Mukesh Chhabra: Gangs of Wasseypur script had so long that I had to cast 384 actors to create a new world
Mukesh Chhabra talks to HT about the world of casting and also has stories to share about films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Satyaprem Ki Katha.
Mukesh Chhabra is synonymous with the job of a ‘casting director’ in Bollywood. He has cast several new and old actors in around 300 films, giving them the first avenue to carve out successful and illustrious careers in the film industry. From casting Sushant Singh Rajput and Rajkummar Rao in Kai Po Che, Munni in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim in Dangal, Mukesh has a long list of actors whom he recognized for their talent. Also read: Mukesh Chhabra on casting couch in film industry: ‘There is a fear after MeToo movement and that fear should exist’
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Mukesh opened up about the world of casting and how it's always the talent that matters. He also talked about the casting of star kids versus outsiders and the film that changed his career path, Gangs of Wasseypur. Excerpts:
You studied acting but you went on to become a casting director. Tell us more about this profession.
It was a one-off field, I wanted to make this job professional so that people understand its value. When I was an assistant director to a filmmaker, I was always given this job of finding actors. It started from there. I realised no one was taking it seriously and decided to make a path. Now more people are into this job. I am happy that when people talk about casting, my name will be mentioned whether I am in the world or not.
What kind of requests do you or your company get each day?
People do try to reach us, try to talk to us. They try to talk to my team members. We tell them whosoever performs well in front of the camera will be chosen. We take only the one who suits the script and is approved by the director. Any other request doesn't work.
People who are working in this industry, most of them are outsiders.
How often do you take references and recommendations to cast them in films?
We do our formal duty, meet people and tell them the truth. But after meeting them, if we realise they do not have talent, then nothing works. Only the one who is able to perform in front of the camera survives.
How wide is the gap between casting a star kid and a person with no links?
If you look closely, all the successful Bollywood actors from Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Kartik Aaryan, Kriti Sanon to Sanya Malhotra, Vijay Varma are outsiders. At the same time, many star kids are also working well. Whosoever is talented gets work. People who are working in this industry, most of them are outsiders. If star kids were coming from every single film family, others may have not found work. That time has gone, it's not like that anymore. Ab raja ka beta raja nahi banega, jo sahi hai, wohi banega (now son of the king will not become the king. Now only the one who is worthy will become the king)."
How often has it happened that you had to give preference to a star kid instead of an outsider?
I mostly got opportunities to work on films which required a completely new cast like Kai Po Che, Laila Majnu, Gangs of Wasseypur, Dangal. I have also worked on films for which star kids were already finalised and I had to do the rest of the casting. I got the chance of balancing both the types.
What I am today is because of Gangs of Wasseypur after which I was able to establish myself.
Did Anurag Kashyap give a special brief for casting of Gangs of Wasseypur?
Anurag had said this is one film which will have an entire new cast. The script has so much that I got the opportunity to cast 384 actors to create a new world. My only aim was how to keep it very real. Many big names who are doing good work in the industry right now are from the film. There was no pressure to cast any specific person.
I have done 300 films after Gangs of Wasseypur. People mostly praise me for Kai Po Che, Gangs of Wasseypur or casting Munni in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, but there are also Rockstar, Tamasha, Sanju, Dangal and many, many more. But what I am today is because of Gangs of Wasseypur after which I was able to establish myself.
The pairing of Gajraj Rao and Supriya Pathak looks interesting in Satyaprem Ki Katha.
Watch Gajraj Rao, Supriya Pathak and the entire film. Siddharth Randeria, who is very popular in Gujarat is also there. You will see how I have tried to bring a certain freshness in the film. All these actors have done a lot of work but I have tried to present them differently. I wanted to bring back Gajraj Rao after a long time. They are so senior and so talented (Manoj Pahwa, Seema Pahwa and all others) - they all are so phenomenal. Aap inhe kisi bhi role mein daalo, ye kamaal hi karte hain (put them in any role and they will deliver a brilliant performance).
Any comments on the casting of Jawan?
No. Despite me being a part of the project, I am waiting for Jawan as patiently as you. You will get many surprises in the film cast.