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Last Updated 23.06.2024 | 5:08 PM IST
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EXCLUSIVE: Shruti Mahajan talks about casting for Heeramandi: “Many from the industry asked me, ‘Why didn’t you think of us for Mallikajaan and Fareedan?’”; also says “Many have also praised Sharmin Segal’s work”

en Bollywood News EXCLUSIVE: Shruti Mahajan talks about casting for Heeramandi: “Many from the industry asked me, ‘Why didn’t you think of us for Mallikajaan and Fareedan?’”; also says “Many have also praised Sharmin Segal’s work”

The much-awaited show Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar was released earlier this month on Netflix and it became a talking point, especially thanks to its casting. The credit for it goes to casting director Shruti Mahajan. In an exclusive interview with Bollywood Hungama, she spoke about the process of casting, her beginnings in Bollywood and a lot more.

EXCLUSIVE: Shruti Mahajan talks about casting for Heeramandi: “Many from the industry asked me, ‘Why didn’t you think of us for Mallikajaan and Fareedan?’”; also says “Many have also praised Sharmin Segal's work"

EXCLUSIVE: Shruti Mahajan talks about casting for Heeramandi: “Many from the industry asked me, ‘Why didn’t you think of us for Mallikajaan and Fareedan?’”; also says “Many have also praised Sharmin Segal’s work”

The casting of Heeramandi has been spot-on, not just for bigger characters but even for smaller roles. How has been the feedback? 
It has been fantastic, overwhelming and very positive. I can use all the superlative adjectives! I have got a lot of love and affection. Hence, I feel blessed.

Who from the industry called you? Any memorable feedback from fellow fraternity members?
Most of the actors called up and especially spoke about the characters of Mallikajaan (played by Manisha Koirala) and Fareedan (played by Sonakshi Sinha). They asked me, ‘Why didn’t you think of me for these roles?’! This shows that they have done a fantastic job and I take complete pride. It’s also thanks to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magic; you just can’t go wrong. He gets the best out of all actors.

Whose casting was most difficult?
Every actor wants to work with Mr Bhansali. So, we were getting the right actors but we wanted the correct actors. Hence, we had to be very sure. For Mallikajaan, the brief that Mr Bhansali gave me was ‘Don’t go for regular casting’. All the characters are a little twisted and grey. There is envy, love and lust; you think of an emotion and you see that in Heeramandi. Sir ne navrasa se poora show banaya hai! Hence, every casting was a challenge and we did not go for cliché casting. We have never seen Manisha Koirala play a role with shades of grey. The same applies to Sonakshi Sinha. At the same time, all of them had to be beautiful. And of course, they had to be great performers.

Mr Bhansali and Manisha had worked together in the past. They have a beautiful relationship. Mr Bhansali knew what she is capable of and to get her to play a character like Mallikajaan was exciting for both of them.

It is said that you took 5 days to establish contact with Farida Jalal. Why did it take so long?
That’s because Farida ji doesn’t pick up calls! I kept reaching out to her and dropping messages. But there was no response. Also, there were speculations that she’s not been keeping well. Then I got hold of her son’s number and asked him if I could talk to Farida ji for the casting of Mr Bhansali’s show. He assured me that he’ll talk to his mother and get back. The coordination between the two of us took a couple of days. Finally, I spoke to Farida ji. Unki awaz mein hi itni mithaas hai ki main kya bataoon (smiles)! She told me ‘Mr Bhansali se puchhiye main kab aaun unse milne?’. At that very moment, I knew that she was Tajdar’s grandmother. She has so much grace and class. Her face still has that glow.

Also, when that character was being discussed, the name that Mr Bhansali mentioned during the reference was ‘the grandmother has to be like Farida ji’. And then, we were like ‘Farida ji hi kyun nahin?’! He also agreed and asked us where she was and how she was doing. Then we began to search for her.

Taha Shah was earlier offered a smaller role. Which character did Taha originally audition for?
He auditioned for Tajdar’s best friend. His audition was very nice and while Mr Bhansali was watching that audition, he felt that the boy had a spark. The casting for Tajdar was going on and he told me to ask Taha to audition for it. The hard work, determination, perseverance and luck that this boy has is unbelievable.

