In the past decade or so, Mukesh Chhabra has become a brand in himself and one of the biggest names in the casting business. Every other project, be it on the big screen or web, has his name associated with it, and I must admit that the man does an exemplary job at his post. I don’t think there could have been a better team than the one I saw on screen in Kabir Khan’s ’83, or a better choice than Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra for Dangal, and it was Mukesh who made it all possible.

The casting director closed last year with about half a dozen projects that he had been associated with, in just December itself. Amongst them was also Abhishek Kapoor’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui that saw Ayushmann Khurrana and Vaani Kapoor in the lead, with the latter playing a trans-woman. As I ask Mukesh if he had to face any difficulty casting for a Trans character, he negates that.

He shares,

“I have been working with Gattu (Abhishek) since Kai Po Che!, so we know what the other person wants. When you are making a film on such a subject and think about which actor can take it up as a challenge, you think only of Ayushmann Khurrana. So, we knew that since he was on board, he will make it very interesting. Gattu was very passionate about this project and he was clear that he wanted to tackle the subject by keeping it entertaining but also not hurt anyone’s emotions at the same time. When you know the kind of filmmaker and actor you are working with, you also feel safe in their hands and you cast accordingly. The subject was very well-thought and researched so we never faced any difficulties.”

Talking about casting Vaani as a trans-woman, Mukesh says,

“It’s really important to surprise people every time. When people don’t trust the actor, you have to take up the challenge to convince them otherwise and sometimes even challenge the actor as well. Vaani also needed a role like this and we thought she will bring some freshness and we will be able to create a new image for her.”

Mukesh also cast the whole team of ’83, and as I ask him if it was challenging to convince actors to be a part of the film when Ranveer Singh was leading from the front, he gives me a straight answer.

He confides,

“It was very challenging and we spent more than one-and-a-half years in the casting of ’83. We have all known about the historic win of 1983 and we also knew that it wasn’t about just one person. I have cast sports movies before like Dangal and Soorma, but it’s important that when you read the script, you realize that everyone is equally important, like in Chak De! India. The challenge for me was to find actors who can play cricket, can speak the language and still connect to the whole nation. I wanted to mix and match people from the entire country so that it connects with everyone as the film is about uniting the country.”

Both these films touched the subject of representations, be it through the lens of region or sexual identity. Casting for such roles that belong to a certain minority community could be a hard task. But does Mukesh tries to cast people from the community first?

He responds,

“It totally depends on the director. At the end of the day, we have to make a film, so we have to find an actor according to the director’s choice. When it comes to community representation, we try to go as close to reality, but to make a film you need an actor. Someone with certain caliber and stardom, which is required to make a film.”

Mukesh also turned director two years ago with Dil Bechara, and since then I have been waiting for his next directorial. As for his casting business, this conversation proved to be quite insightful for me and my respect for his work has just grown.