Casting director Abhimanyu Ray says signing new actors brings a sense of mystery to characters on screen. Ray’s latest project, Netflix movie Class of ’83, marks the debut of five new faces – Sameer Paranjape, Bhupendra Jadawat, Prithvik Pratap, Ninad Mahajani and Hitesh Bhojraj.
Ray has previously worked as casting director for Bollywood movies like Chak De India, Kabul Express, Rocket Singh, Teen Patti and Tahaan. He has also worked on projects like Mahi Way, Powder and Aarya.
In a candid chat with indianexpress.com, Abhimanyu Ray takes us through his process of casting, things that aspiring actors do wrong, and how he managed to find the newcomers for Atul Sabharwal directorial Class of ’83.
Here are excerpts from the interaction:
Q. When you land a project, how do you begin the casting process?
I look forward to a director who’s willing to take chances. That doesn’t always mean casting unknown people. Sometimes, you do require a known face. But very often, one can try out a new face that might enhance the role, instead of going with a known person. It’s a calculated decision.
Q. What made you take up Class of ’83?
This is the first film I have done in 10 years. The exciting part was new faces were preferred. It gives a sense of mystery to the characters. Atul and I were clear about that, and I think it worked.
Q. How was it casting five newcomers in Class of ’83?
I wanted people not easily recognisable. We looked into Marathi theatre, TV and films. I met Sameer and Prithvik for the first time. I had already auditioned Ninad before. Bhupendra had come to meet me with a friend when he moved to Mumbai. I’ve always felt very strongly about Hitesh. He’s extremely talented and I wondered why no one had caught hold of him thus far. It was a very long and tough audition process for all of them. We had several rounds, combinations, improvisations, we switched characters to see who fits better. Finally, these five boys emerged.
Q. What was your favourite scene in the film?
I think where Hitesh and Ninad are having an argument over the mill workers. One really got absorbed in that scene. Although in the audition we had them pulling each others’ collars, it didn’t make it in the edit.
Interestingly, I tested them for that scene. By the time we would finish rehearsing and begin the take, it would be lunch time. After this happened for a few days, I felt bad about keeping them hungry. So I told my camera guy to make daal and chapati for everybody. We had a boy standing near them as a waiter serving them chapatis in the middle of the take. So two things happened, one, they got to eat while working, and two, it looked more authentic when they were eating. By the time the take was done, everyone was full.
Q. Do you get recommendations from the director or producers in the casting process?
I’m open to recommendations but it has to work. I’m even open to testing the person who’s been recommended. But it shouldn’t be forced upon. It’s all a team work, and important to work in sync.
Q. And do you ever suggest changes to the writers to ensure a character fits an actor better?
Often, it happens that someone is close to the character, but isn’t fitting what’s written. Like for Bhupendra, what was written wasn’t hundred per cent him. He is a very tall and thin guy, and when I read the script, I imagined a physically stronger-looking person. But we thought we would rather have an actor who’s more interesting. He could bring Shukla to life by making a few adjustments that wouldn’t change the story. Although it was a Hindi film, I wanted their accent to be Maharashtrian and so was keen on casting Marathi actors. Bhupendra is from Rajasthan. However, because he’s a good actor, we were sure he’d pick the nuances of the script. So, both Atul and I were ready to take chances. Now, I can’t imagine anyone else doing that job.
Q. Do you give preference to theatre background during the casting process?
Theatre is never a requirement for me. I’ve come across very talented people who’ve never been exposed to theatre and TV actors who are way better. So that cannot become a litmus test. The idea is to give anyone and everyone that opportunity to prove themselves. If they’ve done theatre, great. You just need to be good at what you’re doing. The important thing is how consistent an actor will be and how much will the audience want to watch this person.
Q. What’s been your most favourite casting experience?
I would say Chak De India. It was a very different time for us, technologically also. Right now, I can look for actors sitting in my office. But during Chak De, I had to fly to Delhi, from one college to another, and then another state. There was a lot of pressure to get the cast right, and that made it more exciting.
Q. What if during the course of a film, you realise that an actor would’ve fit another character better?
That has never happened. Though I did feel certain actors could’ve done a better job or a scene could’ve been directed better. There are many factors that help an actor perform well, like the shooting environment, director, dialogues. But I don’t think I have ever felt that I shouldn’t have cast that person.
Read: Bobby Deol: If I look back, the only cop I’ll remember playing is Vijay Singh in Class of 83 | Bobby Deol was in sync with emotion of script: Class of 83 director Atul Sabharwal | Class of 83 actor Hitesh Bhojraj: People won’t call us a ‘struggler’ now
Q. What’s that one thing you’d advise all aspiring actors to not do during the casting process?
The only thing they are doing wrong is imitate one another which leads to complete mediocrity. We talk about change but nothing’s gonna happen if we keep on repeating ourselves. They must always be original when they do any form of art. For me, a person’s actual personality is very important and I keep telling actors that if a part doesn’t require you to become somebody completely different, try and retain yourself in the character.
Q. Do casting directors require to be good actors too? Can you act?
What happens is when you are constantly directing people during the casting process, you just become a little better. But I don’t think I would qualify as an actor. I don’t want to be in front of the camera.
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