Casting directors are fast gaining prominence in Bollywood

Mar 15, 2015, 08:28 IST | Asira Tarannum

The new-age casting directors are slowly but steadily shaking the foundations of the star system and breaking the tradition of random selection of actors in Bollywood movies

There was a time when casting for roles depended on the whims and fancies of the director or even the male actor in the movie. However, things are changing now. Casting directors are fast gaining prominence in the scheme of things in Bollywood.

From left: Jogi Malang, Shruti Mahajan, Mukesh Chhabra and Atul Mongia. Pics/Shadab Khan
From left: Jogi Malang, Shruti Mahajan, Mukesh Chhabra and Atul Mongia. Pics/Shadab Khan 

Things have changed quite a bit since the last few years, as casting experts have entered the Bollywood scene and one can already see the sea change that their choices of actors for particular roles have brought to the screen. Naturally, then, for struggling actors who would park themselves outside producers' offices, it's the casting director's pads they head to now.

hitlist spoke to some hot and happening casting directors, who, apart from introducing some good talent, have also managed to bring out some interesting and apt casting combinations on the big screen.

Mukesh Chhabra
A name to reckon with in his field, Chhabra got into casting by sheer chance. He says, "I was working at the Theatre in Education in New Delhi, teaching acting and direction. Vishal Bhardwaj was making a film in which he needed kids, so Honey Trehan and I helped him. As I was from theatre and knew everyone, I would suggest names when asked. I didn't even realise when it turned into a profession and I started enjoying it. I took it seriously when Imtiaz Ali gave me Love Aaj Kal. It was followed by the casting for Gangs of Wasseypur and then on, one thing led to another," says Chhabra.

Talking about the change in the scenario, he says, "Cinema has changed. Now there are different kinds of movies being made and directors have understood how important a supporting cast is, along with the main cast. When directors understand our work, we get respect. I am always ready to take challenges. Presently, I am casting for Dangal. This change is good for everyone and I am glad that I am a part of this change in the industry."

Casting is also now lucrative as a career option. Chhabra has 30 assistants. "There is no institute that teaches the casting process. It's the basic understanding of the script and the director's vision. When I started, there was no money, but now a casting director can earn anything from R4-5 lakh to R20-25 lakh, per movie. It depends on the budget of the film, but there is a minimum fee one gets," he says.

He says, "I have had good and bad experiences. This includes influences from people, references and pressures from people in different fields. Sometimes an actor's frustration can lead him to offer money, but you have to stand by your choice. You have to gain the trust. I have a few friends in the industry, like filmmaker Mohit Suri who asks me for options even when I am not casting for his film."

Chhabra likes the casting of the movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. "I messaged Honey Trehan that I wanted to do the casting for it. Even Bandit Queen had a great cast. I always wonder how Tigmanshu Dhulia did it. I wish I was a part of the industry then," he adds.

Shruti Mahajan
Mahajan completed her graduation from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, followed with an MBA. Two-and-a-half years ago, she got into casting. "When I got married to Sachin Krishn (a cinematographer), I realised that he slept, ate and drank cinema. We would talk about cinema, filmmaking, etc and that's when I found my calling. I realised I had to get out of the MNC I was working with and get into the movie business.

Director Sameer Sharma told me that you have a filmi keeda in you. He told me, "Why don't you think about casting? You have it in you to become a casting assistant." Initially, I didn't tell anybody in my family and just walked into the Yash Raj Film's office. I had a year's commitment with them, but after eight months, I got my first independent ad assignment. I moved out of YRF after that. I landed with two projects — Chakravyuh and Ram Leela.

I am now casting for Bajirao Mastani, Gangajaal 2, AR Murugadoss's next and a couple of other projects. I feel if you are passionate and there for the right reasons, you will make it. The whole process is so fulfilling. I am in a phase where I am growing as a person. I am here because I enjoy casting and I enjoy the process of filmmaking," says Mahajan. She sees herself turning producer soon. "But I will continue doing casting. I loved the casting of Bandit Queen and Shahid,"
says Mahajan.

Atul Mongia
He aspired to be a filmmaker and got into casting by accident. "I was making short films independently. I have been training actors for the last 15 years now. I was teaching at the Barry John School of Acting in New Delhi and then moved to Mumbai and continued with the acting workshops. I got in touch with Dibakar Banerjee who was looking for someone to train the actors for Love Sex aur Dhokha as it was a new cast. They asked me to find actors for the film.

