By Surendra Bhatia
It is well known in India that kursi corrupts, and the more important the kursi, greater and more blatant is the corruption. This may be particularly true of government officials but there are some such instances in Bollywood too.
Casting director is a recent addition to the credits of a Bollywood film and his/her role has swiftly become imperative in ambitious productions. Since the lead cast is so essential to the selling of a film, it is selected by the team of producer-director along with the investors, but the rest of the cast becomes the responsibility of the casting director. Earlier, the director and the producer and their support team used to select all actors, including minor ones who had barely a day’s work in the film. Everyone in production units has connections with the smaller actors, and their pictures adorn the office photo albums. One quick look through the albums, and the actors would get firmed up. Thus it was that almost the same group of actors (daily wagers and those with contracts for work running over a few days) would keep circulating from film to film. At times, it got so bad that these small actors used to have a role to play in almost fifty per cent of the releases over a month!
Casting agents offered an option as they put in the effort to dig out new and talented actors. The casting staff would scout for actors in the world of theatre, TV shows and everywhere that actors are found, put them through auditions, and shortlist them for directors to pass and sign up. This not only threw up fresh new actors but even films began acquiring a slightly different look because of well-cast faces and also due to absence of the usual suspects.
This arrangement worked well for all concerned: filmmakers got good but unknown and hitherto unseen faces in all the minor roles; the new film actors got a break; and the casting agent deservedly earned the fees which the production houses paid them.
If this is how this particular aspect of life continued in Bollywood, it would have been good. But when has anything moved smoothly in Bollywood beyond the initial period?
Casting agents built their reputation by providing capable actors in major and minor roles, to filmmakers, but the moment production houses started giving them a lot greater freedom in selecting the cast members, and started depending on them, casting agents pulled out new tricks from the hat.
Apparently, the current practice among most casting agents, even the big ones, is to zero in on an actor for a role, sell him to the filmmaker for the role, and then collect a hefty commission on the actor’s fees! Besides, of course, charging the filmmaker for their service. This way, the casting agent puts himself in the most enviable position: get paid by the production house to select an actor, and then take a cut from the actor on the fee paid to him/her (actor/actress) by the producer! Is all this ethical? It certainly doesn’t sound like it.
A whole lot of issues, which didn’t exist earlier, get thrown up: since the casting agent is adjudicating on the actor, out of whose fee he is taking a cut, isn’t it likely that the casting agent would select the actor offering the maximum commission? If the casting agent is being paid by both — producer and the actor who is cast in the producer’s film — who is he loyal to? Shouldn’t it be the producer and no one else, just as it should be only the producer paying him and no one else? As it earlier used to be?
This unethical practice is no different from government officials asking for bribes to be used as paperweight, otherwise the relevant papers (of the person being solicited for a bribe) would fly out of the window. It is so easy to imagine the casting agents completely ignoring a good actor, and maybe the best choice for the said role, because he is adamant about not offering them commission. Is that fair at all to the producer, or the actor?
The kursi truly corrupts.