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‘If not Aamir, Anil Kapoor could have been a brilliant Shakti Kumar’ – Abhishek Banerjee, Casting Director of Secret Superstar

Suman Prasad | Prateek Thakker 
Did you fall in love with the characters of Insia Malik and Chintan Parekh from the movie Secret Superstar? Well, you have to thank the casting duo of Abhishek Banerjee and Anmol Ahuja for finding two rare talents – Zaira and Tirth.
Image Credit: Google Images
As Co-founders of Casting Bay, both Abhishek and Anmol have been casting since 7 years for various films like Rock On 2, Secret Superstar, Phillauri, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, Ok Jaanu, Student of the Year 2, The Dirty Picture among others. Other than films, they have also done casting for ad films, web-series, short films and much more.
In this exclusive, Abhishek Banerjee, Co-founder of Casting Bay spoke to Suman Prasad and Prateek Thakker of Unkrate on: finding best actors to fit in the role, on the casting of Secret Superstar, the process of casting the actors, the expectation from artists in an audition and casting couch in Bollywood.
Unkrate: Secret Superstar has actors who fit like the roles were custom made for them. How did you go about casting them?
Abhishek: We were given a job to cast a simple middle-class family from a small town. We understood the nuances of each character required and tried to find them in auditions. It was a long process as you have to hit the right balance between good acting and looking for the characters part but thankfully we had the freedom to explore.
Unkrate: Was Aamir the first choice for his role, given it is an Aamir Khan production? Who else do you think would have played the role had he said no?
Abhishek: When we started casting we had some fresh options in mind for Shakti Kumar’s Role but once we spoke to Advait (Director of Secret Superstar) more about the part we realised that we needed to cast someone prominent. There were few names hanging in the air as we kept thinking hard. Then one day while discussing the character and its probable traits both Advait and us realised that Aamir Sir can be a great option.
We were definitely excited and sure that we have not seen him doing something like this in a long time. We were not sure if he would have time to play this role as he was very busy with Dangal. Then one-day Advait popped the question to him, to our surprise Aamir sir liked the idea and even suggested that he should do a small read with Advait to be convinced that he is the right one. So in a way, he too auditioned for the part.
If by any chance he would have said no I would have personally loved to see Anil Kapoor do this part, I think he too could have been a brilliant Shakti Kumar.
Unkrate: Was Zaira chosen for Secret Superstar after the success of Dangal or it was done even before that?
Abhishek: No! Zaira was just doing the workshops for Dangal. I think Aamir sir saw the actor in her right then. He loved the raw energy she brought in too. Insiya needed that energy, fearlessness yet gentle. He suggested we take her audition and there she was in the audition room doing what Advait had imagined. We were sure the moment she auditioned that we found our Insiya. We obviously did some more rounds for clarity.
Unkrate: Apart from Ok Jaanu & Phillauri, the rest are all serious films. Do you make that choice to take up only serious potboilers?
Abhishek: No, we actually love doing all kind of films but yes we land up doing the serious ones, maybe because we love to cast for intense characters. It’s lot of fun to identify the layers in a character in these films. Having said that films like Phillauri are not so easy to cast. One wrong actor and the entire world of the film might collapse.
Unkrate: Zaira is certainly one of the newcomers people are talking about. What do you think about her future in Bollywood?
Abhishek: She definitely has a bright future. She is a terrific actor and that will keep her going. Hopefully, she will choose the right projects for her and give us more memorable characters.
Unkrate: How do you go about auditioning the characters? What is the process when you approach a larger actor?
Abhishek: The process is simple, understand the brief and think of actors who match it. In the audition room, we just play the catalyst between the Actor and the Character. We like the Actors to explore in the Audition Room. You know it’s not like they come in give the test and go. Sometimes we build pressure around them for them to finally find the loop and transform themselves into the character. Our theatre background experience certainly helps.
Unkrate: When casting, how much are the directors and producers involved?
Abhishek: It is always the Director’s vision which we are trying to achieve. Some directors want it to be exactly how they have thought and some give us the freedom to explore and surprise. We always add our imagination to the characters and most of the time it is accepted well by the Directors. I have never really seen producers getting involved that much, they have their suggestion but everyone has to go through the process. It is strict these days and it’s nice because everyone gets a fair chance.
Unkrate: What according to you must reflect from the actors during the auditions?
Abhishek: Their use to imagination and capability to surprise us. It is very important that they bring in their own little qualities to a character. Sometimes we love it when an actor breaks all rules and do something which we sitting behind the camera could have never imagined. Audition room is an actor’s platform, they need to use it to their advantage.
Unkrate: Casting Couch exists in Bollywood – this has been accepted by many actors. You have been in the industry for long working on some very successful projects – what is your message for all the new aspiring actors? How should they negate such situation if it arises anytime?
Abhishek: Let’s call it the “Exploiter’s couch”, yes there are many exploiters here and we all after a point come to know who these people are. These animals always drop a hint here and there about their instincts. So one needs to be smart and identify those hints. Don’t go near the exploiters, no matter how powerful they are, if you don’t want them to touch you, they can’t raise a finger on you. Work can never be more important than your dignity. So train hard to be an actor, we are always there waiting in an audition room to identify your talent.
Unkrate: What are the next projects for you?
Abhishek: We are excited that our next project Pari is going to release in Feb, Dibakar Sir’s next is going on floor in few days, Raj Kumar Gupta’s RAID is even shot at the moment, plus we are casting for two interesting projects for Dharma, Shree Narayan Singh’s next and some interesting web shows like pitchers 2 TVF and Mirzapur – Excel Entertainment.

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