Casting for Success: Mukesh Chhabra On Streamlining Casting In Bollywood

To him goes the credit for streamlining the casting process in the Hindi film industry. The name synonymous with casting for such memorable films as ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Kabir Singh’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, ‘Sanju’ and ‘Brahmastra’, speaks about his approach, goals and more.

By Nichola Marie

Casting director, director, acting coach, and writer – Mukesh Chhabra wears multiple hats but his expertise in the realm of casting takes centrestage. And he worked his way to that position, first training for two years to understand the craft of acting at the Shri Ram Centre. He followed that up with nine years of acting and teaching with the Theatre in Education Company (TIE) affiliated with the National School of Drama. Founding the Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company (MCCC ) in 2008, he has steered it to its position as a leading casting company in India. With a sharp and undeniable eye for talent, he has discovered faces like Rajkummar Rao, the late Sushant Singh Rajput, Mrunal Thakur, Pratik Gandhi, Sanya Malhotra and Fatima Sana Shaikh, among others. At the heart of his company MCCC is the belief in nurturing new talents to carve a niche in the big bustling world of Hindi cinema.

“Finding new talent is not difficult. Our country is filled with so many new talents. It has always been like that, just that there was no opportunity.”

“Casting plays a critical role in the success of a film as the actors are the face and voice of the film’s characters. A well-cast film can make the story more
relatable and enhance the film’s overall impact.”

Excerpts from the interview…

The Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company (MCCC) strives to discover exceptional talents and bring together the perfect cast for every project. What was it about casting that fascinated you?

I started assisting with supporting casts for films like ‘Rang De Basanti’ (2006), ‘Kaminey’ (2009) and ‘Chak De India’ (2007). As I came from a theatre background, I was exposed to a lot of theatre artists pan India and knew each one of them. At one point, one of my mentors told me that I should take up casting as a business and set it up professionally because I have a keen eye for it. I started casting independently and then there was no looking back.

The leading name when it comes to casting for films, you are credited with revolutionising the casting process by bringing a new perspective into the system.

Finding new talent is not difficult. Our country is filled with so many new talents. It has always been like that, just that there was no opportunity.

What were the challenges you encountered while establishing yourself in the field of casting?

Casting is not just a business, it’s also a big responsibility. A lot of people still don’t know that. It took a lot of years to get that respect, that this is a very important department. One will get bored and exhausted if you don’t enjoy the process.

Incepted in 2008, MCCC has evolved into becoming one of the finest casting companies catering to worldwide clientele. Which are some of the achievements that fill you with pride?

I’m proud to have been instrumental in bridging the gap between an actor and director to promote new and upcoming talent in the film industry.

Do you believe that the significance and importance of casting are now well understood in India?

Yes, the significance and importance of casting are now well understood in India. Casting plays a critical role in the success of a film as the actors are the face and voice of the film’s characters. A well-cast film can make the story more relatable and enhance the film’s overall impact. Casting is no longer just about finding a big-name actor to star in a film. It’s now about finding the right actor for the role, regardless of their fame or background. This approach has resulted in many breakthrough performances by new and upcoming actors, which has been appreciated by both audiences and critics alike. Overall, the growing emphasis on casting in the Indian film industry is a positive development and bodes well for the future of Indian cinema.

You are credited with discovering actors like Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra and many more. What promise did you see in them?

Honesty towards their craft is what makes one believe in any actor. For me, the actor who does justice to the character is the one perfect for the role.

What is that special quality that you look for in budding actors looking to be ‘discovered’?

What makes an actor successful is their ability to connect with the audience and deliver powerful performances.

What is the process followed at MCCC for those looking to break into films?

The process involves finding the correct individual for the said role and we, at MCCC, always strive to find newer faces, find unique talents and characteristics in everyday people and actors alike to bring them onto the silver screen.

You are the go-to person for some of the biggest filmmakers like Rajkumar Hirani, Nitesh Tiwaari, Kabir Khan, Aanand L Rai, and Vishal Bhardwaj for their casting requirements. What is the process like when you are entrusted with the casting for a film?

Working in the industry for over a decade now, it gives me immense pride that I get to work with these directors. Each director has his or her own way of working and has a different world. When it comes to casting for them, I understand their world and scout for an actor that’s closer to their film world. Also, their trust in me is something that keeps me motivated.

Do filmmakers already have a clear idea of whom they want for the lead roles? Are there ever times when their choice clashes with yours?

It depends from filmmaker to filmmaker. Usually, they have a clear idea of the type of actor they want for a particular role. They may have a specific actor/actress in mind, or they may have certain qualities they are looking for in an actor. Sometimes, the filmmaker’s choice may clash with my choice and in such cases there may be discussions and negotiations to come to a consensus on the casting decision. Ultimately, the decision on who to cast in a role depends on who can bring the character to life and do justice to the script.

“Each director has his or her own way of working and has a different world. When it comes to casting for them, I understand their world and scout for an actor that’s closer to their film world. Also, their trust in me is something that keeps me motivated.”

“Nepotism exists in other industries as well; it is more prevalent in the entertainment industry due to the glamour and high stakes involved…Having connections is not the only factor that leads to success in the Hindi film industry. Hard work, talent, and dedication towards their craft also play a significant role.”

The film industry is often called a place where nepotism abounds – the child of an actor often follows his parent’s footsteps. Ironically, no one raises this point when it comes to other professions.

Nepotism exists in other industries as well; it is more prevalent in the entertainment industry due to the glamour and high stakes involved. Star kids do have the advantage of being exposed to the industry from a young age, which may help them gain valuable insights and make connections that can help them in their careers. However, it’s important to note that having connections is not the only factor that leads to success in the Hindi film industry. Hard work, talent, and dedication towards their craft also play a significant role.

From ‘Bhool Bhulaiya 2’ (2022), ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (2012), ‘Kabir Singh’ (2019), ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ (2015), and ‘Sanju’ (2018) to ‘Brahmastra’ (2022) and more, how does it feel to have contributed to the success of some of the most enjoyable and successful films over the years?

It feels great to be a part of all these films. The success of these movies can be attributed to the hard work, dedication and creativity of the filmmakers, actors and the entire crew involved in the making of these projects. They too deserve all the credit for the success, and it’s amazing to see the impact that these movies have had on people’s lives.

What are some of the future projects that you are excited about?

There are many projects in the pipeline like Imtiaz Ali’s next called ‘Chamkila’, Hansal Mehta’s ‘Scam’, Kabir Khan’s next, Siddharth Anand’s next named ‘Fighter’ starring Deepika Padukone and Hrithik Roshan, Raj & DK’s next ‘Citadel’, Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘Dunki’ and many more.

Your work has earned you membership in the Casting Association of America (CSA). What are the benefits that come with this membership?

As a member, you have access to many benefits, including exclusive job postings, collaboration with other industry guilds (like directors and producers), invitations to special screenings and events, and the certifying CSA in any film credit after becoming a member. This abbreviation demonstrates one’s professional affiliation and highlights your experience and expertise.

What are some of the future goals for MCCC?

My aim has always been to bring new talent onto the screen for the audience and it will continue to be so. Also, to encourage and drive more people to live their dreams! It is a sincere effort to help talents to improve their skills and enhance their acting.

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