PRODUCTION POSTS – HALF GIRLFRIEND
If a film were to be given a living form then screenplay would be its skeleton and casting would be its flesh. The screenplay writer knits from a blank page. The screenplay, is then handed over to the casting director for him to solve it like a Rubik’s cube. After a long process of permutation and combination, the final cast is locked. To celebrate this symbiotic relationship, Pandolin spoke with Screenplay Writer Tushar Hiranandani and Casting Director Mukesh Chhabra about their experience of working on Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend.
Did you read the book before casting? Also, did you speak to Chetan Bhagat about how he had visualized the faces for the characters?
No, I avoid going that way. I only read the screenplay when the final script is ready. The book and the film are two different mediums. When one writes a screenplay, a lot of details are added for the medium. So, I always prefer reading the screenplay.
As for talking to Chetan goes, I only spoke to Mohit Suri. For me the director’s brief is of utmost importance. I know Chetan and we are very good friends. He also gave me a few suggestions which I took. But mostly it was Mohit with whom I was discovering.
How much time did the entire process take? For you, which was the most interesting character to cast?
This film’s casting took approximately seven months. There were so many people that we had to cast. I was searching for actors for different milieus shown in the film.
As for the most interesting character to cast, Arjun’s friend, (played by Vikrant Massey) was an interesting casting. He has done a fantastic job. Even Seema Biswas has done a good job. The most interesting part about casting for this film was dividing the casting in three societies. One from Bihar, one from America and one from Delhi’s elite class. As a casting director, it is so much fun if you have different environments to cast from.
I felt Arjun and Shraddha were absolutely right for the parts
Any first timers you’ve cast for this film?
Yes, there are many. All his (Arjun’s) friends are first timers.
What kind of efforts went behind the scenes? Was there a workshop?
We had a workshop. My assistant Sridhar was conducting the language workshop and Arjun was completely into it. He would religiously come every morning. We had a month-long workshop for all the other actors. Getting the local language right was very important. Hence, this workshop was crucial.
There is a C.G of Bill Gates in the film. Was there ever a thought to cast an actor matching the look?
No. There was a clarity about it from the very beginning. They did not want a look-alike.
The most interesting part about casting for this film was dividing the casting in three societies. One from Bihar, one from America and one from Delhi’s elite class
Were Arjun and Shraddha the first choice for the leads?
No. I think everyone knows about this. Sushant Singh Rajput and other actors were contacted. Ultimately, whatever happens is the maktub of the film. I felt Arjun and Shraddha were absolutely right for the parts. Mohit too agreed on the choice.
What worked in their favour?
The sheer fact that it’s a fresh pairing. People want to see fresh pairings.
Step-wise, could you describe the process of developing the screenplay of Half Girlfriend?
Chetan and Mohit sir met and they decided that they needed to devise a screenplay. I had worked with Mohit on the screenplay of Ek Villian. He gave me the book to read. As a matter of fact, I was given the transcript of the book as the book was not published then. I read it and liked it. I thought it was reaching India’s heartland, which gripped me. It wasn’t just a romantic story but had a lot more aspects to it. Mohit and I started working on the screenplay and later Ishita (Moitra) joined us for the dialogues. The dialogues were crucial because it’s about both Hindi and English. The book was in English but the film was to be made in Hindi. So, I felt the film had a better scope than the book in terms of dialogues.
Intermissions are meant to create drama and we have done the same
Were there any inputs from Chetan Bhagat?
Yes, of course. Once we finished the draft, we shared it with him. He liked the draft and suggested some minor changes. We were more than happy to make those changes. Mohit is an understanding director. He takes suggestions in a positive stride. After all, Chetan has lived with the book. It was his book and vision, so that had to be respected.
It was a 260-page book. How did you prune it to avoid a lengthy film?
That is something which I have cracked. It’s my formula to adapt a book into a screenplay. Editing chapters is a long process. This is something that I can’t tell you (smiles). But going through that process is good fun.
It wasn’t just a romantic story but had a lot more aspects to it
A book does not have intermission and songs. How did you devise that for the screenplay?
In the song department, I did not have to do anything as such because Mohit can create a song for any situation. He is the king for that. Talking about the intermission aspect, India has that culture in storytelling. The West has a three-act structure and here I feel we have four acts. I can’t tell you the intricacies of how we found that point because then the screenplay would be out. You have to watch it to experience it. Intermissions are meant to create drama and we have done the same.
Were there any new situations or characters added which weren’t a part of the book?
Several scenes were added. But no new characters have been added.
Mohit can create a song for any situation. He is the king for that
You’ve worked in multiple genres. Are there any unexplored territories?
I haven’t done horror. That’s something which I do not want to do. I get very scared watching horror. The next thing that I’d like to do would be a biography. Currently, I am writing a film for Remo D’ Souza, which will feature Salman Khan.