No Dharma Films, No Koffee with Karan. But Chunky Pandey was a Superstar in Bangladesh

Bollywood

No Dharma Films, No Koffee with Karan. But Chunky Pandey was a Superstar in Bangladesh

Illustration: Arati Gujar

In a recent interview, Chunky Pandey’s daughter, Ananya, said that even though she belonged to a filmy family, she’d had her share of struggle. One of those struggles was watching her father struggling – as in, he never got a Dharma film, nor was he invited to Koffee with Karan. But to quote Chunky Pandey from Lootere (1993), “Main nahin banna chahta hu mahan, main sirf zinda rehna chahta hu.” He never wanted to be great, he wanted to survive – a philosophy can that can sum up his Bollywood career.

Yet there is one place where Pandey was only met with superstardom and unflinching adoration. That place is Bangladesh. How, you ask?

Post-Aankhen (1993), the David Dhawan blockbuster comedy he did with Govinda, Pandey had claimed in a couple of interviews that he practically had no work. Then, in 1995, he got a call from Monowar Kokhon, one of the leading directors of Bangladesh to make his debut in Dhallywood (Dhaka + Hollywood).

chunky pandey

Post-Aankhen (1993), the David Dhawan blockbuster comedy he did with Govinda, Pandey had claimed in a couple of interviews that he practically had no work.

Chiragdeep International

The Bangladeshi industry back then was notorious for their sex and sleaze outings. Legend has it that to woo the audience, many directors would add porn clips between scenes. Some movies were so weird that you could label them BDSM – you know, Bangladeshi Dance Song and Massage. (Those days are thankfully behind us.) 

With few options in Bollywood, Pandey dived right in and was an instant success in Bangladesh. He would go  on to do six movies with other prominent Dhallywood directors that included Badal Khandakar and Rafiqul Islam. The people loved him; dubbed him as Bangladesh’s Amitabh Bachchan. That kind of admiration was unimaginable for him in India, where he’d already spent more than a decade trying to hit it big.

Like Hindi cinema, most of his Banglageshi movies were typical commercial masala outings with all song, dance, and action, and some sleaze. Whatever it was, a star of his stature – with a legit Bollywood career – had never come to Dhallywood before. He was an enigma, a connection between the Bangladeshi audience and the fabled land of Bollywood. And this helped him to build an everlasting legacy across the border.

Pandey probably caught the attention of filmmakers in Dhaka after he starred in two Bangla movies – Mandira (1990) and Adhikar (1992) – with Bengal’s reigning superstar Prosenjit. And when Bangladesh was beckoning, Indo-Bangla joint ventures in movies were at an all time high, with stars from Tollywood and Dhallywood coming together for one movie after another. Pandey saw this as an opportunity he shouldn’t let go. 

With few options in Bollywood, Pandey dived right in and was an instant success in Bangladesh.

But no matter how hard you try, you are bound to hit a roadblock while looking for Pandey’s Bangladeshi movies, mainly because they are not catalogued properly even though they are widely available on platforms like YouTube. So you have to keep searching until you locate this treasure trove of entertainment. It’s not an easy task, but I did manage to watch four films because I belong to the Gurukul generation, and with a bit of parampara, pratistha, and anushasan, I went on a trip for which you need no drug.

Dhallywood films from back in the day are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am sure Pandey needed something to help him sail through this industry known for its mind-numbing sleaze and objectification of women. His arrival did herald a change and his movies relatively were less titillating.

Pandey’s first Dhallywood outing was Swami Keno Asami (Why My Husband is a Criminal). A joint venture between Tollywood and Dhallywood, this film by Manowar Khokhon starred Bangladeshi actors Jasim and Shabana with Rituparna Sengupta from Tollywood. Pandey is seen in Dashavatharam-style role – he played an orthopaedic surgeon, teacher, dancer, fighter, and whatnot.

