It takes just one to make a family of celebrities.
Many years ago, the good-looking son of cardiac surgeon Sharad Panday and gynaecologist Snehlata Panday got a taste of the glamour world when Snehlata opened a beauty parlour and a clinic for slimming her patients, a relatively new business in the 80s. Her celebrity clients like Rekha began to come home and evenings at the Panday house overflowed with guests like Vinod Khanna, Parmeshwar Godrej, Sarika and Kamal Hassan. Young Chunky longed to feature in magazines, attend glittering film parties and act in movies.
It happened soon with Aag Hi Aag (1987) and, despite ups and dips, Chunky Panday as the Nepali watchman of Apna Sapna Money Money and Aakhri Pasta of the Housefull series, survived well, gaining a recognition of his own.
All our kids were still boisterous little ones when Chunky took us for a family dinner at a restaurant where all the brats (Chunky’s and brother Chikki’s) pounced on the bowl of fortune cookies. Since my son had not joined us, I said to the kids, “Hey, save one for Sid.” Only Chikki and Deanne’s daughter, Alanna, heard me and quietly handed me one saying, “Aunty, this is for Sid.”
That warmth has stayed with the girl who has grown into elegant LA-based influencer with 1.1 million followers on Instagram. At her aesthetically splashy wedding last week, the Taj Palace in Colaba looked like a garden with a burst of green and white.
The evening had a mix of Chunky’s and Chikki’s friends. Natty Jackie Shroff, amiable Tusshar Kapoor and a tanned, rugged, bearded Bobby Deol, all in their tie-less formals. Ranjeet, Sonakshi Sinha, Neelam Kothari, Lara Dutta and Salman’s sister Alvira with husband Atul Agnihotri and daughter Alizeh (soon to bloom as an actress) were all in party mood.
(Only Salman is missing these days after Mumbai cops advised him to stay home following gangster Lawrence Bishnoi’s death threat to him. It is rumoured that promotions for his Id release Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan will also have to be low-key.)
With Ahaan Panday (on the cusp of an acting career), actress-cousin Ananya Panday, uncle Chunky in a happy lime green jacket, and a sprinkling of politicians — Ashish Shelar from the BJP, Baba Siddiqui and Bhai Jagtap from the Congress — there was a familiar face at every turn.
It seemed like family time for all guests. Aryan Khan leisurely strolled down the buffet hall checking out each item with plate in hand, no selfie seeker on the scene.
Passing a crucial box-office test is an elixir. Shah Rukh looked relaxed and was at his charming best.
There’s a karmic relationship between SRK and the Pandays.
Chunky’s uncle Col Kapoor was the man who had launched Shah Rukh as Lt Abhimanyu in the TV serial Fauji (1989).
Under the radar but more enduring has been Shah Rukh’s friendship with Chikki Panday. They have been 3am besties right from the time Shah Rukh and Gauri lived in an apartment off Carter Road, their first in Mumbai. When Chikki wed girlfriend Deanne at a quiet afternoon ceremony in 1994, Shah Rukh was one of the few who had to be there.
Shah Rukh went from being the interesting new kid on the block to the superstar of Mannat but his bond with Chikki stayed undisturbed.
When Chunky’s wife Bhavna slipped easily into Gauri’s girl gang, the Khan-Panday closeness got further cemented, with memorable New Year vacations and landmark occasions all spent together. The Khan-Panday kids have grown up in each other’s houses. So, for Shah Rukh, watching Alanna wed boyfriend Ivor was personal, like watching Suhana make her debut as an actress.
Poonam Sinha remembered with nostalgia that the Taj was where Shatrughan and she had wed in 1980 and Chunky’s mom had been her bridesmaid.
The Taj was also where Chunky had taken us to dinner to celebrate his first hit, Aag Hi Aag, at the Rendezvous.
From being the only boy in the family who wanted to be an actor to becoming a celebrity family and hosting a stylish affair, the Pandays have come a long way.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author