The strange thing about casting in Indian advertising is that while on the one hand casting has got decidedly better, the same lot of actors and actresses get repeated in commercial after commercial. Take the case of Kamal Chopra, Boman Irani and Shorab Ardeshi, to name a few. All very talented actors, certainly, but overexposed. After all, as Geeta Rao of O&M says about viewer fatigue, "Consumers tire of the same faces, and after some time, it becomes a blind spot." So why isn't the industry unearthing more talent?
K.V. Sridhar of Lowe Lintas feels that "the intentions are good", but a lot of repetition happens partly due to "laziness" and partly due to "tight schedules". He cites the example of the casting process for the Saint-Gobain commercials (yes, they've both been made by Lowe Lintas, Mumbai!) to make his point about laziness. "As the brief was to give the brand an international character, we had devised a script which had foreigners in it. Then we scoured hundreds of tourists and people from consulates for the right faces. I was particular that the two East Asians be perfect… they had to have that timid 'aiyyo-paavam' (poor things) look about them. And the African woman had to be typical too. Finally, I got what I wanted. The African woman is actually into the export of Kashmiri carpets to Nigeria. But what we managed was great detailing. It was one of the most satisfying experiences for me. What I am saying is that by sitting in India if we can find foreigners who suit the role, why can't we find Indians? Someone has to spend time looking for new faces."
"We do gave an extremely small bank of talented actors to choose from," Subir Chatterjee of White Light laments. And he feels that Indian feature films are partly responsible for the shortage. "In Britain and the US, the film industry fuels a lot of talent. There are so many two-bit roles that call for casting and are filled by talented actors. With so many good actors, there is a natural catchment for advertising. But here in India, everything is picture perfect. Perfect hero, perfect sidekick, perfect uncle… There are no characters in feature films here. We do not accommodate characters in our scripts. Which is why so few NSD pass-outs are getting breaks in mainstream cinema." But then there is theatre, which has been tapped, but sparingly.
However, to be fair to filmmakers and agencies, time is the enemy. Unearthing new talent is a time-consuming process. And often, by the time the client has given the agency a go-ahead on the script, it's 15 days from the date of release. "Abroad, they take a whole lot of time deciding on the casting," says Namita Roy Ghose, also of White Light. "Here, we are often rushed off our feet. Getting it right is most important, but these are often seen as the finer points." And these get glossed over.
One area where the casting is at its worst is in children's roles. There are just these half-a-dozen kids, ad after ad after ad. "I think this is happening because we are bad at making commercials with kids in them," feels Rao. "Also because it is supposedly easier to make a commercial with kids, as people will watch cute kids anyway." Sridhar, for one, can't fathom this cute kid business. "Kids in real life are not at all like those you see in ads," he says. "Boys in the age group of 8-12 years are very ugly, but can still be likeable. Take Manju Nath of Malgudi Days - dark, ungainly, but every one of us likes him. That's the way kids in commercials should be. And the only way you'll find such kids is by going into children's theatre."
Sridhar also feels that things are this bad because serious casting directors don't exist in India. But what about model coordinators… can't they help out? Sridhar smiles and shakes his head, "Barring a few, they know nothing about advertising." Namita is more emphatic in her dismissal. "They don't understand casting or cinematography. They cannot decode the brief and send the right kind of people. All they give you is volume. Ask them for nine-year-olds with good teeth, and they'll send you a hundred. Who cares whether any of the hundred can act or not."
Typecasting is another issue. Irani and Patkar are the obvious choices for the comic element. Chopra is the eternal 'dignified senior citizen', while Makrand Deshpande is fast becoming the industry's resident bandit. "There certainly is some kind of typecasting," agrees Rao. "Agencies, filmmakers and clients are thoughtlessly getting onto the bandwagon. The onus rests on the agencies and the directors to see that this does not happen."
Clients are responsible for typecasting in more ways than one. While some may insist that an Irani must do their funny ad, there are others who might even turn down Irani - solely because of his reputation. "Boman can do very serious roles, but clients who are looking at a serious communication will reject him for being a comic," says Chatterjee. The image that sticks creates default typecasting.
The upshot is that while casting is being accorded its due in Indian advertising, quality casting is happening only in a minority of cases. While there are good actors and actresses, fresh talent is the need of the hour. Today, if the Yahoo! 'brothers' commercial is memorable, it's because the protagonist is so refreshingly different. So endearingly different.
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