When I texted casting Mukesh Chabbra for an interview, he replied back immediately. It took me by surprise, since he is the man who gave us actors like Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra, and Fatima Sana Shaikh, among others. He started his career as an independent casting director with a small-budget film Chintuji and then worked hard and made his directorial debut with a Hindi remake of The Fault in Our Stars, Dil Bechara. Mukesh Chhabra has come a long way. Chhabra did the casting for various films of different genres which includes movies like Kai Po Che, Shahid, Chennai Express, Gang Of Wasseypur, Jai Ho, Hasee To Phasee, Mastram, D-day, the recently released film Faraaz, and many more. Delhi Crime was honoured with the Emmy Award.
In an exclusive interview with FinancialExpress.com’s Eshita Bhargava, Mukesh Chhabra spoke about the role of casting directors, actors he found, his equation with Sushant Singh Rajput, recognition given to the casting directors, and more. Edited experts from the interview:
What’s the role of a casting director in a film?
Ans – A Casting Director bridges the gap between a Director and an Actor.
When did you decide to become a casting director? Tell us your story.
Is there a formula or do you follow your instinct while selecting artists?
Ans – I have to say my instinct. And it has very rarely disappointed me. Once I find an actor that looks the part, half my job is done
Casting in Hindi films is in its golden period. The lesser-known actors are now being recognized for their work. What do you have to say about that and how do you think that happened?
Ans – The rise of OTT & digital platforms has led to an upsurge in opportunities in the field of acting. Digital platforms have given us the space for more experimentation.
Who are your best-found actors? And what did you see in them?
Ans – There are many actors like Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Pratik Gandhi, Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao, and the list goes on. Their honesty towards their craft is what made me believe in them.
While selecting someone for a role, how do you decide if they’d fit in? It’s not easy to imagine someone in the role. How do you do it?
Ans – Believability is the most important thing I look for in an actor. I need to know that they can become characters.
What was that one film that changed the casting game for the industry?
Ans – Gangs of Wasseypur.
Be it Jaideep Ahlawat in Rockstar or Gangs of Wasseypur or Pratik Gandhi in Scam 1992, Tabbar, Aranyak, or even Rajkummar Rao in Shahid, you recognized the potential of these actors. What was it that made you believe in them?
Ans – Honesty towards their craft is what makes in believe in any actor. For me, the actor who does justice to the character is the one perfect for the role.
Do actors hold grudges against you when they face rejection at auditions? How do you deal with their emotional outburst?
Ans – I think people sometimes do not understand that we will only do what’s best for the role/script. Sometimes actors take it personally when they are not selected. We only cast actors that best suit a particular role, it is nothing personal. It’s absolutely fine when an actor rejects a role/audition. It is his/her choice. We look for the next best option, it’s all a part of the process. I only focus on talent. And we thoroughly enjoy casting new faces and bringing to the screen untapped talent. This country is full of Actors and we as casting directors are surviving only because of talented actors.
What or which film has been the turning point for you?
Ans – Gangs of Wasseypur was the turning point in my life in every possible way.
What was your first film? Take us back to the memories. What was the casting process like back then?
Ans – While I was in Delhi, I realised I was good at finding the kind of actors needed for a project, especially children. One of my first assignments while in Delhi was Vishal Bhardwaj’s Blue Umbrella, which made realised that this can be a very interesting job.
Do you think casting directors never get their due recognition? People are just concerned about who the actors are or who the director is in a film.
Ans – Casting Directors are getting their due recognition now much more than before. I am happy that it started happening with me many years ago after Gangs of Wasseypur, I started getting a lot of love and respect. But as more and more casting directors are being given their due recognition, it gives all of us the opportunity to grow together.
You made a film with Sushant Singh Rajput. Dil Bechara has the highest rating on IMDb. What are your memories with him? What made you choose him?
Ans – Sushant was like a brother to me I always wanted to make my first film with Sushant Singh Rajput. I felt that there was a strange universal connection between us. After hearing the script of the film, I became clearer about casting Sushant.
Are you taking your direction forward after Dil Bechara?
Ans – I am already in the middle of something. But honestly, I am in no hurry. The day a story finds me, I will make that film. There is so much casting work happening right now, so I don’t want to leave it midway. I will do it when my heart says I have to do it.”
Is casting fun?
Ans – It is. It is also a big responsibility. A lot of people still don’t know that. It took a lot of years to get that respect, that this is a very important department. One will get bored and exhausted if you don’t enjoy the process.
You are credited to have a streamlined casting business in Hindi cinema. Please comment
Ans – Finding new talent is not difficult. Our country is filled with so many new talents. It’s always been like that, just that there was no opportunity.
How have the OTT platforms changed casting?
Ans – OTT platforms have made the process of casting more exciting. The actors who used to play very small parts in films are now seen playing major roles in web series and shows on OTT platforms. The pressure on OTT platforms is lesser, which has led to easier casting and has made the process more open.
What’s next? Have you spotted any other actors?
Ans – There’s a lot in the pipeline. You’ll hear about them soon.