It is a struggle to make people audition in Punjab – Jyotika Badyal
The Punjabi film industry has witnessed immense growth in the past few years and so have the various departments attached to it. But when it comes to casting there still aren’t many names that one can think of in Punjabi films. Therefore even after three years in the industry, Punjab based Casting Director Jyotika Badyal still finds it a struggle to get people to audition in Pollywood. Badyal who has cast for films like Ek Tha Bhujang, Yaaran Da Katchup, Titoo MBA, Zorawar and forthcoming films like Kaptaan, Tiger, Mera Maahi NRI and Aatishbazi Ishq spills the beans on Punjab’s casting industry.
Share a bit about your initial background.
I am from Jammu but I have pretty much lived and studied all over India since my Dad was in the Army. When he was posted in Chandigarh, even I shifted along with him for my graduation. It was followed by a job of an administrator at Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares which had opened its branch in Chandigarh. Though I have always been a film enthusiast but it was those four years, when I was associated with this school, that introduced me to world cinema. I saw some brilliant films like Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio Di Sica), The Cow (Dariush Mehrjui), Children of Heaven (Majid Majidi), Rashoman (Akira Kurosava) and many such world classics along with some beautiful regional films. I would watch films back to back without feeling strained or tired.
Looking at my interest in cinema, a dear friend suggested that I do a film appreciation course from FTII, Pune. When I did the course in 2011, my love for cinema grew by leaps and bounds. I knew I had to do something with this medium of storytelling but what exactly, was something I was still to discover.
How did you first hear about casting as a profession and why did you choose it as a career?
I never really paid attention to casting as a profession in filmmaking while watching or studying films. It never crossed my mind until one day when I got a call from a friend who knew that I was volunteering with an NGO that was primarily working with kids. A CFSI (Children Film Society of India) film was to be shot in Punjab and this friend of mine wanted me to help the director with the casting of kids. I spoke to the film’s director – Mohinder Pratap Singh – who gave me the character brief. According to him, the options that I gave him were quite apt and so he told me to do the casting for the rest of the characters too. He really liked my work and told me that I had an eye for casting. And that’s how I got introduced to casting and did my first Hindi project called Ek tha Bhujang.
I enjoyed the whole process of casting. The ability to give life to the characters of a story is just so enthralling for me. And I never look at the clock when I am in the process of casting; I think that tells how much I love my work.
What are skills that a casting director must have? Any educational qualifications or training needed?
I am not sure if there is any educational qualification for it. You have to surely be a people’s person. You need to have an eye for talent, a strong creative imagination, visualization and patience. Also in my case, I heavily depend on my instincts too. Sometimes an actor may come to audition for a certain part but I see him fitting another part better and so I’d make him audition for that. On a creative level, you know the actor better than himself or other people sitting in that room, even though you are yet to ask his name.
Tell us about the projects you have done so far. Also introduce your prominent discoveries.
Ek Tha Bhujang, which was shown at various festivals, was my first project that I did in 2013. Then I did a Hindi film called Titoo MBA starring Pragya Jaiswal and Nishant Dahiya. My first Punjabi film was 47 to 84 which was directed by National award winner Rajeev Kumar. I introduced the female lead Neelam Sivia to the Punjabi industry. Yaaran da Katchup was my next Punjabi film where the cast included actors like Varun Sharma of Fukrey fame, Anita Hassanandani, Yuvika Chaudhary and singer Hardy Sandhu.
Dakshita Kumaria who has played the lead in two Punjabi films and Shiwani Saini who will be seen playing Sarbjit’s elder daughter in Sarbjit are two other finds. Rahul Jungral who is playing one of the key characters in the upcoming film Tiger is also one of my discoveries. I have also introduced many character actors in Punjabi films who have got rave reviews. For instance, 8-year-old Sehraab who played the character ‘Jaanu’ in Ambarsariya was initially cast by me in Kaptaan, which is yet to release. Veteran Bollywood actor Amar Talwar who is known for his role in the Mandira Bedi starrer Shanti will be making his Pollywood debut in Kaptaan. Similarly, there are many such characters that I’ve cast in my upcoming projects. I’ve also assisted in casting for a telefim called Toba Tek Singh which was shot by Ketan Mehta. And I’ve also done a few corporate ads and few episodes for Savdhaan India, Crime Patrol and Man Mein Hai Visshwas.
Tell us more about your recent release Zorawar and upcoming films Kaptaan and Tiger.
I think this is a good year for me. Zorawar was one of the most awaited films of this year as it had Honey Singh in the lead. I did the Punjab casting for this film.
The forthcoming movie Kaptaan which is directed by Mandeep Kumar features Gippy Grewal, Monica Gill and Karishma Kotak. The cast of primary and secondary actors was huge in this film and it took me three to four months to complete this project. I have introduced a lot of new secondary character actors in this film.
Then there is another project of mine called Tiger being directed by Sartaj Singh Pannu, which has singer-turned-actor Sippy Gill playing the lead. The other cast includes Yashpal Sharma, Yograj Singh and Ihana dhillon.
What is your casting process like?
I like to have a proper narration of the script before I start my casting process. But one is not that lucky always. At times, you just get a one-line character sketch and they want you to give the best possible options. I need to know more about the characteristics, the character’s background, the relationship with other characters and so on, before I can look into my database or start auditioning.
In Pollywood, which never really had the concept of a casting director and actors have always been chosen on the basis of relationships and popularity, what kind of struggles and challenges did you face while introducing the concept here?