That's how my journey in this field began. I want to focus on writing and directing now. My last casting will be for Titli. I am still training actors though," says Mongia. But this field is not as lucrative as it is presumed to be, he believes. "I don't think you make too much money unless you do bulk work. You make just enough to survive. Casting directors are paid R1-10 lakh for a film depending on the budget," he says.

When a film does not do well, does it affect a casting director's career? He replies, "Not exactly. Most of the films I have done have not been a hit, but were good films. Casting directors nowadays get a lot of attention, which is great. So much so, that I don't answer unknown numbers on my cell phone anymore," he adds.

Nandini Shrikent
She started as an Assistant Director and then turned to casting. "I was exposed to world cinema because my mother was a curator of a film festival. We watched a lot of films and I decided to work in movies. I did my first internship with Govind Nihlani on Takshak and there was no looking back since then.

Nandini Shrikent
Nandini Shrikent 

I worked in the set decorating department, but I got my first casting break with Lakshya, which happened by fluke. I had to cast 72 actors and it was a great set-up. I learnt a lot and it was super fun. Then there was a bit of a struggle after that because many didn't believe in the concept of casting director at that time. After Luck by Chance and Rock On!! things just took off," says Shrikent, who is married to actor Neil Bhoopalam.

Summing up her experience till date, she says, "There are good days and bad days. There are hurdles as casting is a lengthy process. You have to see the director's vision and there are so many things at play. In my first job, there were actors who were unhelpful and I got bullied as I was a rookie. I haven't forgotten who they are."

About her future plans, she says, "It took me a long time to sustain myself with casting. It was a slow journey to be able to pay my rent without the support of my parents. Also, because I make really bad deals. I have just reached the point where I can sustain myself, so I don't want to give up. I quite enjoy the process, but I feel I want to be slightly selective about the films I do. I want to take up more challenging projects. Gangs of Wasseypur was a film I would have loved to cast for. I liked the casting that was done for that film."

Jogi Malang
He is one of the oldest casting directors in the industry. Says Malang, "I started in 1997-98. Samay was my first film. I used to watch a lot of Hollywood films and the casting director's name in the end credits would fascinate me. When I studied theatre, I understood the concept of casting. I am basically an actor. I found it innovative when I started casting, but it was difficult for me to convince people.

They wouldn't pay. I struggled when I started, but after that thankfully, I got work and did many good films such as Vicky Donor, Madras Café and I have recently done the casting for Piku," reveals Malang, who is lovingly known as Jogi Bhai in the industry. "I had seen Ayushmann Khurrana in Roadies and when I read the script of Vicky Donor, I knew he would be apt for the role. I have seen the industry growing and the good part is, that the directors and producers trust your choice.

Of course, there are some people, who in the garb of casting, do other things, but mostly people know the ones who are genuinely into casting." About his early days, he says, "I was involved creatively in casting in a show called Bhanwar and then our team shifted to Mumbai. We worked on a show called Agnichakra and when people got to know that I had done the casting, I started getting offers for films.

From then on, it has been a smooth journey and even when the road was rough, nothing deterred my spirit to work. Now I am glad so many youngsters are also joining this field. Apart from my films, I loved the casting of Gangs of Wasseypur. Mukesh has done a brilliant job with it."

Honey Trehan
A known name in the field, Trehan was a stage director in Delhi before he moved to Mumbai. "I was a stage director in New Delhi and I had come to Mumbai to tour the city and write a play. I met Vishal Bhardwaj and became his first Assistant Director in Makdee. While the script was being worked on, I asked him if I could find the actors and Vishal agreed.

Honey Trehan began by casting for Vishal Bhardwaj's film Makdee in 2002
Honey Trehan began by casting for Vishal Bhardwaj's film Makdee in 2002 

This is how the process of casting began. After that, I did Maqbool and Omkara. My first independent film as a casting director was Delhi Belly. For most of the films I have cast for, I have also been involved creatively. After Aamir Khan called me for Delhi Belly, I went on to do the casting for Kaminey and a few more films.

There are a few filmmakers whom I wanted to work with, such as Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Ritesh Sidhwani, so I did the casting for them. Before me, the only person who got the credit for casting was Tigmanshu Dhulia for Bandit Queen."

He is happy to see the change in the industry. "I am happy to see youngsters wanting to make their career in this field. It depends a lot on how much the director is open to your ideas. Whatever I am today, I owe it to Vishal Bhardwaj. As for casting, I feel Atul Mongia has done a fantastic job in Love Sex aur Dhokha and in Queen."

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