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Interview Hindi

Snakes, scorpions feared me more than I feared them: Chunky Pandey on Begum Jaan role

The seasoned actor opens up about his devilish look and character as Kabir in Vidya Balan’s Begum Jaan.

Mayur Lookhar

The hallmark of a good actor is his ability to reinvent himself and tread in uncharted territory. Chunky Pandey hasn’t just done that, he has even changed his persona, moving away from his comic-actor image, to transform himself into a cold-blooded killer in the Vidya Balan-starrer Begum Jaan. He has sacrificed his locks, shaved his head and coloured his teeth to play Kabir, a ruthless butcher committing atrocities on women. Fans have never seen him in such a hideous avatar before.

In  a brief and exclusive chat with Cinestaan.com, Pandey recalled the horrors of his look, how his wife Bhavna did not speak to him for two days, and how the events in the film may have occurred in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Excerpts:

The last time we spoke, you said your look in Begum Jaan would be deadly. As it turns out, you may have scared the hell out of the devil himself.

(Laughs) I shouted at the devil.

What does Chunky Pandey tell himself when he looks in the mirror?

I never realized that there was a Kabir hidden in me. That whole persona of Kabir that was created is eerie. I get scared of myself at night sometimes, when I think Kabir is inside me.

I guess your wife, too, must have been scared.

When I shaved my head, my wife screamed at me. She didn't talk to me for two days. But after she saw the trailer, she was really shaken up. Earlier, I used to be scared of her, but now she is scared of me.

Your locks were part of your identity. After shooting for Begum Jana, have you managed to grow them again?

I have had two haircuts since. Touchwood, they are back. I had this fear [that he would lose them] as I had never cut my hair short. I shot for the film last August and I have had two haircuts after that. The hair was growing in all different directions.

Tell us about the process of getting a Kabir look.

Firstly, I couldn't believe I had got the role. When he [director Srijit Mukherji] took me to my hairstylist Sapna [Bhavnani], first they started cutting it short and they budged it. I had a cow, I couldn't believe it. That night I was travelling abroad. I looked nothing like my past, wondering what have they done to me. There was a little talk of shaving my eyebrows. That would have been illegal, for once you do that you can't recognise a person. I had shaved my eyebrows when I was a kid.

After the hair, they coloured my teeth, added the kohl, and suddenly the character just came out. Even while shooting, people felt intimidated when they looked at me.

It's one thing to get a particular look and quite another to actually execute the role for which it is meant. Now that the shooting is over, how do you look back on your character?

This is actually a very hit character in Bengali. It was done well in the original Bengali film Rajkahini [in which the role was essayed by Jisshu Sengupta]. So, I was playing with a handicap, as I was going up against a great performance. The director made it clear that he was not remaking his film, he was adapting it. He changed me around. He made behave differently. This guy [Kabir in Begum Jaan] is more cruel than that chap [Sengupta's character in Rajkahini]. That guy still had a nice side to him, but this guy is completely the opposite. Till the time I shot for this film, and a month later, I still had this grim, rough look about me.

Hard-hitting, oppressing, disturbing. These are a few of the words that are being used to describe the Begum Jaan trailer. Do these words evoke a positive sense towards the film? What is your observation?

I don't know. It is a piece of art that they have made. Srijit and company have been very honest with what they have made.  It’s a film about this brothel, how these women were looked down upon, what they do to protect their house that is being stolen by two governments. They muster the strength to take on the governments and the army. It is a disturbing but honest film. Sometimes, keep entertainment aside. You want to see a change.

Cinema is mainly a work of fiction, but in 2017, we have a period film based on Partition where a brothel is a hindrance in the demarcation of the border. How compelling, how believable is this subject?

This happened to many people. The guys just drew the line. We didn't look left, right, but the government just went ahead and drew a border. So whoever came in between had to be destroyed.

But is the brothel theme fiction or is it inspired by a true tale?

Lots of people lost their houses along the line of control. The director told me that something like this had happened on the Bangladesh [earlier East Pakistan] border.

On the camera, you are like a devil to Vidya. Off screen though, how was the experience of working with a dozen actresses?

In the film, my interactions with them are brief but very cruel. Off camera, I got along very well with the girls. More than the dozen girls, I was scared of snakes and scorpions as that area is infested by them. I didn’t get bitten, so I reckon the snakes and scorpions were more scared of me.

You have been around since the mid-1980s. Do you think Bollywood has been able to do justice to your talent?

If I lived a hundred lives then I would still feel that I haven't done justice to myself. I have miles to go before I sleep well. I would like to have more surprises like Kabir.

Your friend Akshay Kumar has bagged the National award for not one but two films, Airlift and Rustom. As a fellow artiste from the franchise, do you wonder why Housefull 3 was left out?

Housefull will never get any award. It will purely get rewards. Congratulations to Akshay. It is quite a contrast... after doing Airlift, he did Housefull 3 and then Rustom. Akshay is super talented.