One of the most important aspects of any film has to be the casting process. I got the chance to chat with India’s renowned casting guru Mukesh Chhabra who has evolved himself and his company in the last eight years. The Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company (MCCC) has become one of the most elite casting companies worldwide!
Before the Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company launched in 2008, what were you working on, and did you ever imagine to have such a large casting agency platform like you do today?
Mukesh Chhabra: I began my career with a short stint with NDTV and teaching with the TIE (Theatre in Education) company with National School of Drama. I come from a teaching background and will be ever so thankful for what I have learnt from my experience. Honestly, I did not imagine that I will come this far, but I did plan. I did aspire. My vision was to provide a platform. Thankfully it is happening and we will strive to be better.
Which was the first featured film you casted for, and are you proud looking back at it now for it being your first?
Mukesh Chhabra: Officially, my first film Richie Mehta’s AMAL. Richie is such a talented filmmaker and I was lucky that he put his trust in me. I couldn’t be more proud. P.S. – AMAL is now available on Netflix.
Can you briefly breakdown the difference between casting for a featured film, and an ad commercial?
Mukesh Chhabra: The two processes are very different. When I am casting for films, I am thinking of the script, the universe of the film, the language and authenticity of the actors. It is more story and realism oriented. You cannot cheat the audience. For example in Haider, a major portion of the film was casted locally from Kashmir. If we don’t do that, there will not be any conviction in the universe of the film. But commercials are not script driven. You have to take into account what the client is looking for, the target group and the interesting faces.
Let’s talk workshops…
How important is it for an actor to undergo a workshop?
Mukesh Chhabra: Honestly, its not my place to comment. To each their own. But I believe one thing. Whether an actor does a lot of workshops, or no workshops at all; they themselves need to find the actor within. You can lead the horse to the well, but it has to drink the water itself. Same thing. There is no guaranteed workshop to teach acting in my opinion.
Having said that, workshop for films is very important to make sure that all the primary characters are on the same page. For example Kai Po Che, we had to have a workshop with the three boys to develop the chemistry as well as work on the local language.
Have you seen an a-ray of difference for those who don’t go through a workshop?
Mukesh Chhabra: Not really. I know of actors who have done many workshops and are very good, I have met many actors who have not done a single workshop and still are very good. I have met actors who have done many workshops but still struggle to emote and similarly some actors without any exposure to workshops who have not honed the skill of acting yet. As I said, to each their own. There is no set pattern to this creative process but the chemistry that builds with workshop is vital.
Is a workshop always needed, or is it based off who the director is and what the script entails for that actors character?
Mukesh Chhabra: Lately, people prefer to do a workshop for their film beforehand to make the production process more effective. However, some scenes have to be played out on the set as otherwise it may have a monotony to the feel. Lot of improvisation happens on set which is great and should be kept as organic as possible.
What are some films you have casted for? And are you able to share some upcoming films you’ve casted for?
Mukesh Chhabra: The list is really really long. We do have a website called www.mccc.in with our full portfolio. To name a few, Chillar Party, Shahid, Gangs of Wasseypur, Nil Batte Sannatta, Badlapur, Haider, KaiPoChe, Tamasha, Rockstar, Raman Raghav, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Shaandaar, Fitoor, Highway, Bombay Velvet, last released being Parched and many many more.
In the future, we have much to look forward to – Vishal Bharadwaj’s Rangoon, Kabir Khan’s next, Nitish Tiwari’s Dangal, Hansal Mehta’s Omerta and another untitled, Sanjay Gupta’s Kaabil, Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani 2, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s next two features, Dinesh Vijan and Homi Adajania’s Raabta, Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend, Shashank Khaitan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania and many more which cannot be named at this stage.
Talking films & directors…
I have read Imtiaz Ali is one of the many favorites you have worked with. You have casted for four of his films, Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar, Highway, and Tamasha. What was the one thing you felt every time when working with Imtiaz on each of these beautiful, well made films?
Mukesh Chhabra: What I like the most about Imtiaz is how he gets involved with the story and makes his crew involved too. His purity towards his art is really something that I want to learn. He puts his thoughts in the smallest of the scenes.
What does it feel like when a film you’ve casted for doesn’t do well (both from critics and audience), for example a film like Shaandaar?
Mukesh Chhabra: Well, I feel gutted. I feel disappointed of course, but the success of a film depends on several things. Never the less, I am always proud of my team.
The new lot of actors are becoming just as successful as the older set of actors. Other than the script, how are you sure ‘this actor will be able to handle this role’?
Mukesh Chhabra: Action speaks louder than words. We know right from the process of audition that a certain actor will be able to pull of a certain role. You do have to trust an actor as well. That is exactly why a casting director is required. A lot of my decisions are instinctive related to whether an actor would be apt for the part or no. I am thankful to be having the right eye.
Can you send out any message, or tips to any aspiring actors? And perhaps any message, or tips to any aspiring filmmakers as well?
Mukesh Chhabra: Wouldn’t really have a tip for aspiring filmmakers really. Thy are the captain of their ship after all. We work with the brief received from them.
For actors, I would say is that cut out the negativity. Be around creative people more. Avoid talking about people. If rejected, learn from your experience and always look ahead. I always tell actors in my workshops to do one creative thing everyday. It will keep you grounded and creative.