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Importance of a casting director in a project is finally being recognized: Mukesh Chhabra

Dil Bechara director looks back at a ‘bittersweet’ year

Priyanka Roy  Published 28.01.21, 11:07 PM
Mukesh Chhabra

Mukesh Chhabra Sourced by the correspondent

Casting director Mukesh Chhabra turned film-maker last year with Dil Bechara, that marked his good friend Sushant Singh Rajput’s last release, after the actor’s untimely death in June. Even as Dil Bechara opened to big numbers on Disney+Hotstar, the Netflix series Delhi Crime — that Mukesh had cast for — won India’s first International Emmy and the 40-year-old has also won big praise for the authentic faces he’s brought to Scam 1992, the biggest success story of 2020.

Your directorial debut in Dil Bechara, the International Emmy honour for Delhi Crime, the praise for Scam 1992.... It’s been a good year that’s gone by...


It’s been a rollercoaster ride... so many things have happened. Some have been good, some very bittersweet. Having Dil Bechara release so big, but not having Sushant (Singh Rajput) with us was very painful. I really couldn’t enjoy the success of Dil Bechara... in fact, I don’t even know how I feel about Dil Bechara because whenever I think of the film, I only think of Sushant (pauses).

Of course, on the bright side, there have been the triumphs of Delhi Crime and Scam (1992). When I look back, I see a year that brings about many mixed feelings.

Has Delhi Crime been one of the toughest you have cast for?

It was definitely a show which wasn’t very easy to cast. Given the sensitive issue (the Delhi rape case of 2012) it dealt with, I needed to be very careful and sensitive while casting for this show. To be honest, I was very disturbed while casting for Delhi Crime, just to see actors re-enacting the same scenes over and over again, and realising that such an incident had actually happened in our country. There were times when I really felt, ‘Yaar, why am I casting for this? It’s disturbing me so much’. But I just powered on, all credit to Richie Mehta, the director of the show, who brought so much sensitivity and empathy to the show. I am happy that while casting we didn’t lose out on the kind of authenticity that this show demanded.

Scam 1992 is, of course, the big surprise of 2020. What were the challenges of casting for the show and how did you zero in on Pratik Gandhi, who has been the biggest success story of the year, to play Harshad Mehta ?

Hansal Mehta (the director of Scam 1992) and I have worked together for the last nine years, ever since Shahid (2013). The understanding that we have is fabulous. When he told me about Scam, the first thing that we both agreed on is that the show should have absolutely new faces. That, in itself, gave me a lot of freedom to bring in new talent, or at least actors who haven’t been seen so much. I had done a film with Pratik called Loveyatri, in which he played the hero’s (Aayush Sharma’s) friend. I had also watched his film Wrong Side Raju and I knew that he was a very, very good actor. Pratik was very good in the auditions, he had good command over his language and immense experience in theatre, and we went with him.

The first thing that we did for Scam was to get a bunch of Gujarati actors, so as to maintain authenticity. Mujhe pata tha ki iske liye mujhe poora Gujarat create karna padega... like when I cast for (Gangs of) Wasseypur, I created UP (Uttar Pradesh) and even recently, for Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Vaani Kapoor), I cast a lot of actors from Punjab. So, authenticity is very important. I am so happy that even besides Pratik, all other actors on the show have got so much praise.

Do you finally feel that the process of casting and casting directors are finally getting their due in the industry?

Yes, it’s happening 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.

The importance of a casting director in a project is finally being recognised. Dus saal pehle, no one would take us seriously because no one thought of this as a profession that had any kind of future. From there, we are now in a position where we are credited in the film’s opening slides and on its posters. Cinema in India is changing, and I am very glad that casting directors are a big part of that change. We need to bring in more talent, spread our wings and open our casting offices in Tier-2 and Tier-3 towns. That’s where a lot of the talent is in.

I came in to be a part of cinema. I quickly realised that the job of a casting director is something that people weren’t taking seriously then. Now I have so many youngsters joining me, assisting me and looking at casting as a viable career option. The only thing is that there are institutes for casting, directing, editing, but nothing for casting. I encourage young people to intern with me and try and teach them what goes into the process of casting.

What are the upcoming films that you have cast for that have you excited?

There’s ’83, Brahmastra, Atrangi Re, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui.... Then there is Delhi Crime 2 and Family Man 2.

And what plans as director after Dil Bechara?

I have just got back to casting full-time again and I am really enjoying it. In the next six-seven months, I am only going to focus on casting. When I come across a good script and my heart says I should make it, I will direct it. I am not in a hurry.

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