(From L to R ) Mukesh Chhabra, Katrina Kaif and Jitendra Kumar
If there is one man who knows what is happening in the Mumbai film industry before anyone else, it is Mukesh Chhabra. The Delhi-born casting director is the first port of call for most major directors who want a cast that is authentic and diverse. Chhabra, who spent much of his youth in the one square mile in Delhi around the National School of Drama, casts his net far and wide, sometimes going to the Punjab film and pop industry to get Ammy Virk and Harrdy Sandhu for 83 or the back of a long queue of actors auditioning for Kai Po Che! to get Amit Sadh and the late Sushant Singh Rajput. Thanks to his job, he is privy to the stories we are soon to watch. So, how does he cast the movies? He says he follows the script, looks for honesty, sincerity of craft and simplicity. “People no longer want fairy tales. They want actors who look and speak like them,” he says. Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994) was the benchmark in casting for Chhabra, leading to a new generation of actors such as Manoj Bajpayee, Seema Biswas, Gajraj Rao and the late Nirmal Pandey. Tigmanshu Dhulia, now a well-regarded director, was the casting director then. Chhabra used the same principles to cast Gangs of Wasseypur in 2012, leading to yet another generation of fine actors, from Pankaj Tripathi to Jaideep Ahlawat. So, what are his recommendations for films to watch out for? Laal Singh Chaddha with Aamir Khan; Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s Brahmastra; Dunki, Rajkumar Hirani’s film with Shah Rukh Khan; Nitesh Tiwari’s Bawaal with Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor; Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Faadu; Anubhav Sinha’s Anek and Bheed; Hansal Mehta’s Faraaz with Aditya Rawal and Zahan Kapoor (son of Paresh Rawal and grandson of Shashi Kapoor, respectively) and the next seasons of Amazon Prime Video’s The Family Man and Netflix’s Delhi Crime. A director he sees a great future for? Amar Kaushik, who directed Stree (2018), Bala (2019) and is following it up with Bhediya. And actor? His vote goes to Sahil Mehta who has so far been seen in small roles in Tabbar. He is the surprise in Aanand L Rai’s forthcoming film, Raksha Bandhan, says Chhabra.
Could anyone smell cowdung in the village in Jayeshbhai Jordaar? Well, that may be drivel. Yash Raj Films is known to create idyllic villages and designer small towns, whether it is the mustard fields-encased house in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) or the small town meant to be Amritsar in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). Part of the reason is that actors, directors and writers are from small towns rather than villages. The other reason is that the village has become a cliché in Indian cinema, increasingly self-referential rather than drawn from reality. So, there is the panchayat sitting under a peepal tree (rather than an office), or people riding bullock carts rather than motorbikes, or people waiting months for a letter rather than using mobile phones. Chandan Roy, who comes from Manhar, a village in Bihar which was electrified only in 2015 and plays a panchayat officer in Amazon Prime Video’s Panchayat, says he has seen the evolution of his village from the days of the telegram to letters to greeting cards to mobile phones. Jitendra Kumar, the IIT Kharagpur graduate who plays the beloved Abhishek in Panchayat, also finds the depiction of villages in Bollywood amusing. “The dhoti-kurta clad villager is a thing of the past in most villages of India,” he says, with most places trying to imitate big cities with pucca houses and toilets. And that is where the problem arises, he says, in the lack of sewerage and absence of roads. Shot mostly in Sehore in Madhya Pradesh, he says the collector of the area found more than a ring of truth in Panchayat. As for the last time they saw a village depicted well onscreen? Both say Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Ganga Jumna (1961).
Scene and Heard
Modern Love Mumbai on Amazon Prime Video was all kinds of wonderful except its sometimes off-tangent subtitling. Do you know that Liam Neeson is Dharmendra’s equivalent on a global scale while Julia Roberts translates as Katrina Kaif, and Leonard Cohen would be the same as Mohammed Rafi?