'Unfortunately, prostitution is looked down upon.'
'It should be legalised.'
'Imagine the sexual frustration in the country if it didn't exist!'
Chunky Pandey tells Rediff.com's Ronjita Kulkarni how he bagged Begum Jaan and more.
Chunky Pandey has a great sense of humour.
Each time he cracks a joke, he'll say, "I'm joking! Aakhri Pasta" in the way he does in his hit Houseful series.
Begum Jaan will see him in a chilling role as a mercenary out to kill the begum, Vidya Balan.
He looks menacing enough in the trailer, and he's thrilled with the response.
"The trailer release has been as good as a film release for me," Chunky says. "The kind of response I have got on social accounts and messages, I think it created a shock value. It's a very important character in the film because he changes everything around him."
"Coming from Aakhri Pasta to something so evil is a huge jump within the year."
"The last Houseful film released in June and we are in March. I auditioned for Begum Jaan on the Sunday after Houseful 3 released. All the assistants who were shooting me had watched the film the night before and were laughing. They were talking about the funny scenes and asking me to say, 'I'm joking!' So I thought the new film wasn't happening."
We are, in fact, sitting in the very room where Chunky auditioned for the role at the Vishesh Films office in suburban Mumbai ("I was standing right there," he points).
He played out his introduction scene, which we see in the trailer:
A week later, he was told that he had been selected.
What made Begum Jaan director Srijit Mukerjee, a National Award winner, select an actor who has never played a negative role in his life?
"I don't know," Chunky shakes his head. "I asked him, 'Are you sure you want me?' and he said yes."
"Srijit is always in his own world," Chunky says about the director. "Always editing, always creating. It's a constantly moving mind. He's imagining every second on the set. He's got a very creative mind. He's always dissecting, like a painter."
"I saw the trailer of Rajkahini and I thought Vidya is the only one who can come up to this, what Rituparna (Sengupta) has done. But after seeing the trailer, I feel she has taken it to a different level. There's no vulgarity to it. It's bold and shameless."
"The film is not about women empowerment, it's about powerful women who are in the oldest profession in the world: Prostitution."
"Unfortunately, it is looked down upon. They are doing a favour to the nation, it should be legalised. Imagine the sexual frustration in the country if it didn't exist!" Chunky exclaims.
Chunky plays Kabir, a professional rioteer. His character was played by popular Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta (remember Rani Mukerji's husband in Mardaani?) in the original Bengali film Rajkahini.
Srijit changed the character around a bit and told Chunky Pandey to, well, lose Chunky Pandey for the film.
The first thing that went was the hair.
"That was horrible!" Chunky exclaims. "He fooled me. He asked, 'Who cuts your hair? Let's go to him. So we went, and he kept saying, 'little shorter, little shorter'... and then it was gone!"
"Then he said you have such a wonderful smile, let's screw that up, let's make you ugly. So he put black on my teeth."
"Then he said let's get you deep-set eyes. So he gave me kajal."
"And the rest, shooting in the Jharkhand jungles, that Kabir came out, that evil in me came out!" Chunky says and laughs.
What was his wife Bhavna's reaction when she saw his new look?
"My wife was not at home, she was on holiday in London. When I reached home, my dog nearly attacked me. My maid screamed, and because she did, my dog thought some intruder had come and jumped on me."
"When I joined my wife in London, she was in the room... I entered the room with my (key) card and she nearly had a heart attack because she thought a robber had entered the room."
"We were not husband and wife till my hair grew back. We had no relationship!"
What did she think of the trailer?
"Oh, she loved it. It was worth all the fights!" he grins.
'I got my first film in the toilet of a hotel'
Suyash 'Chunky' Pandey was born to doctor parents -- his father was a well-known cardiac surgeon -- but he always wanted to be an actor.
After his graduation, his father asked him to train to be an actor, so Chunky did that for two years and went to "four-five acting schools."
"I tried to get into video films, TV serials, auditions... I struggled for two years," Chunky recalls. "Suddenly in a five star hotel toilet, I met Pahlaj Nihalani (who currently heads the Censor Board). He told me, 'Remember my number, call me tomorrow and see me'."
"That's how I got my first film, in the toilet of a hotel. So I keep telling my kids, everyone has their own success story, don't mimic anyone else's story. It will all happen the way it is meant to happen."
"I met him the next day," Chunky continues the story, "and he told me that he was going to America that night. He said he would return in a month and start a film with me. So I said, 'Don't I have to sign something?' He said, 'No, just don't shave. Grow a beard'."
