HONEY TREHAN – INDIA’S TOP CASTING DIRECTOR
Posted by Vivek on June 4, 2012 | 41 Comment
What do Kaminey, Delhi Belly, Omkara, Blue Umbrella have in common? Some outstanding and unusual casting, which worked very well with the audience. Chandan Roy Sanyal, Deepak Dobriyal, Amol Gupte, etc are all actors, who were first conceived for their characters by a person who seems to have an eye to fit people to roles. Honey Trehan is that person. Time and again he has proved that when it comes to Casting, nobody understands the audience and the Director, better than Honey does. We catch up with this talented Casting Director, one of India’s finest:
The journey to Mumbai?
I am from Punjab, and was always fascinated by the world of films and wanted to be a part of the business, but was not sure how and when. Then my family moved to Allahbad and I got involved in sports, cricket, specifically and creativity took a back seat. However, during attending one of the theater based events, purely as an attendee, the main person presenting, in my four days of attending, found a spark in me, and suggested I move to Delhi, to further my creative urges. In Delhi, I started to direct plays, became one of the youngest directors of plays and hung out in NSD and Mandi House and interacted with people such as Piyush Mishra, who back then was in Delhi. Slowly my circle increased to folks such as Manoj Bajpai. During this time, a close friend of mine, had been struggling in Mumbai and was not getting anywhere. Frustrated he returned to Delhi for a break and I decided to cast him in a play I was directing. Perhaps he was appreciative but he asked me to visit Mumbai and spend a couple of weeks staying in his apartment, while he was in Delhi. I took him up on his offer, showed up in Mumbai. In those fifteen days, I found out that Vishal Bhardwaj, whom I knew from in Delhi, had decided to become a filmmaker. I went and met him, we spoke and then left it at that. On the 12th day of my stint in Mumbai, I got a call from Vishal, asking me to join his team as an Assistant Director. From that day onwards, Mumbai became home and I became a part of the film industry.
So how did the Casting Director mantle fall on you?
A2) When in Delhi, I had trained under Barry John and done acting workshops. To cut to the chase, Barry felt that it was Directing that I was better at. With that in mind, and with my prior knowledge of Directing Plays, I came armed to Vishal’s team, as someone who was very aware and trained in aspects of the making, knew about actors and also had a sense of music and most importantly, could get into the shoes of the intended audience. It was my breadth of knowledge which probably impressed Vishal when he hired me on. Unfortunately that initial project got shelved, but my talent as someone who has a knowledge of the universe the director is trying to create, stayed with Vishal. So we continued to do projects. We then moved on to Maqbool and Blue Umbrella and although wearing the cap of the Assistant Director, I travelled the length and breadth of the country, trying to find the right cast, then having detailed discussion with Vishal on why I thought the person was right and this became my forte. It continued in Omkara, where I got Deepak Dobriyal ….
Then along came Kaminey and you became a master in your craft by introducing Chandan Roy Sanyal and the actor, Amol Gupte?
Interestingly both took some doing to win over Vishal. Chandan was doing theater in Delhi, in fact he was part of a play that was supposed to fly out and perform in California and he was flying out in a couple of days prior to meeting him. Back then, the character of Mikhail was just being conceptualized. He came and gave an audition and I showed that to Vishal, who was fine with it, but wanted to see more auditions of other actors too, which we did. Then his newly appointed new AD, saw Chandan’s in Vishal’s office and shouted that she knew this guy and he was a really talented theater actor from Delhi. So now Vishal had two people in his team telling him that.
In case of Amol, I was having lunch one day flipping MID DAY, pages and one of the pages had Amol’s photo on some article. I immediately visualized in my mind that this was the look of Bhope. Of course whether he could deliver as an actor, or whether he would be convinced to act was another thing. My first telephone call to Amol was answered with abuses, who felt it was some weirdo calling him and bugging him to act. But I persisted and eventually got him the script. He liked what he saw and liked his character. But it was agreed that we would only take this further if Vishal too was convinced. Vishal initially was very reluctant, because he did not know Amol and was not sure whether someone as big as him (since this was post Taare Zameen Par), would agree to be directed by Vishal. Also in that time there was this Aamir vs Amol controversy going on, post Taare Zameen, and Vishal felt that it would not be right to cast Amol, lest he get accused of leveraging of a controversy for publicity. But when Vishal saw the audition, he too was happy.
So with both Chandan and Amol, Vishal liked what he saw, but was nervous since both these were central characters and if the audience did not accept them, the film would fall like a pack of cards. Finally we went with our instincts and the results are there for all to see.
What makes you such a good Casting Director?
Firstly I have to thank Shekhar Kapur, who even introduced this term, Casting Director, to the Indian film industry during the making of Bandit Queen, when he gave that mantle to Tigmanshu Dhulia. I think what I bring is a very open mind. I am not star or glamour struck. I travel a lot, meet a lot of people, see a lot of performers and even a lot of those who have never performed. When a Casting assignment is given to me, the first thing that should excite me, is the script. Then I begin to behave like an audience and mentally go on what the character should look like. Once I have that, I go though my mental database of people and performers I may have met and also scout the terrain to see who can best, be the character, the script has conceptualized and put the choices in front of the Director. At the end of the day, I need to be totally excited about the script and then everything else falls in place. I treat Casting as my passion, not as a 9 to 5 job, that needs to be done.
End of the dream then to be a Director?
Not at all, I think I am almost there. I will continue to be a Casting Director for projects that excite me and for creative people who are open to taking inputs and having healthy discussions and listening to distinct points of view. Vishal is one such person. I also did the Casting for Delhi Belly, but all along I have been chasing my dream as a Director and when that happens it will be dividing my life between being a Casting Director and being a full Director, again being always driven by the excitement of the script and the people involved, that will determine what roll I play in the project.