Strong casting choices ups the OTT game

Updated on Mar 06, 2022 02:40 PM IST

Makers are now open to more nuanced and experimental casting decisions in order to lend novelty and authencity to web projects

With changing times, casting directors and stories both have become more experimental.
With changing times, casting directors and stories both have become more experimental.

The streaming platforms have opened numerous opportunities for actors who are willing experiment with roles and break the stereotype while showcasing their talent to the world.

Jatin Goswami in The Great Indian Murder
Jatin Goswami in The Great Indian Murder

“With OTT, we have realised the potential of so many actors. With films, it was a given that certain actors would work and others wouldn’t. But that is not the case on OTT. Now, there are roles to showcase your talent. Like in The Great Indian Murder, actor Jatin Goswami, who plays Vicky Rai, is a film institute pass out and did good work earlier but isn’t well-known. But with this one show, woh sabki nazar mein aa gaya,” says casting director Shivam Gupta, who cast for Asur 2 and Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen.

Rocket Boyz
Rocket Boyz

He adds, “Every episode on OTT needs to engage the audience. So every scene –big or small- and every actor is important. Ek scene bhi kaafi hai audiences ko surprise karne ke liye. Today, actors who have a few scenes in a show become OTT stars. Look at Ishwak Singh in Rocket Boyz. He has done one scene in films like Ranjhana and Tamasha but today he is the lead of a hit show. OTT gave him a breakthrough role and he proved himself. In Jugadistaan, there are so many new actors, who are shining.”

With changing times, casting directors and stories both have become more experimental states, casting director, Mukesh Chabbra. He feels the potential of an online platform is so vast that we haven’t even explored it enough yet. He says, “We want to be more accessible to talent. I have to keep surprising everyone with new faces and power packed performers. Faces that are from different parts of the country and make it possible for everyone to dream and achieve their acting dreams.” He adds that shows like Delhi Crime, Scam 1992, The Family Man, Tabbar, Human have been appreciated for their casting, “and each and every character in Rocket Boys was impressive and brilliantly played”.

With stories no longer limited to a particular region, casting director duo Shiv Chauhan and Ashish Khare, who worked on shows like Kota Factory and Aspirants, feel pan India stories form a more realistic narrative. Moreover, with OTT, different point of views can be explored. They add, “Along with the stories, the casting process for a project has also become very detailed, nuanced. Earlier, there were only few leading men/ women in a story and rest of the supporting cast, which had important characters but they were not focused upon. Casting has changed a lot with OTT and the detailed form every character can be a hero, every character can have various shades, it needn’t be just black and white.”

Casting director-actor, Abhishek Banerjee, is amazed to see certain choices and revels in them. “It is great to see so much talent in India and thank god that now, the industry is looking for options out of Mumbai. It gives a fair chance to actors out of Mumbai, who probably due to their financial or personal reasons can’t make it to the city.”

Paramvir Singh Cheema in Tabbar
Paramvir Singh Cheema in Tabbar

Sharing an example of trust on casting directors, Banerjee says, “We were struggling to cast for the transgender character Cheeni in Paatal Lok and met many guys and girls for the role. We wanted someone very raw and then we met Mairembam Ronaldo. She had never faced the camera or even left Manipur. There were doubts if she would be able to pull off the important role but we were sure. When you have makers who trust you, you can get the right actor for a role. Moreover, time commitment needed for a web show has made it possible to cast lesser known actors for major roles as most known stars might not enough time for web shows. Mirzapur is one the biggest example of actors, who were not making their way in Bollywood, suddenly became overnight stars. Even the secondary cast are a hit. Similarly, in Tabbar, other than Pawan Malhotra sir and Supriya Pathak ma’am most of the cast is new. Paramvir Singh Cheema was brillant and so was the younger brother. Casting doesn’t need to be dependent on stars but actors.”

While casting is fun and exciting but it is also challenging and difficult to get right. Gupta says, “A web show with 10 episodes means one casts for 150 characters approx which takes three to five months. For Sacred Games 2, it took the team a year to get everyone. Casting is a gamble as you might feel an actor is lead worthy but the producer might not agree. So, you have to back your candidate. Our reach has now gone pan-india and we are casting actors from across all states.” Gupta, cast actors from Bihar in the upcoming show, AK-47, as he wanted them to be fluent in the local language.”

Banerjee agrees about the ‘gamble’. He elaborates, “I have seen so many successful actors today including Divyenndu, Jaideep Alahwat, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Shweta Tripathi Sharma being rejected by directors. The makers weren’t convinced to cast them but we felt terrible as we knew the actors were talented would perform better than the ‘known names’. And look at them now! But that’s how the industry works. Once someone is successful then everyone wants them and thinks of them as ‘good actors’. It is unfortunate. But things are changing as today makers trust casting directors more than before.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Mumbai-based Kavita Awaasthi writes on Television, for the daily Entertainment and Lifestyle supplement, HT Cafe

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