“Big producers will have to make movies that will tempt the audience to step out”

Mukesh Chhabra found his true calling when he directed ‘Dil Bechara’, late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s last movie. Chhabra has been a popular and very successful casting director in Bollywood and has a vast repertoire of films that he has worked with, including, Vikas Bahl’s ‘Chillar Party’, Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, Abhishek Kapoor’s ‘Kai Po Che’, and Nikhil Advani’s ‘D-Day’, among others. 

In conversation with Adgully, Mukesh Chhabra looks back at the entertainment landscape in the year gone by, turning director with his inaugural film ‘Dil Bechara’, his journey as a casting director and more. 

What has kept you busy during 2020?

Thankfully, I have been working on a lot of interesting projects which kept me busy throughout 2020. They are all set to release this year.  Also, during the lockdown, a short film competition as an initiative was started to motivate the aspiring actors. I also conducted workshops and live sessions with different actors to encourage the aspiring actors as everyone was going through a difficult time. 

From a casting director to directing ‘Dil Bechara’ – could you take us through this journey?

I have always aspired to be a filmmaker, casting happened to me by default. My mentor from my NSD days suggested that I take up casting as a full time profession as he always believed I had a keen eye for talent. That’s how my journey as a casting director began. But I always knew that I wanted to direct a film and when the right script came along, I acted on that opportunity. 

What will be your next venture? What are you working on currently?

I am currently focusing on my casting, when the right script comes by, I’ll take it up. I have a few exciting projects lined up, hope they manage to show the efforts that we have taken. 

The entertainment sector underwent massive upheavals in 2020. What according to you are the key trends that will dominate in 2021 as well?

The trend of releasing content on OTT platforms and the process of auditioning actors will continue. 

What are your observations on the changes in the entertainment consumption behaviour during the pandemic times? Do you see at home content consumption continuing in the foreseeable future?

The major change that we saw during the lockdown was a huge growth in digital content, both Hindi and regional, and we also saw cinema shrinking from the big screen to smaller screens like laptops or phones. People, too, became more inclined to watching content on various streaming platforms. 

Several big budget Bollywood movies are slated for release this year. Do you see that enough to draw in movie goers to the theatres or will the fear of COVID-19 continue to keep people away from movie theatres for some more time?

The fear is still there, but the audience has gathered courage to step out to watch movies. The South is showing Bollywood the way. We also need to extend our support towards cinemas as we make movies for the big screen. The exhibition industry is going through a very rough patch. The exhibitors are also taking adequate measures put in place by the Government. Hope to see big ticket films release in Cinemas before the financial year ends. 

How do you see the entire COVID-19 disruption impacting storytelling?

The pandemic has changed our outlook towards life, so I do feel the way stories are going to be told will definitely be more positive. While all kinds of content is being made for the OTT platforms, the big producers will have to make movies that will tempt the audience to step out of their homes.


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