"After a month, he came back and called me -- we had land line phones then -- and told me that the muhurat was the day after tomorrow at Filmistan studio (in Goregaon, north-west Mumbai). He asked me to get my parents too."
"I couldn't believe this was happening because when you get rejected so often, you don't believe it when it happens."
So Chunky went for the muhurat and met his superstar co-stars Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha.
"I knew Shatrughan Sinha because he was my dad's friend. My parents found out a day before that I was doing the film from him," he says.
The film was called Aag Hi Aag and it released in 1987.
'Wherever Vijay went, the Tezaab unit would follow. We were like his country cousins!'
The next year, Chunky starred in one of the biggest films in his career, Tezaab.
"Tezaab happened out of a rejection," he says. "I had gone to the Rajshri office to audition for Pratighat. The director N Chandra told me I didn't suit the role. But he said he was making a film with Anil Kapoor the next year -- he had already started working on Tezaab -- and that he will meet me for that later."
Tezaab, also starring Madhuri Dixit, was a huge hit.
Its songs, especially, were chart-busters. Interestingly, the song picturised on Chunky -- the soothing So Gaya Yeh Jahan -- was almost edited out of the film.
"See, he made a five-hour film and then he had to edit it. In the end, when people saw it, they said the film was very good, but that song slows it down."
"Chandu told them that we can cut anything, but the song. He said if I cut the song, you will get a headache watching Tezaab. It's such a violent, passionate love story that you need to calm people down before the horrible, heavy climax. Thank god it stayed!" Chunky sighs.
The song was shot in three cities: Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.
"Anil Kapoor was shooting for two films at the time, including Yash Raj's Vijay. So wherever Vijay went, the Tezaab unit would follow. We were like his country cousins!" Chunky laughs.
Despite a good start, Chunky's career could not sustain itself in Bollywood.
'I am Chunky Pandey from Bollywood, not Bangladesh'
"I did a few solo hero films -- some did not release, some didn't do well, some fared average like Mitti Aur Sona. My launch itself was in a two-hero film with Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha. So I have always done multi-starrers," he explains.
"After Aankhen, surprisingly, I stopped getting good offers and that depressed me. I tried to keep myself busy, but I had to work as an artist. Then Bangladesh happened and it became convenient," he says.
His Bangladesh stint happened quite accidentally.
Chunky was visiting the country for an event when someone told him about a top producer, who was making a new film.
"I said I don't speak Bengali, but he still said try it," he says.
The film Shami Keno Ashami was a blockbuster and made Chunky a star in Bangladesh.
"I did one film a year, which would release on Eid. I enjoyed myself," he grins.
Chunky starred in five films between 1995 and 1997.
Does he know Bengali?
"Kichu kichu (a little bit). I can understand, but I cannot speak the language," he says, then adds with a smile, "Naam bole chinte paarbein toh? Aakhri Paasta!."
Why did he turn his back on the success in Bangladesh and return to Bollywood?
"My heart was here. I am Chunky Pandey from Bollywood, not Bangladesh. They also accepted me because I was from Bollywood. I had to come back," he says.
How much had changed when he came back?
"Everything," he answers. "People had forgotten me."
'I knew I had to reinvent myself, I had to become a character'
Luckily, some of Chunky's old friends like Harry Baweja, Vikram Bhatt and Ram Gopal Varma did remember him and offered him films like Qayamat, Elaan and D respectively.
"I knew I had to reinvent myself, I had to become a character. I did not want to parallel leads. I wanted that one moment in the film, which I would own. Now, when I choose roles, I don't see the length. I just want the most impactful character in the film because that will live forever," he reasons.
Besides films, he kept himself busy running an event management company and a restaurant (The Elbo Room).
The film that got his career moving for the second time was 2005's Apna Sapna Money Money co-starring Riteish Deshmukh, in which Chunky played a Nepali.
Housefull helped his career further.
"Actually, Akshay (Kumar) and Riteish (Deshmukh) wanted Sajid Khan to play Pasta. But he said he could not act and direct; he said I would be better, and Nadiadwala (Sajid, producer) agreed."
"We were supposed to make one film, but we ended up making three, and I believe there are talks of a fourth," he says.
"Akshay and Riteish are crazy! They are great guys to work with; we have a lot of improvisation," he adds.
His favourite co-star is Amitabh Bachchan. "I have done only one film with him (1994's Insaniyat). I wish I could do more," he adds.
Chunky doesn't care about doing too many films.
In his 30-year-old career, he hasn't even done 100 films.
"Yes, I could have done more, but I have no regrets. I always say less is more."