Interview Hindi

Our number may not be high, but the quality is A-grade, say casting directors Shubham Gaur and Trishaan

The partners of Trishaan and Shubham Casting Company talk about their start in the industry, working in the digital space, and how casting has improved over the years.

Sonal Pandya

With the rise of OTT platforms, audiences are noticing a lot more talented faces in front of the cameras in roles big and small. It is also due in no small measure to the hard work of casting directors who make sure the right artistes are selected for the parts most suited for them.

Casting directors Shubham Gaur and Trishaan, who have their own eponymous company, have more than a decade of experience behind them with projects like The Lunchbox (2013), Million Dollar Arm (2014), Tigers (2014), The Jungle Book (2016), Viceroy's House (2017), Soni (2018), Hotel Mumbai (2019) and the international television series Sense8 and Beecham House. This year has also been busy for them with projects like Disney+ Hotstar's Special Ops, Amazon Prime's Four More Shots Please! (Season 2) and films Chaman Bahaar and Ludo being released.

Shubham Gaur and Trishaan spoke to about their process, how organized the field has become, and the diverse projects they have worked on. Both assisted well-known casting director Seher Latif and learnt the ropes working on prestigious Indian features and Hollywood films shot in India.

With Hotel Mumbai, starring Dev Patel, they went independent with Trishaan and Shubham Casting Company. “We realized that we worked on one of the best projects,” Gaur said. “We got the chance to work on a film like The Jungle Book and Homeland (Season 4), Sense8, [etc] with such great directors. We realized that in terms of outsourcing correct actors for parts, our training has been sufficient for us to take a leap and start our own company."

His partner Trishaan added, “That is the next step for anybody who aspires to get independent. You cannot assist for a very long time. After a point in time, you just have to take a leap of faith. Our frequencies matched a lot and there are many things which I do, or maybe Shubham does if I am lacking somewhere, we fill in for each other for things.”

There are obvious differences working for international versus Indian projects, one of the main points being that the international ones are more organized. A non-disclosure agreement is standard and the casting directors receive a script that is quite close to the eventual shooting script. Moreover, they handle a lot more presentations and videos of the auditions to send over to the studios.

“Good, bad, ugly, whatever auditions we have, we get feedback on everything,” Trishaan said. “If more than two persons are shortlisted for the same role, there is a callback that happens with the director, so once the callback is done, the final decision is made.

“Here, it becomes slightly more random, I would say. No matter we do the auditions first and after that also, till the time we go on the floors, there is no surety that the same actor is going to play the same role,” he said.

The duo have seen a lot change in the industry in their time as casting directors and point out how it has got more organized here as well. There is a proper system whereby artistes come into the casting office where assistants brief them and then take their auditions.

“Everybody gets a time slot,” Gaur explained. “All the requirements that are supposed to be filled in, they actually go on a company page on Instagram and Facebook. People follow up in a very professional manner. There is no shady business [that] happens, particularly in the last four or five years, which used to happen a lot before MeToo. Every second or third guy would call people to their houses to audition.

“Thankfully, we have been blessed in terms of the team members we have had so far, be it girls or boys, [they] have been really respectable towards all the genders who come to test for us,” he continued. “For the last 10 or 11 years, there won’t be a single person in the industry who can stand up and tell us that there was this one particular day that somebody misbehaved with me from your team. That is something we have maintained and briefed our team also, that that [standard] has to be maintained in any situation.”

A certain trust between artistes and casting directors has also been established in this time. Artistes now know the best way to get through to directors and production houses is to audition officially through the casting directors. The profession as a whole has expanded in the country in the past decade.

“There have been casting directors in our country but it [the profession] was not really given a name,” Trishaan said. “Before even going to the film institute to learn acting, I stayed in Mumbai for five years and those times I was doing production. Under production, there were so many things I was doing and casting was part of it. I didn’t even know that I was doing casting.”

Trishaan and Shubham Gaur with the IWM Digital award for Best Casting for Bose: Dead/Alive

“Slowly, as this designation has become a proper designation in a film, it has been easy for both parties. It is good for actors also. They don’t have to hunt for the producer, director, editor, cameraman [etc to] get into the film. You have only one person to speak to and he is going to check everything that is right for the part. It has become easy for the production and the director that they don’t have to poke an AD [and ask]. That is one specific section who would take care of the whole thing and, of course, the corruption has also reduced.”

