During a panel discussion titled 'Casting It Right' at NFDC Film Bazaar, which is being organised on the sidelines of IFFI, casting directors Mukesh Chhabra and Abhishek Banerjee spoke about the evolution of casting in Bollywood cinema. From not being taken seriously once upon a time, in the post- Gangs Of Wasseypur era, it has become one of the most important elements of filmmaking. Excerpts:
'Commercial Indian cinema woke up to the fact that film casting is crucial in the early 2000s'
Gautam Chintamani, a film historian, who moderated the session pointed out that it was in the early 2000s that commercial Indian cinema started waking up to the fact that casting is crucial, as that's when stories and characters were changing. He said, "It is the character which makes the movie. I think the first time I noticed Mukesh Chhabra’s name was during Gangs Of Wasseypur."
Chhabra shared that even after he has done 250 films, people still say 'yeh toh Wasseypur wala casting director hai'. He said, "It was not that casting directors were not there before in Bollywood, but what we (new casting directors) can take credit for is giving opportunities to newcomers, because there was very little space for newcomers in Bollywood before. When I started casting I didn’t know that it will make become such a big deal. It was just a job and we started it with so much love. We were like - 'we know these actors and we know these directors, so let’s work out something'." He also pointed out how filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, and Tigmanshu Dhulia are always on the lookout for good actors.
'Casting is one of the most important elements today'
Talking about why he selected Kangana Ranaut for Thalaivii, AL Vijay, director of the film, said, ”What is most important today is casting. I think the most important thing for playing Jaya Amma’s role was that we needed a great actor. There were so many ups and downs in the character, who had to gain and lose weight, and Kangana is a great actor." Abhishek Banerjee, who played Hathauda Tyagi in Pataal Lok, who was the casting director for films like Mary Kom, Kalank, and No One Killed Jessica, as well as shows like Pataal Lok pointed out that casting directors are now taken seriously, unlike before, when they were considered to be 'coordinators'.
He said, "Pehle puchha jata tha, 'batao kitne old aur kitne young log hain tumhare paas'? Coordinator ya agent ke jaise treat kiya jata tha."
He added, "Our writers write such in-depth characters, and hence we need to find that perfect fit for the character. During The Dirty Picture, which was one of my first films, Milan sir (Milan Luthra, director of the film) asked me just one question, 'where are these actors from? I haven’t seen them on TV'. And I told him, 'Because these actor are from theatre, jahan bade producers nahin ghoomte.”
'Aisa bhi hota hai, when the actor you cast becomes a star, he stops picking up your phone'
Banerjee added, "I always feel that casting is a selfless job. Aisa bhi hota hai, jab actor star ban jata hai toh woh uss hi casting director ka phone uthana chhod deta hai.”
Talking about newcomers, Chhabra said, "So many actors tell us that they don’t want to be typecast, but we tell them, 'bhai, tu pehle cast toh ho jaa. Newcomers have a lot of ideas about what kind of characters they want to play, but I always tell them that first be in a position to decide. Do 60-70 films, then you can talk about being typecast."
Talking about heartbreaks when rejected for a role Kirti Kulhari, said,” Rejections are part of the process and are too many compared to the successes. There is a continuous desperate struggle. For actors, casting directors are very crucial. They become a bridge for us.”