Casting director Mukesh Chhabra has changed the dynamics of filmmaking by bringing in several actors who fit their characters perfectly on celluloid. Be it the actors in Rockstar or Gangs of Wasseypur, he has cast some of the most popular faces in films today.
How did you become a casting director?
I think I was destined to be one. I was working with Theatre in Education at the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi at 19. It started with helping filmmakers cast local actors in small roles who were coming to Delhi. Soon I started getting a positive response from everyone. That is how my journey started off as a casting director. My biggest influence and encouragement came from my guru — NK Sharma — with whom I started at 15. He is still my pillar of strength.
You have created a new benchmark with the casting of actors in films such as Rockstar and Gangs of Wasseypur. How do you choose your actors?
I first read the script in detail. I approach it as an audience and take the directors feedback. I make my own character sketches and then try to work closely with the director and my vision.
Directors are not keen on casting the same character actors. Is this a challenge?
Yes, it’s a very big challenge, because now the trend has changed and is more inclined to realistic cinema. Keeping that in mind, I need to cast more real and relatable actors. Directors now constantly want fresh faces and don’t want typical character actors who have done a dozen films already.
There are many actors from the National School of Drama and other institutes. How do you source them?
I have been part of the theatre world since the age of 16. After my graduation, I joined Theatre in Education (TIE), NSD and worked with almost every theatre group in Delhi and with N Sharma. I also have a diploma from the Shri Ram Centre, Delhi. Coming from such a strong theatre background, sourcing theatre actors has never been difficult.
What is the most tough part of casting?
The most difficult part is getting the correct actor for the small parts. I take a lot of interest in the smaller roles, as the length of the role doesn’t matter and a miniscule part played by a good actor can leave a lasting impression. I personally cast for the small characters also with equal interest. This you will see in my films such as Gangs of Wasseypur, Rockstar, Love Aaj Kal, Chillar Party and the soon-to-be-released Kai Po Che.
How do you find your actors?
I find actors from all over the country. At times I just spot real people, get intrigued by them and make them act. I always do things in an unconventional manner.
Can you give examples?
In Gangs of Wasseypur you saw Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadheer Singh. I went to Tishu and convinced him about Singh as I felt he would be best for it. The same goes for Anurag Kashyap in the Cadbury ad. In Chillar Party there were many real parents as well.
Is casting a difficult process?
My job involves reading the script and making character sketches. Then I have to constantly meet directors, explain the role to the actors, go through 200 or more auditions to get every character from the the different age brackets, then shortlist them and have a brainstorming session with the director. The process of convincing and brainstorming with the director and actor is an ongoing process. Now you decide if it is an easy task or not.
You also got in to trouble recently with some struggling actors…
Yes, this has been happening — getting threatening calls from actors and high recommendations from influential people to cast their sons, daughters and nephews. I understand an actor'’ problem as I am blessed to be working with names such as Raju Hirani, Anurag Kashyap, Imitaz Ali, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Nishikant Kamat and Tigmanshu Dhulia.
What would you suggest budding casting directors?
Cast, cast , cast and lookout for new faces.