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Cast Factor

Working as assistants to casting directors brings aspiring actors closer to their dream break.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza |
October 24, 2013 4:14:12 am

After moving to Mumbai from Allahabad,Prashant Singh spent a year “struggling” to get a break in films as an actor. Looking at his fast-depleting finances,Singh decided to take up a job even as he pursued his dream. An opportunity to work as an assistant with casting director Atul Mongia not only became a means to survive in the city but also put him inside the audition room — something that can take years for an aspiring actor to achieve.

In the two years that Singh has worked with Mongia,he has helped cast for five films,including Lootera. His own film break,however,came only recently when debutant director Kanu Bahl,impressed by his talent during an acting workshop,decided to cast him for his film Titli.

On his part,Mongia says working with aspiring actors benefits casting directors too,and is thus a common practice in the film industry. “Earlier,casting was left to assistant directors — they were responsible for giving cues to the actors who came for the auditions. The stress on casting and finding the perfect actors for the given characters,has changed the way auditions are conducted. We understand that a good actor will perform better if he has another capable performer enacting the scene with him or her. If the cue is spot-on and the casting assistant is able to set the mood for the scene,the actor is likely to deliver a better performance,” says Mongia,who prefers to work with aspiring actors.

Apart from acting talent,these assistants also bring with them a strong network of other aspiring actors. Armed with the script,they understand character requirements as well as the director’s vision. “Several of us have studied in Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) or National School of Drama (NSD) and/or worked in theatre. We are also part of informal networks for aspiring actors,so we are able to call the apt talent for auditions,” says Karan Mally,who has been working with casting director Nandini Shrikent for a year and has been cast in an indie film.

On the other hand,working with a casting director helps these aspiring-actors-cum-assistants stay informed about the auditions taking place and also brings them in direct contact with a number of directors and producers. For instance,Taran Bajaj is often approached by filmmaker friends of his boss,casting director Honey Trehan,to do bit roles in their films. “That’s how I ended up playing minor characters in Love Sex Aur Dhokha,John Day,Zanjeer and a few other films,” says Bajaj,who has been working with Trehan for four years.

Don’t they feel pangs of envy when they find someone else for interesting characters that they themselves would have liked to play? Bajaj admits that there are moments when he feels he could do a better job,but being an actor also instills in him the passion to cast right. He recounts that while casting for Fukrey,the team was so impressed with his cues for Choocha’s character (Choocha was one of the main protagonists) that they insisted he cut his hair and play the part.

“But I’m a Sikh and couldn’t have done that,” says Bajaj,who eventually found the ideal Choocha in Varun Sharma. Singh adds that the job also helps them view casting objectively. “Every character has requirements,in terms of body type,face,voice and sometimes even ethnic background. This knowledge helps me as an actor,” he says.

Then there are some who,over time,have come to treat casting as their profession and acting as their passion. Apart from Mongia and Singh — the latter has partnered with friend Vinod Rawat to cast independently — Mukesh Chhabra is an example of this. Trehan recounts that Chhabra,credited for having cast for Gangs of Wasseypur,Kai Po Che! and Shahid,was working for him as an assistant. “I had cast him as Guddu’s friend in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey. He is now a casting director and lives out his passion by playing bit roles where he’d fit in,such as Gangs of Wasseypur and Peddlers,” he says.

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