As I mentioned, the industry is not organized and to top it all, casting as a separate department just doesn’t exist. Most of the times one is approached by filmmakers or producers to ‘HELP’ them and that of course means no payment and no credit. So I simply say no to such help. Then if you are hired for a project, you have to negotiate a lot to get a decent amount and also make them understand that actor coordination and casting are different jobs.
At times, they will send you profiles or actors and want you to fit them in any character in the film because they are either their acquaintance or relatives. Once a director called me to know if I would have the contact details of Bollywood actresses. I told him that I wouldn’t have all the contacts but if any actress fits into the role then, of course, we can always find a way to contact her. But when I asked for more details of the project, he told me that they had locked most of the artists but just wanted someone from Bollywood to play the female lead. For him, any random actress who has done at least one Bollywood film would have fit the bill. They didn’t care about whether the actress has had any recent releases or has been part of any flop projects. He said, “We don’t care about anything else except that people should be able to recognize her”. Of course, I didn’t work with that gentleman. This is how casting was perceived when I started working.
But I haven’t lost hope because after all, I am getting films and once I am hired they know that they can leave the responsibility of casting on me.
How long do you give yourself to cast for a film?
That actually depends on what stage am I brought on board. For instance, if I am asked to do just the secondary casting and most of the primary cast is locked so I just get the story synopsis and character briefs. This process often takes 15 days to a month. If I am associated with the project from day one and have to do the entire casting then I would need at least two to three months to give my best. The process would include getting a narration of the story, followed by a character breakdown from the lead to primary to secondary and one-day characters.
Are there any specific places where you usually spot talent?
I try and watch almost all the plays that are being played in the region or at least get a feedback about them. So I pick a lot of talent from theatre and social networking sites like Facebook. I make utmost use of them while casting, from putting up requirements to generally going through profiles of actors and writing to them if they would like to audition. Then there are Whatsapp groups also where I post requirements. It’s all about networking. Now I get calls and mails from actors and they send me their work details which I keep adding to my database. I have recently introduced a page by the name of ‘Casting Punjab’ where I put casting requirements for Punjabi films or projects being shot in Punjab. Other casting directors can use this platform too. Actors have also appreciated this effort as they get maximum information about different projects from one place.
How do you zero in on actors for a particular role?
The first thing I do on getting the cast list is to go through my database and pull out profiles of actors who suit the physical description of the character by at least 70 to 80%. I then brief them about the character sketch and ask them to send me a self audition of whatever they have understood from my brief. If I see them anywhere close to the character, I personally audition them in the second round, following it by a look test. I then shortlist actors from these auditions and forward the top 2-3 choices to the director who then takes a call. Many a times the director trusts and fully supports your decision and lets you take a call for certain characters, which happens rarely but it does happen. I have been lucky to have worked with directors who’ve given me full freedom while casting and auditioning actors. Creative liberty is needed while casting because that allows you to think out of the box and the results can be rewarding for the project.
You also do casting for Hindi TV serials. What difference do you find in the casting process of these serials versus Punjabi films?
Punjabi films are yet not open to the idea of casting for each character, whereas for Hindi serials, they want me to do proper auditions be it for the lead actor or character actors. Although the process I follow remains same for both the fields.
As compared to Mumbai where actors understand the concept of auditions, what is the situation in Pollywood like?
Honestly, it is a struggle to make people audition in Punjab. After doing a film or two, usually actors would just send me their work link. But when I’d ask for an audition, they would start telling me about the Punjabi songs where they have played some character and would tell me to check the songs. I have a hard time explaining to them that I need to see them speaking the lines and not just giving expressions in a song. I think actors are hesitant because even they are not used to giving auditions. They have often got the role because they either knew someone from the crew or in the past they have played a character which the director/producer has liked a lot and hence cast them.
What is an easier process – casting a newcomer or an already established actor?
There’s no easy or hard process while casting. You would know the potential and range that an established actor can play, so you’ll go to him only if you think that he is close to what you want. By the time the meeting with him ends, you are clear whether you want him or not. In some cases, established actors are also fine with auditioning. Whereas with newcomers you have to start from scratch as they themselves don’t know their possibilities and prospects. You have to discover that during the process of auditioning. I love this process so I am always happy to audition and find a character amongst newcomers.
Where do you see yourself in the coming years with respect to Punjabi cinema?
I don’t want to sound unrealistic but I do hope that the Punjabi industry grows and produces some good cinema in the years to come and that casting as a profession is taken seriously. Script and casting are the strength of a good film. Casting is not merely adding big and known names to your project, which you can do if you are influential enough or have money in your pocket. But casting is about finding the right actor who can live the character on-screen and as an audience you can’t imagine anyone else playing that part so brilliantly; that’ll be a job well done from my end.
I am currently focused on Punjabi cinema and have already done three Hindi films. Besides, whether it is Hindi or any regional film, my job remains the same – to cast the right actor. And I do that with full integrity because I don’t know any other way of working.
What are your other forthcoming films?
One of the films that I am most excited about is Mera Maahi NRI (working title). I have been working on it for eight months and did the entire casting from the lead actors to primary, secondary and even one-day actors. The film is being directed by UK-based director Gaurav Bavdankar and it’s partly short in UK and in Punjab. The film features singer Hardy Sandhu and Poppy Jabbal who is another new find. Rameet Kaur from Scotland is playing the second lead. All three of them have gone through proper screening before being locked for their parts and I’m sure that the audience would love them on screen.
Then there is Atishbazi Ishq directed by Amit Dhawan featuring Mahie Gill and Roshan Prince in the lead. I have done the supporting cast for this film.