is a modern film. It’s more Gotham, whereas Begum Jaan was rustic, and based in 1947. My character is more Javier Bardem (as Raoul Silva, an ex-MI6 operative-turned-cyber-terrorist to Daniel Craig's James Bond in Skyfall) kind of villain though I am nowhere close to that,” says Panday, further adding. “It’s very very different from what I did in Begum Jaan. In that one, I played a cruel man but in Saaho, he's not cruel. He is complicated. He is a more composed villain but lethal in his own way. He has got a lot of pent-up anger in him, and he is pitted against Prabhas.”
“And just like the Begum Jaan director (Srijit Mukerji), even Saaho director felt there was this evilness in my eyes. Sujeeth told me that there was this deadpan kind of look, and one can’t read my eyes. When you see ‘him’ (his character) on screen, you will see that eeriness, you will feel uncomfortable,” he further added.
Mention Prabhas and Panday exclaims, “Oh my god! Working with him was an incredible experience. I met him during the second schedule, and with me and Prabhas, it is do-or-die kind of situation in the film. There are some crazy scenes between us. He is such a dedicated actor. Even when he didn’t have a shot with me, he won’t go to his van. He would sit with you. He would take care of us as if we were his guests. He would get food cooked from his home for me, Shraddha (Kapoor) and whoever was shooting in Hyderabad. He is such a huge superstar but a totally hands-on actor. Dedication is to another level,” says Panday.
This was probably the first time in his career that Panday decided to remain aloof and isolated on set to get into the skin of the character. “I was doing a film in the language that I never spoke. Then, I was in Ramoji Film City, which is in a secluded spot, and not in the (Hyderabad) city. I would have my meals all alone. I used to not meet anyone, and would normally stay very edgy on set, which is not me. I am normally a lot of fun but this time, I felt let’s get into the character, and enjoy the whole process. Also, wearing those clothes, and that cigar in my mouth. The first day, when I went to the set in that get-up, I felt this character. I decided that let 'him' stay with me. I wouldn’t socialise, I never went to Hyderabad city, and continued to remain alone, so somehow Devraj entered me. I felt somewhere that little evil side was lurking in me as they say we all have that little devil in us,” said the actor. “During my last schedule, I decided to meet Varun (Dhawan), Alia (Bhatt) as the Kalank team was shooting on the next set. And when I walked on to their set, nobody could recognise me. Everyone did a double take,” he laughs heartily.
Panday, who began his career with films such as Aag Hi Aag (1987) and Paap Ki Duniya (1988), followed by big hits like Tezaab (1988) and Aankhen (1993), has seen success as well as failure closely in his Bollywood career of over three decades. He wants to make the most of this golden period as he has a fantastic line-up of films this year. “I was in and out of the Saaho get-up for a year, and in between, I finished four films this year –Housefull 4, Prasthanam with Sanjay Dutt, Jawaani Jaaneman with Saif Ali Khan, and Marathi film Bhangarwala. I am playing two contrasting characters in Housefull 4 and Saaho, and I have two films with two South directors – Saaho and Prasthanam. Life has certainly changed for me. But the most exciting thing that happened this year was my daughter Ananya (Panday) being accepted by the audience,” says Panday.
Recalling the time when he returned to Bollywood after a few years of stint in the Bangladesh film industry, which was considered more lucrative then, Panday was worried about losing a huge chunk of young audience that go to theatres to watch movies. “Yes, they had forgotten me completely. But this is a golden time, and there is not much pressure on me. I am getting these lovely characters to play. I get to change my look. I get to play a different person each time the opportunities I never got earlier. I am glad that whenever they want a key crazy character, they think of me,” says Panday.
However, acknowledging the fact he has not been as prolific as many others, Panday feels that some of his past, and small yet memorable roles and songs are benefiting him till today. “Actually, I haven’t done too much work because I have done just about 75 to 80 films in 32 years, which is very low. There are others who have done almost 300 films in this time period. But it’s the kind of roles that I chose without thinking about the length, and those are helping me today. Somewhere in my heart, I know that if you get to play a good character, or you get a good song, you live forever (hinting at his character of Baban in Tezaab, in which he had the hit song ‘So Gaya Yeh Jahan’). When you leave the theatre, the audience must remember you, and I keep telling the same to Ananya that people should be talking about you after they come out of theatre. You should be lucky to get that author-backed and director-backed role. Bagging Saaho for me was a big deal because I have always wanted to do one of those big Hollywood-kind action films. I finally got one,” he says.
Finally, one cannot help but ask the veteran actor whether he feels he got his due? And he signs off quoting one of Robert Frost’s poems, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
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