Their latest project is Ludo (2020) which is out on Netflix. They were keen to work with director Anurag Basu, who had never worked with casting directors before. Luckily, Trishaan had worked with him previously as an actor on the television series Stories By Rabindranath Tagore.

For Ludo, their biggest challenge was working with an open script where 'Dada', as Basu is popularly known in the industry, had so many ways of doing a scene. “That was the fun part, that every single time he would come up with a description, we wouldn’t know what story it lies in,” Gaur said. “But Dada would mostly brief us that these are the characters and would want to meet people we suggested. He believes in personality more than auditioning.

“Initially, we were ideating a lot of names. Whomever [Basu] thought at the beginning for the part, those were the people that essentially came and everybody wanted to work with him,” he added.

“For us to understand [Basu’s] universe took us at least six months,” Trishaan said. “And [then], we were almost there on the same page. He is asking for certain things, we know exactly what to give him. He is looking for personalities. He meets people and on his gut feeling, he decides okay."

Gaur added, “Our job was to get him interesting faces and personalities who are open and confident. The shortlisted actors were called for a meeting. Dada would meet them and if he found somebody interesting out of them for the part, he would finalize [them].”

“Whenever we start casting for something, the first and foremost thing is whether the person is looking the part or not,” said Trishaan. “Once the person is looking the part, then we meet and talk to them, understand okay, fine, he’s got that 10% of spark, [on that] basis, we can cast him. And then, of course, we do the auditions with them and on that audition, the director is able to decide, okay fine, on the set I’ll be able to take him to the zone.”

Sometimes, for a series like Special Ops (2020), the casting directors were given photographs of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) jawans and ministers present during the 2001 Parliament attack and proceeded to match the artistes to the real-life characters. For that show, they auditioned more than 300 people for the part which was eventually cast with Karan Tacker.

“Leading characters are mostly decided by the producers or the directors because there are finances connected to [these choices],” Trishaan explained. “We have been fortunate to be able to be a part of such projects where we were given that freedom and we gave the names or maybe tested the best of actors possible. Mostly casting directors are the ones who test and give options for secondary roles. But we did all kinds of roles, right from leads to the possible ones.”

In recent years, where an actor like Jaideep Ahlawat can front a series like Amazon Prime’s Paatal Lok (2020), the hunt is on for newer faces to fill the online landscape. Gaur gave the example of the Netflix film Chaman Bahaar (2020), which starred Jitendra Kumar and which was filmed way before the actor was cast in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020) and the web-series Panchayat (2020).

“[At] that point of time, only a very specific kind of audience knew him," Gaur said. "He tested, with 40 or 50 other boys, who were non-actors, but he also had a certain kind of niche. That became an opportunity for us to launch somebody who hadn’t done much, who hadn’t done a feature. Examples like these gives us such leeway that we can say we can give a person a chance who deserves it.”

Of course, some roles have been challenging to cast as well. In Hotel Mumbai, around 700 people auditioned for the part of Imran, which was played by Amandeep Singh. The requirement was for an actor who could speak Pashto Punjabi. Trishaan was ready to fly to Punjab to scout for someone for the role, when the director eventually decided on Amandeep.

“Even the ones that got shortlisted out of 700, they had a really tough time getting selected and zeroed down to about 10 people," Gaur recalled. "The director had like three days of workshops inside a room where he would give them [improvisational] situations, different from the script, and tell them to react, and it would start from 10 am [and go on] to 8 pm.”

During the lockdown, Gaur and Trishaan also held online workshops teaching artistes the ins and outs of the trade, from getting their showreels in place to writing a professional email. Their upcoming projects include the next seasons of Four More Shots Please! And Special Ops, along with a few independent films.

“We have been fortunate to be able to work on somethings which [have] solidly written script[s]," Trishaan said. "Mostly it doesn’t happen with casting directors that they have a choice to choose the correct project for themselves. If you see [our] projects, the number might not be high, but the quality is A-grade.”

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