When we told him that he has to audition for another character, he complained, ‘Mera toh luck hi kharab hai’! Poor thing was hassled as he feared that he would lose out on the part of Tajdar’s friend. He did multiple rounds of auditions for Tajdar’s role. Then Mr Bhansali met him and told him ‘Hum tumko koi aur role de rahe hai’. He seemed sad on hearing it and then we broke the good news to him.

We did take a couple of months to finally get it right. But the love and affection that he’s getting is well deserved.

It was touching when he recently said in an interview, “Nothing in 14 years, and then in a week, I got everything”
Every actor has his or her own journey. If you are persistent, focused and here for the right reasons, then you can’t put a good actor down.

Do you feel that there has been too much criticism for Sharmin Segal?
A lot of people have praised her work. So, I don’t know if there’s negativity. What is important is that one should focus on one’s work. We are here to give our best and Sharmin has given her best. And we should embrace positivity. The medium that we are in is very subjective and not everybody will like their work. We should focus on those who have liked it and appreciated it.

Indresh Malik (Ustad ji) was the surprise of the show…
We had cast him in a very small role in Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022). That’s where we found him. The credit for Ustad ji goes to him for agreeing to do the minuscule part in that film. It left a great impact. His casting is a classic case of ‘kaam se kaam milta hai’. I always tell actors ‘Chhota ya bada role aise mat socho. Accha kaam karo’. What can take you to the next project is what matters. It depends on your hard work and sincerity.

Before becoming a casting director, you used to work at Citibank. How did you get into this field and which was your first film? Was it Chakravyuh (2012)?
My first film as an independent casting director was Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-leela (2013). While casting for that film, Mr Prakash Jha called me as he was also looking for a casting director. Chakravyuh’s casting happened and it was released before Ram-leela. Simultaneously, I worked on both projects.

I come from a typical Indian family where my father is an IPS officer while my mother is an entrepreneur. I had to get a fat pay cheque at the end of the month. I soon realized that I was not meant for a 9-to-5 job. I wanted to be a part of making films. I was having this conversation with a director-friend. He said, ‘There’s something called casting which is very similar to what you’ve been doing in the corporate world, that is, finding the right talent for the right role!” He also remarked, “You are a bright girl. You are instinctive, intuitive and have an eye for talent”. He felt I was fit to work in casting and asked me to apply in Yash Raj Films (YRF). They were looking for casting assistants then.

I liked the idea and went ahead. I got a job at YRF and worked there for a year, where I learnt a lot. At that time, Shanoo Sharma didn’t have a lot of assistants and that was a blessing in disguise as I learnt a lot. All my learning happened while assisting at YRF. And the learning process goes on. Every film and every director helps you to learn the craft and excel better.

Which films of YRF were you a part of?
I worked on the casting of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011), Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (2011), Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Mere Dad ki Maruti (2013) etc.

Speaking of your upcoming films, Sarfira, starring Akshay Kumar, looks promising. What can we expect from this film in terms of casting?
Watch the film and I hope you call and tell me that you liked our out-of-the-box casting! Also, it is directed by Sudha Kongara ma’am, a female director. She was in the South while we were casting and a lot of initial meetings happened over Zoom. That was a challenge but once she was in Mumbai, the casting process began. When you see the film, you’ll realize that the casting requires a certain flavour. It’s a very gritty casting. And it’s different from Heeramandi (laughs)! Mr Bhansali’s world is larger than life. Here, everything is more real and grounded.

Is there anything else in the pipeline that you’d like to talk about?
I have just finished casting for the web show of Mr Raj Kumar Gupta of No One Killed Jessica (2011) fame, produced by RSVP. Casting for it was very challenging.

Also Read: EXCLUSIVE: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi to get season 2 on Netflix? Director weighs in on the possibility of renewal

More Pages: Heeramandi Box Office Collection , Heeramandi Movie Review


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