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It was difficult for me to step out: Mukesh Chhabra

The film Gangs of Wasseypur needed 390 actors! It took casting director Mukesh Chhabra more than a year to find the people to fit the roles.

bollywood Updated: May 12, 2012 14:45 IST
Prashant Singh
Prashant Singh
Hindustan Times

Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW) has achieved a special feat by casting around 390 professional actors. Out of them, as many as 250 have dialogues in the movie as well. Casting director Mukessh Chhabra, who has worked on films such as Rockstar (2011), Kaminey (2009), National Award-winning Chillar Party (2011) and the forthcoming Kai Po Che, explains how he went about the massive process.

The brief Anurag told me that the film is set around the coal mafia. That’s why he wanted real-looking actors and not models. He was very clear that the film, set in Bihar, needed people who look authentic, rugged and tough.

The process soon after Anurag gave me the script, I went searching for actors across places like Patna, Benaras, Delhi and even Mumbai. We got several actors from Mumbai because a number of wannabe actors from such places come here. But the entire process took almost a year. Aside from various theatre groups and drama schools, we picked up a number of actors from Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and the National School of Drama.

Whenever I came across groups of actors, I would immediately keep the actors from Bihar separate. Teaching pronunciation to an actor takes a lot of time, sometimes even a year. That’s why I wanted people who actually belonged to that region. Once I started giving out roles to actors, Anurag and I kept in touch.

We may have fought two or three times, but he (Anurag) gives a lot of respect and freedom to his crew, including me. For example, for the role that finally went to actor Pankaj Tripathi, we were at loggerheads and although we had major arguments, finally Pankaj, whom I had auditioned, was selected.

Firstly, it’s difficult to say ‘no’ to actors, but once I decide on something, I stick to it. But it became very difficult for me to step out of my office in Mumbai and all the other places where we auditioned, since about 800 actors would come almost every day. This film is nothing less than a boon for theatre actors since it demands very real people in terms of acting talent as well as looks. What’s funny is that since Anurag and I look similar and even wear identical specs and beards, people would confuse me for him and the other way around.

The actual work GOW has probably been the toughest, but the most fun experience I have had while working on films. It had 390 cast actors out of whom 250 had dialogues We shot all across UP and Bihar, Ranchi airport, Patna jail, Varanasi jail, Calcutta, various coal mines, powerhouses and even ghost towns. Also, we had a strong crew that stayed in villages and we cooked our own food. It was like a moving commune, both in terms of scale and content.

‘Casting calls’ in Bollywood

Lagaan: For the cricket match sequence in Lagaan, the filmmakers wanted to show a number of villagers cheering for the home team. So local villagers were roped in to do the job.

Lakshya: Casting director Nandini Srikent had to work for several days before finalising 72 faces for Lakshya. Most of the faces needed to be shown as the part of army.

Gandhi: To show the huge number of Mahatma Gandhi followers, a slew of actors were roped in. Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya would reportedly spend six-seven hours a day making sure all the junior artists looked perfect.

Black Friday: Gautam Kishanchandani found actors for the 150 characters needed in the Anurag Kashyap film, which led to 700 auditions.

First Published: May 12, 2012 11:58 IST