Choosing the right cast!

Shubham Gaur in a freewheeling chat talks about the process of casting, roles and how he selected the cast of Neeraj Pandey’s ‘Special OPS’

Shubham Gaur in a freewheeling chat talks about the process of casting, roles and how he selected the cast of Neeraj Pandey’s ‘Special OPS’


Shubham Gaur in a freewheeling chat talks about the process of casting, roles and how he selected the cast of Neeraj Pandey’s ‘Special OPS’…

It's been said by countless directors that casting is unequivocally the most important element in the filmmaking process. Many directors subscribe to the famous notion that 90 per cent of directing is casting, as they recognise that a film that is cast well, and according to the director's vision will always be far more realistic and authentic than one cast in any other way. Meet Shubham Gaur, the Casting Director of popular shows 'Special Ops' (streaming on Hotstar) and 'Four More Shots Please!' (streaming on Amazon Prime).

Before Shubham joined casting he has worked as an assistant producer in NDTV Imagine Showbiz and wrote for the shows '10 on 10' and 'Fresh Faces'. He started his career in casting from Yashraj Films and worked on seasonal shows Khotey Sikkey, Kismat.

Excerpts from an interview:

What are the roles and responsibilities of a casting director?

A 'Casting Director' operates as a conduit, therefore plays a pivotal role because even if everything on a set is in place, yet if you do not have the appropriate artist/actor to convey the story then it won't meet the optimum result, hence, a Casting Director comes in play to fish out the right talent based on the character and story brief provided by the director's team.

While casting is our primary job and the focus is to look out for the right person who not only looks closer to the character but has the willingness to train themselves into becoming that part, they should be able to justify the character by being truthful to the part.

The process allows us to audition the person concerned for the part and if the director finds that audition closer to his or her reality and vision; then we finalise the actor.

What is your process of casting actors?

My business partner, Trishaan, and I have always been curious as casting directors to find out newer ways to look for talent. From the very beginning, both of us had our pool to outsource talent, like for me it was always through theatre, acting schools like (NSD, FTII, BNA or the regional theatre groups) where I was able to find the right discipline, the training and the personality.

Apart from that, there are always other mediums like Ad Commercials and TV. Nowadays we can also utilise social networks to seek talent. Spaces like Instagram and Facebook have become fairly popular where most of the artists showcase their details, showreels and headshots.

But one thing that is the most significant part is that as casting directors, we need to meet these people in person to understand them and see how and where we can channelise their energy, their talent and looks.

How did you select the cast of 'Special OPS'?

I have always enjoyed director Neeraj Pandey's films, and have always dreamt of working with all the director's whose cinema I enjoy and relate to. So when I got an opportunity to work with Neeraj Sir. I lapped it up! The process of casting 'Special OPS' was a Herculean task but eventually satisfying.

I also observed that they were trying to create a palette and bank for the fictional characters and wanted us to continue auditioning until they found the right person. For the characters that existed in real life like (2001 Parliament attackers, Kasab, the Commandos, police jawans and ministers) we had to pick our brains to find the right person.

Like Kasab, Neeraj sir didn't want us to go for the looks but for the tonality of how Kasab would speak (The Pashtun dialect spoken in Sindh) which was a challenge. We were also shown a lot of real footage of the attacks and people involved in it, which made our work quite interesting. Kay Kay Menon was someone they already had in mind but for the Agent's part, we had to test a lot of people.

For the part of Farooq Ali, which was eventually played by Karan Tacker, we auditioned more than 200 people, later on, Neeraj sir and Shivam sir locked him. The same goes for people like Saiyami Kher, Muzzambil Ibrahim, Meher Vij, Vipul Gupta, Gautami Kapoor. Divya Dutta, Sharad Kelkar and Vinay Pathak just made the ensemble more exciting. It taught me a lot.

How do you understand the vision of the director?

At the beginning of a project, it is mandatory to meet the director and understand him by listening and hearing him clearly, what he/she wants to say/tell/express. Their research provides a lot of help and allows us to move in that direction.

One needs to be quick and observant if the brief changes. We mostly get more clarity after the first round of auditions which helps us to understand if we and our director are on the same page. Accordingly, we move further and learn about what they are trying to create through their choices.

The best casting you did till now and why?

Oh good god, that's a tough one now. If I were to name one particular project, I have to say, recently, casting for 'Hotel Mumbai'. Our first Hollywood feature; where we had to cast the 26/11 attackers, was one of the toughest and most fulfilling processes.

Also, I cannot ignore 'The Lunchbox'; Anurag Basu's 'Ludo' (which is yet to come) and 'Special OPS', which were equally rewarding. Let's just put it this way, we as a Team try to pick up projects which excite and challenge us.

What is the future of the industry as everything is shut now?

I have started hearing that the shoots have begun and most of the bigger productions are planning their shoots mostly towards the end of the year or early next year. Our industry or any other industry has incurred huge losses but slowly and gradually things will commence.

I am currently working on a web series for Netflix, which is most likely to start their shoot by November mid till that happens, we have to create content and shoot as per the guidelines. Let's hope for the best.

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