Casting directors gaining credibility over talent management agencies makes filmmaking a more transparent process
The role of casting directors has drastically enhanced from suppliers or coordinators to integral stakeholders of the filmmaking process.
Recently, talent management companies that work with Hindi film stars came into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Casting for a film got cast under a shadow of speculative criticism too. Social media noise apart, casting for a film has undergone a sea change in recent years. The onslaught of content on OTT and quality of performances on the digital medium has led this change.
Talent management agencies make a neat sum when they land a celebrity a prized film and a brand endorsement or event appearance deal. Some also work with filmmakers and producers to land top stars meaty parts.
While talent management liaises with casting directors to find good parts, perspective of a star’s value to a project or a film has shifted. “We are in a transition period, which is for the good. Actors will have a say; it won’t just be about stars. Look at Pratik Gandhi. He has been around for 18 years, trying to hit the big league. He has been auditioning too. Scam 1992 came his way through an audition. He is now working with Yami Gautam and Taapsee Pannu, while he made his mark on OTT. This is a very positive change for the future of content,” says Honey Trehan.
A pioneering in casting, Trehan has worked on standout films like Omkara, Makdee, Maqbool, Fukrey Returns, Manikarnika: Queen of Jhansi, Sonchiriya, and Love Per Square Foot. Having turned director recently with Netflix film Raat Akeli Hai, he continues to cast for films. He recalls that while casting was a sideshow that a director’s assistants would handle, in the past 10 years, working with a casting director for a film has gradually become essential.
Abhishek Banerjee of Casting Bay echoes Trehan’s opinion. “The change that we have witnessed is in the approach to newcomers. People want to see newcomers; they are excited about working with new faces. That’s why we see so many new faces in both primary and secondary parts in films and web series. We have also seen a shift in how a casting director is viewed.
Earlier, we were treated like coordinators, like suppliers of actors. Now, we are involved in the creative aspect where in see the cast (of a film or web series) like the director.
So expectations from the casting director have also changed.”
Over the years, Casting Bay, co-owned by Banerjee and Anmol Ahuja, has become synonymous with character-led casting. Films like Pari, Phillauri, The Dirty Picture, Raid, and Angrezi Medium, and web series like Mirzapur, Pataal Lok, and Inside Edge reflect that each role, irrespective of length, requires suitable casting.
Banerjee recalls, “Casting for Mirzapur and Pataal Lok were very fulfilling experiences. Both shows have so many actors, who might have been noticed or got recognition, but stardom came through these series, and many actors found fame and applause. It’s a casting director’s dream that their actor gets recognised. I also think with Panchayat, our team achieved very rooted casting.”
Talent management agencies would typically cultivate or chase a successful filmmaker to land a good part for their star. Stars let their managers handle negotiations of fees and terms of casting. But this has altered swiftly, as projects across OTT have not needed stars to find audiences. Actors found through casting agencies do not break the bank; and they are willing to perform on the director’s terms.
An indicator of the dominance of stars across Hindi cinema content has been the absence of auditioning. When Aamir Khan auditioned Kareena Kapoor Khan for Laal Singh Chaddha, it was an exception. Trehan explains, “From my interactions with stars in the past 17 to 18 years, I find that most are open to auditioning. Some even welcome it. But for someone to audition an actor, one has to have a script that is worthy or one has huge credibility. When Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani or Vishal Bharadwaj asks a star to audition, it is because they want to try casting this person in a different light. If a new person, unless he has the script of The Godfather, I don’t think can ask a star to audition. I don’t want to name the star. At his home, I spotted a framed article titled ‘The art of auditioning.' Jokingly, I asked him if he would ever be open to one. He said, I would happily audition for a part. It’s a different thing that no one has asked me till date.”
Auditions have become simpler in the digital age, as Banerjee points out. Earlier, handheld cameras were used and casting teams filmed auditions. Actors can shoot an audition themselves on the phone, and send it to casting directors. This opens up room for new faces.
With casting directors taking over from talent management folks chasing roles, a key aspect that is still emerging in this space is of transparency. That actors are cast in a role, and then it goes to someone else is often spoken about. Sometimes stars face this too, as Pannu recently mentioned in the case of Pati, Patni Aur Woh.
The tug of war for a meaty part was driven by revenue and business considerations. It would come down to negotiations over a star’s remuneration. Casting directors bring in transparency to this process by catering to the requirements of a script.
Girdhar Swamy, who has cast for films like Wazir, Shanghai, and Andhadhun, recalls this from Sriram Raghavan’s National Film Award-winning project. “Sriram and Sanjay Routray (producer) make you work so hard! They cast an actor, and then want someone else. But they are only doing that for the sake of their story. That’s why the film turned out to be so good.” Creative considerations can lead to re-casting too.
In an industry where countless actors used to chase a few worthy parts, OTT content has brought multiple avenues to find work and get noticed. Murmurs of favouritism in casting continue. But the casting process, per say, has slowly begun to become professional. This has meant that a star’s presence is not mandatory to a project’s success, even though the biggest budgets and large-scale films still go to them. Mukesh Chabbra, who has been at the forefront of casting for major films and series (Asur, She, Brahmastra, Dil Bechara, Chicchore, Panga, and The Family Man) for over a decade now, sums it up. “In future, everyone will work only with a casting director (to cast) for series and films. This change is happening already. In the next two to three years, it will become the norm.”
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