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Spotting Hidden Talent

Casting director Honey Trehan, who is basking in the success of Udta Punjab, reveals that he looks for interesting people rather than just suitable actors every time he starts working on a new film.

On the brief

Abhishek (Chaubey) and I have known each other for 14 years as both of us were assistant directors to Vishal sir (Bhardwaj). During that time, he also took an interest in writing while I was looking at casting. Ever since then, we have always shared ideas, whether simple one-liners or entire script-reading sessions. So he and Sudip Sharma were working on the subject of Udta Punjab, which was very niche, and one day, he gave me a narration. There was no actual brief as we are familiar with each other’s style of working. So he narrated the script to me; it is very important for me to hear the script from my director so that I can visualise what he wants to make.

On casting

When Abhishek narrated the script to Vikramaditya Motwane, it was he who suggested that we pitch it to big actors. We narrated it to Shahid Kapoor, who agreed to do the film. So the lead cast was sorted with Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor Khan. As for the other characters… Sonu (Vansh Bharadwaj), who gives substance to Alia, actually wants to become a Roadie. There was a very nice line in the film which was eventually deleted. Here, he keeps giving Alia hope, and says, ‘Kuch dino ki baat hain, ek baar main Roadies ban gaya toh Mumbai chalenge.’ The character has a back story. We then went to Punjab, where we cast 68 characters.

Other cast

The drug leader is from Seema Biswas’ batch from NSD (National School of Drama). He lives in a village in Punjab, and every evening, he and the kids of his village engage in theatre. The woman who plays Diljit’s grandmother, Neena Tiwana, was Om Puriji’s teacher. She is also the first female graduate from NSD. She had only two scenes but she delivered them with amazing conviction, in just one take!  When you get to work with a cast like this, it’s outstanding and you also learn a lot.

The duo who does the rap in the jail were two boys whom we met in Punjab. When I told them about their part, they said they had prepared a rap routine and sang ‘Je hota, woh hote, udta moga, moga udta.’ We used it in the film. There were a few people who were facing the camera for the first time. In the scene where you see Diljit entering the hospital, there’s a man handing out pamphlets and saying, ‘Koi bhi nashe ki …’ This guy had come to our sets in Punjab and he spoke without a pause. That’s what I liked about him. He has only that one small scene but I loved it and we let him use his own style while playing his part. I look for characters, not people who will suit the role. You have to keep your eyes peeled to spot hidden talent.

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