Sunday, June 23, 2024

Indian casting directors bat for recognition after Oscars introduce new category


With the Oscars introducing a new category for achievement in casting, the time has come for the unsung crew to finally get their due, say Hindi cinema’s casting directors who want a similar award to be instituted here.

From Seema Biswas as Phoolan Devi in Bandit Queen to Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi in Omkara and the relatively unknown Suvinder Vicky in the OTT show Kohrra to Jaideep Ahlawat in Pataal Lok, casting has played a pivotal role in bringing to life characters of different shades.

“If you cast a film right, you get the film right. If you don’t cast a film right, you are hitting your head against the wall”, director Shekhar Kapur told PTI. Casting directors agree.

“We follow everything that the West does so in that case we should also start something similar in Bollywood”, said Mukesh Chhabra, amongst the most sought after casting directors in Hindi cinema, about the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences decision to give an Oscar for achievement in casting from 2026.

“Directors have been saying that if the casting is right, 60% of the job is done. Then why was that department not getting recognition? It is high time that Bollywood also realises this and starts acknowledging the effort of the casting directors”, Honey Trehan, who is also a film director, added.

Considered a ‘casting pioneer’, Trehan’s credits include Maqbool, Omkara, Kaminey, Udta Punjab, Talvar and Sonchiriya.

A casting director, he said, works in complete sync with the director.

He recalled how he cast Punjabi singer-movie star Diljit Dosanjh, discovered Kohrra tar Vicky and convinced Vishal Bhardwaj to cast filmmaker Amole Gupte to play a negative role in Kaminey.

“I wanted Diljit badly for Udta Punjab and we stood by it”, Trehan said.

He said Gupte was finalised for the main villain’s role in Kaminey just 5 days before the shooting began.

“We did not have any actor for the role of Bhope bhau in Kaminey. Vishal ji was after my life. He said, ‘Can I call or check with Nana sir, Ashish Vidyarthi?” In a newspaper, there was a column where a celebrity is discussing one of her dishes and I saw Amole Gupte sitting on a jhula and he described his favourite dish. I looked at him and felt he was Bhope Bhau.

“I called Amole Gupte and said, ‘I want you to act’. He didn’t take my call seriously. Eventually, he agreed for a meeting, and we spoke for 3 hours. We finally had Bhope Bhau”, Trehan recalled. According to Chhabra, who has been in the industry for over 15 years and has done the casting for Gangs of Wasseypur, Dangal and Bajrangi Bhaijaan as well as OTT shows such as The Family Man and Scam 1992, the initiative by the Academy Awards pushes them to work even harder.

“Now that we have got recognition in the form of an award, our dream is to get an Oscar for India as a casting director”, he said.

Casting Bay, co-owned by Abhishek Banerjee and Anmol Ahuja is synonymous with character-led casting on streaming platforms ~ be it Ahlawat in Pataal Lok, Siddhant Chaturvedi in Inside Edge or the cast of Mirzapur.

Despite the hard work, casting work remains a “thankless” job, Banerjee told PTI.

“Though this (Oscar category) is happening far far away and in a completely different industry, it’s great for casting directors across the world. There’s a lot of work that goes in finding the right actors. It’s an important job in the film”, Banerjee said.

Also an established actor, he credits casting directors for bringing to the fore some talented faces in Indian cinema and streaming space.

“Both Jaideep and Chaturvedi have proved their worth. It’s a proud feeling that we could work with them at an early stage. Also, the entire cast of Mirzapur… we are extremely proud of them and they all are doing so good”, he said.

His Casting Bay partner Ahuja said casting direction was a fairly new concept in Hindi cinema till just about 2 decades ago.

“From us being called a fake department to our efforts being recognised and getting space either in the opening credits or a movie poster feels great. With the recognition comes responsibility of performing well each time and working in an ethical manner”, he said.

One of those who brought the concept of casting into mainstream cinema is Kapur, who changed the scene with his 1994 film Bandit Queen when he credited Tigmanshu Dhulia for doing the casting in the main credits.

According to Kapur, filmmaking is a collaborative effort and casting directors are as important as an editor or a director.

“I’ve never made a film without a casting director… What you need is a casting director who completely understands you.” “I needed a casting director who understood and knew those people. I did not know this world. Tigmanshu was from National School of Drama (NSD), he knew everyone there. He introduced me to Manoj, Seema, Nirmal and every other actor in Bandit Queen”. When they shot in villages, they got local actors.

“Tigmanshu would go out and look for local nautanki actors, and bring them to me. I would not have been able to make Bandit Queen without him”, the director said.

Casting directors, according to Kapur, deserve appreciation for bringing forth fresh talent from Hindi cinema, especially on OTT.

“It is amazing to see the number of new talents on OTT platforms, how do you find them? It’s because of the casting director, who goes and finds the actors”, the director added.

In the US, the Casting Society of America was formed in 1982. In India, there’s no such dedicated association of casting directors, said Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) President BN Tiwari.

Casting directors are usually paid about Rs 15 to 30 lakh or more for a movie based on the size of the film, according to a source associated with the profession.