Casting director Gayathri Smitha tells what goes behind selecting the perfect face to sell a product
A filmmaker is in the midst of a shooting schedule when his mother calls him up and asks, “Did you get a chance to go through the girl’s photo that I had sent some time back.” During the 82-second television commercial (TVC), she plagues him incessantly to tie the knot by citing the example of his friend, resorting to emotional blackmail before finally asking him, whether he likes girls at all. Almost all of us have smiled to ourselves after seeing this TVC, empathised for the poor guy and exclaimed, “All mothers are the same.” But ever wondered who is the actor who plays the befuddled son with ease. It’s acclaimed filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee’s assistant director Navin Kasturiya. Casting director Gayathri Smitha opted for Kasturiya for this advertisement after she saw his profile on a popular social networking site and felt he would fit the bill.
Over the course of her seven-year-long career, Smitha has done the casting for several TVCs, including Vodafone First Love, Cinthol Alive is Awesome, Frooti and Minute Maid Nimbu Fresh, Hitachi, Indian Railways, Gems and Madhya Pradesh Tourism. The 30-something casting director from Hyderabad knew very early on in life that she would get into advertising as her father was into television production and her mother was a voice-over artiste. After starting off as a production assistant, Smitha began working as a casting director. She says, “As a casting director, it is very challenging to find the right face who can emote well and also be in sync with the character. When a script demands common people and not film stars, then directors prefer casting theatre actors or fresh faces as they lend certain novelty to the ad.”
But it isn’t always easy to find faces that fit the bill. Smitha concedes that she works closely with casting agencies, theatre actors and also relies on social networking sites. “Over the years, I have cast theatre artistes in ads and built a rapport with them. Whenever I’m looking for fresh faces, I spread the word among them. They play a crucial role in giving me references. Apart from them, I peruse through profiles on Facebook. I have a fixed audition test. Whenever I find a person with an interesting face, I send him or her a mail along with a request to send me their audition,” Smitha elaborates.
She explains that casting is a cumbersome process. She usually auditions around 100 people to finalise four people for each commercial. For instance, for the Cinthol Alive is Awesome ad campaign that largely features foreigners, Smitha co-ordinated with her friends in London and Amsterdam and auditioned 150 people. “This has been my toughest project till date. The brief for this TVC was to scout for people with uncommon faces but who had a good physique. A major portion of the TVC was filmed in Iceland so we cast locals. But we also cast people from Argentina and South America who
were referred to me by my friends.”
However, there are times when getting on-screen space is not a big enough incentive. “For the Frooti ad, we auditioned kids in Mumbai and Pune. After we finalised them we had to convince one of them to shave off his head. But the child’s father didn’t give us a clear commitment as the kid was shooting for some other commercial and couldn’t tonsure his head. A night before the shoot, we were running from pillar to post to finalise another child,” Smitha says.
Quiz her what has been her most memorable ad till date and she replies, “The Minute Maid Nimbu Fresh ad that features a boy and a girl, having a playful time, bonding over lemonade and maintaining the same relationship even after turning adults is my favourite TVC. I saw the girl at a five-star hotel in Bangalore while I was on a shopping trip with my mother. I took her picture and called her for an audition. The young boy was the winner of a popular dance reality show on television. I found him to be very confident so I touched base with him. Casting kids is an interesting process as one has to understand
their temperament and body language.”