The plot focuses on the daredevil police officer Ratna (Shabana) who takes on Khoka Choudhury for indulging in illegal activities. Choudhury saab, obviously upset at this gets the dreaded Ali (Jasim) to finish off Ratna. But by some twist of fate, it is revealed that Ali and Ratna are husband and wife, married off when they were kids. When Choudhury’s machinations leave Ratna paralysed, it is Pandey who cures her, manages to woo Ratna’s sister Ritu (Rituparna Sengupta), and joins their crusade against Choudhury.

saaho

After a lucrative career in Dhallywood, Pandey returned to Bollywood and resumed acting. In 2019, he was seen in Saaho and Housefull 4.

UV Creations/ T-Series

What’s most interesting part about Swami Keno Asami is the number of Bollywood movies it draws inspiration from. Ratna’s cop track is borrowed from Tejasvini (1994); parts of Pandey’s role are inspired by Phool aur Angaar (1993); Ali’s is directly lifted from Narsimha (1991); and another scene involving Jasim forcing a groom to marry a motorcycle is taken straight from Mithun’s Daata (1989). As far as pastiche filmmaking goes, Quentin Tarantino has nothing on them.

Pandey continued his Bangladesh journey unabated, with some “women-centric” movies. He teamed up again with Manowar Khokon, and much of the cast, for Meyerao Manush (Even Women are Humans). Pandey plays the wayward Ronnie, brother to Ratna (Shabana), who wants to get rich quick and becomes a “gourmand gangster” who wants to eat chicken fry every day. But when the gang orders him to kill Ratna, he finally rebels. In this trial, terror and tribulation, Ronnie and Ratna are helped by Raja Mastan (Jasim), whose track is totally lifted from Rajinikanth’s Baasha (1995).

The other two Chunky Pandey movies that I managed to track down were Phul r Pathor (Flower and Stone) and Prem Korechi Besh Korechi (I Have Loved and I Don’t Give a Damn). Phul r Pathor is a dubbed version of the Hindi movie called Kasam (2001). It boasts of a stellar Bollywood cast including Sunny Deol, Neelam, Naseeruddin Shah, Sharath Saxena, and Sadashiv Amrapurkar.

But amid all his Dhallywood outings, Prem Korechi Besh Korechi stands out – in fact it is the only one that can claim to be a not-so-weird addition to Pandey’s oeuvre. It’s a pretty straightforward remake of Salman KhanKajol’s Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya (1998), where Pandey plays… not Salman Khan, but the role essayed by Arbaaz Khan in the original. And he was, well, not that bad.

We might sum up Pandey’s Dhallywood career as “it’s so bad it’s good”, but he achieved what he set out to do – he went, he acted, and he conquered.

We might sum up Pandey’s Dhallywood career as “it’s so bad it’s good”, but he achieved what he set out to do – he went, he acted, and he conquered. Success was not elusive to him in Bollywood but he always played second-fiddle, forever friendzoned. But in Bangladesh cinema, he dethroned the likes of Rubel, Dipjol, Manna, Jasim, Salman Shah, and the young Shakib Khan, to be declared the undisputed king. And this was no cake walk.  After all Jasim, who was Pandey’s frequent collaborator, was one of the first action stars of Bangladesh, while Salman Shah got the nation in frenzy when his movie Keyamat Theke Keyamat, a remake for  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), released in 1993. Salman Shah reportedly committed suicide, something that’s still disputed by his family, becoming a superstar in his death. Stars like Rubel, Manna, and Shakib Khan came to fill up the void left by him. And even then, with all this competition, Pandey managed to take Bangladesh by storm. It is difficult to pinpoint why he was such an instant hit, but probably that’s what Bollywood gives you – an identity beyond borders.

Though millennials in Dhaka might not recognise Pandey or many might be quick to dismiss his contribution, films like Swami Keno Asami are still extremely popular in rural Bengal as well as Bangladesh.

After a lucrative career in Dhallywood, Pandey returned to Bollywood and resumed acting. In 2019, he was seen in Saaho and Housefull 4. However, he still fondly talks about his time in Dhaka, where he even went for his honeymoon. It’s like that first love that you seldom forget. There’s a sense of nostalgia you can’t really get rid of. Afterall, what makes an actor is fandom – it doesn’t matter if it comes from your successes in Bollywood or Dhallywood.

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