After moving to Mumbai from Allahabad, Prashant Singh spent a year “struggling” to get a break in films as an actor. Looking at his fast-depleting finances, Singh decided to take up a job even as he pursued his dream. An opportunity to work as an assistant with casting director Atul Mongia not only became a means to survive in the city but also put him inside the audition room — something that can take years for an aspiring actor to achieve.
In the two years that Singh has worked with Mongia, he has helped cast for five films, including Lootera. His own film break, however, came only recently when debutant director Kanu Bahl, impressed by his talent during an acting workshop, decided to cast him for his film Titli.
On his part, Mongia says working with aspiring actors benefits casting directors too, and is thus a common practice in the film industry. “Earlier, casting was left to assistant directors — they were responsible for giving cues to the actors who came for the auditions. The stress on casting and finding the perfect actors for the given characters, has changed the way auditions are conducted. We understand that a good actor will perform better if he has another capable performer enacting the scene with him or her. If the cue is spot-on and the casting assistant is able to set the mood for the scene, the actor is likely to deliver a better performance,” says Mongia, who prefers to work with aspiring actors.
Apart from acting talent, these assistants also bring with them a strong network of other aspiring actors. Armed with the script, they understand character requirements as well as the director’s vision. “Several of us have studied in Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) or National School of Drama (NSD) and/or worked in theatre. We are also part of informal networks for aspiring actors, so we are able to call the apt talent for auditions,” says Karan Mally, who has been working with casting director Nandini Shrikent for a year and has been cast in an indie film.
On the other hand, working with a casting director helps these aspiring-actors-cum-assistants stay informed about the auditions taking place and also brings them in direct contact with a number of directors and producers. For instance, Taran Bajaj is often approached by filmmaker friends of his boss, casting director Honey Trehan, to do bit roles