People say that to get the cast right is half the job done and in Bollywood, that particular half is more often than not handled by casting director Mukesh Chhabra. Here he is in conversation with Bhakti Mehta on what goes into choosing the right actors, his dream to set up a casting institute and his directorial debut
We all know that you will make your debut as a director with Dil Bechara soon. Let’s go back in time and tell us about that one film or that one director that inspired you to take this step?
During this process of casting, many times I felt that I should maybe get into making a film. I have also worked as an assistant director before. I have been contemplating it since a couple of years that I should get into direction because it is something that I have always wanted to do. But casting happened to me so interestingly that I kept doing it and loving it. When I got the chance to be part of a film in the capacity of a director, I thought that I am ready.
As for the inspiration, when you work with any director, it somehow registers in your subconscious, it affects you in a way. And then you get inspired so much from them. Then you see how these filmmakers are working and I have worked with so many directors, and so many amazing ones at that like Rajkumar Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, with everyone more or less and it was always in me to understand what they were doing on set, so I was inspired little by little by every filmmaker I have worked with. These people have played a very important part in my life and in my career.
What made you pick up such a famous story to tell with your first film?
There are some films I connect with on a personal level and I can only make films like that. I feel it has to come from the inside as to what you want to do. You have to know your voice and this was it for me. My voice told me that I should make a film like this and that I why decided to adapt The Fault In Our Stars.
Did you like the movie or the book of The Fault In Our Stars?
You will be surprised to know that I have not seen the film. I have only read the book and that is where I got that emotional connect.
Let’s talk about your casting process especially since we have a successful example recently with Super 30, which you had cast for.
The process for Super 30 was all teamwork. To do anything successfully, to get a good cast onboard you need to have a good team. My team is just amazing. My team has been working with me since years and they are very efficient and fully trained. With them, I travelled to the interiors of India, especially places like Bihar and Bhopal. We went to many places like these and made a list of 14,000 children for this film. There are about 30 to 35 kids that are part of Super 30. So from these 14,000 kids, we kept on auditioning them. We needed children from a certain class, certain looks, their age was supposed to be right and many others aspect that came into play when we were casting for this. After auditioning 14,000 kids we shortlisted 2,000 children then we came down to 500, then to 300, then to 200 and finally got the kids that we wanted for the film. This entire process took around six to seven months. Then with their inclination towards the role, towards the film, their aptitude for the characters they were playing, we did workshops with them and finalised the 30-35 kids we wanted and those are the ones you see in the film.
You are known to get the right actor for the right role and you have done just that not only with lead actors but also with the supporting casts in several films.
For any film to be good and to be successful, your supporting cast has to be right. The small scenes and the nuances of those scenes with this supporting cast is what makes a film become a good one in its entirety. You see any film, a strong supporting cast always plays a huge part in it. And today, people want to see films with an ensemble cast; it is not only about the hero or heroine. The audience looks for the feel of a film and in that, it is very important to get the right cast.
Any particular actor that you can tell us about?
I am a huge fan of Pankaj Tripathi’s work. I was stuck during Gangs Of Wasseypur on his role then I got him. Same with Rajkummar Rao’s role in Kai Po Che! There are a lot of films that I get stuck on sometimes for a role and then I find the person I think can pull it off best. And if I see that if an actor is correct for a part, then I will go to any length to fight for them. And thankfully so far, I have been right. I hope and I wish that this instinct of mine always turns out to be right.
Does your instinct play a pivotal part in you selecting an actor?
Actually, it is only my instinct that comes into play. When I am auditioning someone, understanding the vision of the director, the idea behind the script, if I impulsively feel that I find this person right, then I think that the audience will like them too. I try to pick out that rawness. There is no institute that teaches you how to do casting. It is actually my dream to open a school for casting. I want more people to learn this craft. Right now, I am focusing on casting but gradually I will move to direction but I want this to be known out there that getting the cast right and the process of it is a very, very important part of any film.
So if you go back to the time when you started casting to becoming an actor in a few films and now becoming a director, how would you describe this journey?
I feel very lucky that I have received a lot of love. I have received a lot of support in my casting career and that support has been there when I wanted to become a director. Whenever I appear in a film for a scene or two, I get a lot of love. I want to be connected to the film industry and I want to do that via any medium whether it is acting, direction or casting. I now do whatever I feel is the right next step, I take different paths but my first love will always be casting.
You spoke about workshops earlier. How important are workshops before starting a film?
If you take the example of Super 30, there is a lot that goes into making kids understand the medium that they are working on. They have to work in a big budget film, share the same screen space with a huge star like Hrithik Roshan so there is a certain discipline on set that they have to maintain and all those things are something that we work on during the workshops. There are marks that you have stand on, camera techniques, many things that one needs to know and this process helps them. And it is not just the novices but someone like Hrithik sir also did workshops with Vinod Rawat and that helped him deliver such a fantastic performance. There are films where I have not done the casting but conducted workshops.
So all these aspects must have helped you while you working on your own film.
Yes, of course! Patience is one thing that the casting career has taught me because when you are auditioning so many actors, you have to have patience. Also I have assisted before, so I got to learn the technical aspects of what goes into making a film. Actually, whatever you have done in your life, wherever you have worked, that experience always helps when you are making a film.
Are you working on directing other films right now? Anything in mind?
Right now I am only doing casting for a bit and I am really enjoying it. I have been away from casting since some time because I was concentrating on my own film. I felt like I am parent who has been away from his child. So I am back to this right now and I will continue this for the next couple of years. I do have some ideas in mind but I will work on them later.