Meet the all-important casting directors of Bollywood
Usha Uthup as Maggie in 7 Khoon Maaf. Ayesha Kapoor as Michelle McNally in Black. Omkar Das Manikpuri as Natha in Peepli Live. Casting directors, who give you the right actor for the right role, are changing the face of Bollywood
Meenakshi Sinha | TNN (THE TIMES OF INDIA; April 8, 2012)
Twenty years ago when Shekhar Kapur turned to Tigmanshu Dhulia for the casting of his ensemble film Bandit Queen (1994), the Allahabad boy pooled into his National School of Drama resources and gave the Phoolan Devi biopic and Indian cinema Seema Biswas, Manoj Bajpayee, Saurabh Shukla and Nirmal Pandey.
Dhulia, now known more for making films like Haasil (2003) and the recent Paan Singh Tomar, was perhaps the first in Bollywood to gain recognition as a casting director (CD, as some say) — a category that was non-existent in an industry where the cast of a film was decided by family and friends of the director, producer and occasionally the lead actor.
After Bandit Queen, though, Bollywood continued to work at its own pace through the mid ’90s to early 2000 where all that mattered was the hero, heroine and a string of character actors that featured in every film. “There’s no denying that there was no method to casting earlier,” says Mahesh Bhatt who resorted to a Youtube hunt for his forthcoming Aashiqui 2.
Today, as the film industry moves beyond song-and-dance routines to accommodate realistic stories with edgy characters, the need for astute casting has become imperative, supported by filmmakers like Anurag Kashyup, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Vishal Bhardwaj and Danny Boyle (he gave Loveleen Tandon due credit in Slumdog Millionaire).
For instance, Gautam Kishanchandani as assistant director to Kashyup had to find actors for the 150 characters needed in Black Friday (2004). What followed were 700 auditions and a bemused Kishanchandani got credit as casting director. He has since done the casting for Dev D, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai and No One Killed Jessica.
Bollywood’s corporatisation has meant deeper focus on authenticity and script. It has also meant the evolution of professional CDs like P S Bharthi (Rang De Basanti, Delhi-6), Atul Mongia (Love Sex and Dhokha), Honey Trehan (Maqbool, Kaminey, Omkara, the forthcoming Bhaag Milkha Bhaag), Amita Sehgal (Guzaarish, Aisha), Nandini Srikent (Wake Up Sid, Talaash and the under-production Reluctant Fundamentalist).
Trehan (above), 32, says that a filmmaker needs to tell the story using actors, not stars. “The whole process begins at the script stage,” he says. “The script is the star and it tells you who fits in, and in what role. For example, Deepak Dobryal in Omkara was the man who walked behind Irfan Khan in Maqbool. Look what he achieved subsequently.”
Trehan also cast singer Usha Uthup as the faithful maid ‘Maggie’ in 7 Khoon Maaf. “Vishal (Bahrdwaj, the film’s director) wasn’t convinced when I suggested her name. Later, during a discussion with Naseeruddin Shah, Vishal asked me to mention what I had in mind, and Naseer jumped at the idea,” says Trehan, who discovered Shweta Prasad (Makdee), Shreya Sharma (The Blue Umbrella), Delzad Hiwale (Bubble Gum, Chittagong), Chandan Roy Sanyal and Amole Gupte (Kaminey), and Kunal Roy Kapoor (Delhi Belly).
So how does it work? For many the answer lies in theatre, ad agency work and networking. That’s where they source talent from, a tedious process that consumes months or even a year.
For Amita Sehgal, 49, her ad film experience came in handy. “It all depends on how we interpret the script along with the director/producer,” she says. “Where the director is not the writer, our skills become more effective as we bring in our interpretations of the character,” says Sehgal who discovered Ayesha Kapoor (‘Michelle McNally’ in Black), Amrita Puri (Aisha) and Aditya Roy Kapoor (London Dreams).
But the job becomes most challenging when it comes to ensemble cast. Nandini Srikent (right), 37, agonized for days before finalising 72 faces for Lakshya (2004). For the Aamir Khan–Kareena Kappor-starrer Talaash, she had a tough time finding faces from different age-groups and different social milieus for the “super important roles”.
Often a casting director has to scout multiple cities. Mahmood Farooqui travelled to Jabalpur, Raipur, even as he scanned Bhopal’s theatre groups, before he found his farmer ‘Natha’ in Omkar Das Manikpuri for Peepli Live. Then there was Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who played a local journalist in the film, and has now shone in Kahaani.
As most new projects appoint casting directors to ensure that even the nurse, bartender and bystander in fleeting scenes are “actors”, those in the profession are beginning to take themselves seriously. “Almost all directors insist on actors. No non-actors will do for them today, and for that I charge a fee,” says Sehgal. No wonder then, a seasoned casting director can earn anything between Rs 8-10 lakh per project.
“With big budgets and multi projects per production house in a financial year, corporates have resorted to dividing responsibilities. The CD is here to stay,” says Komal Nahta, trade analyst and editor, Film Information magazine. We can see that.
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