Ahead of the second season of Abhay on ZEE5, Chunky Panday tells Anupama Chopra about his second innings, having to watch his daughter deal with online trolls and his memories of 90s Bollywood:
Anupama Chopra: You’ve seen big highs as a leading man with Aankhen and Tezaab and then seen lows, years when you had no work. What enabled you to navigate this uncertain profession?
Chunky Panday: These highs and lows taught me that it’s very easy to handle failure because no one’s looking at you when you fail, no one’s bothered about you.
AC: You’re looking at yourself.
CP: You only have to deal with yourself, but success is very difficult to hold on to, that’s what I learnt. I started off with a bang, everything went so well for the first 2-3 years, and I just couldn’t hold on to it. Maybe it was the wrong choice of films, maybe I got too greedy about money and didn’t read the scripts. I only chose multistarrer films because those were working for me. After 1993 or 1994, multistarrers stopped being made. They moved on to solo heroes. It was like musical chairs. Suddenly the music stopped and I didn’t have a chair to sit on. So, I was out of work, I went to Bangladesh and worked there for a few years. Coming back to Bollywood was more difficult because I had to go to people’s offices again and ask for work and convince them that I wasn’t going anywhere. I had to tell myself I was no longer a hero, I was going to play some great characters now…
AC: You have that conversation with yourself?
CP: Yes, yes, absolutely. I couldn’t keep fooling myself. I married a beautiful girl, Bhavna, who gave me a reality check. I went after characters I never really played in the first innings of my career. I’ve loved villainous characters, I’ve loved funny characters. As a hero in the 80s, you never got a chance to play all those. So there are some pluses and minuses, but no regrets.
AC: It’s one thing to handle these highs and lows yourself, but it’s another thing to watch your kid go through it. Tell me what it’s been like for you since Ananya was launched. Especially in the last few months, with this storm of negativity and trolling?
CP: Well, first of all, I’m quite happy that they’re calling her a star kid. That makes me a big star.
AC: That’s a great way to look at it.
CP: I’m looking at the positives. I always wanted Ananya to be a doctor. I thought that because both my parents were doctors, I could become one. I tried very, very hard, but I couldn’t. Ananya was always very good in studies and I thought maybe she’d become a doctor. At 15, she told us, ‘I want to get into movies.’ So I said, ‘Okay, finish your graduation and then you can. You must train for it.’ Between school, she would train, whatever little she could. Then came Student Of The Year. She’d got into a college in Los Angeles and she was all set to go. She’d auditioned for this film before she left. There was this thing of: Is she going to go and finish her education and then come back, or does she want to to do the film? That was being asked to us more than her. She said, ‘Dad, I really want to do this film.’ So I said, ‘Okay, then it’s your responsibility from here on out. You’re so young, you’re just 18, you have to give it your best. Let’s hold on to your admission because if things go bad, maybe you can go back and finish your studies.’ She wrote to the dean and kept her seat.
Things went quite okay after that, she got a couple more films and I felt like she did get accepted by the audience. But, like every career, there are highs and lows. I’m only there as a father to guide and emotionally support her. Career-wise, I’ve left all decisions to her because she’s a different entity, I’m a different entity. She will make a few mistakes, but she’ll learn from them. I know she’s young still has along way to go, but I really don’t push her too much on the career front. I let her make her own decisions.
AC: One thing she really got a lot of flak for was when she said that you never got to go on Koffee With Karan. Would you explain to her why that might have come off as being entitled?
CP: I’m to be blamed for that statement because I confused her. I was telling her how strange it was that people were saying she got this film because of me, because I’d never worked in a Dharma Productions film myself and I’d never been on Karan’s show. That’s what she was trying to say and it came out differently. That is social media, it’s got great advantages and little disadvantages too.
AC: You have a very sorted way of looking at your place in life. I remember meeting you at a sports functions, you hadn’t been in a movie for a while and I asked what you were doing those days. You said: Don’t you know, I’m very big in Bangladesh? How have you maintained this sense of humor through all these years?
CP: I was 23 when I joined Bollywood. My hormones were going crazy and I wanted to do everything and be everywhere. I wanted to win all the awards. I’ll tell you about the first award I was nominated for, the Filmfare award for Tezaab. I was so confident of winning, that I actually left the shoot and flew down to Bombay for that award function. I’d convinced myself that I’d won the award. When they announced, ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ I actually got up and started walking towards the stage.
I was so confident and it went to Anupam Kher for a film called Vijay. I kept walking, I walked to the toilet and then I left and went home.
AC: That’s heartbreaking.
CP: I went back to Goa and everyone laughed at me like, ‘You ass, you went to collect an award and you never got it.’ It really disturbed me and for 3–4 years, I didn’t go to any award functions. But then I realized: Why am I trying to win some medal or a trophy? The biggest achievement of an actor is when his film is successful at the box office. I matured and understood that wasn’t about medals and trophies, these award functions happen because they are celebrations of success.
I started attending award functions, people used to make jokes about me at them and laugh. But that was all in jest and I just felt like I should participate and enjoy other people’s success. When I was young, I wanted only my films to do well and no one else’s. But, when you start looking at a broader picture and enjoying everyone else’s success and living like a family, that makes you a happier person. That’s the only thing that’s kept me going, just being happy for other people.
AC: That’s amazing because they aren’t too many people in this business who are happy for other people.
CP: I get very happy when a film is successful at the box office. It could be Baahubali, Dangal, Munnabhai MBBS, anything. It makes me happy, it makes me proud that I’m a part of this fraternity that’s doing well.