Ahmedabad born Abhinay Banker has a name that says everything about his profession. No, he isn’t a banker, he is an actor and eminent theatre personality and the stage and its drama define Abhinay’s persona!
The Ahmedabad Blog connected with Abhinay Banker over a long talk discussing his works and the theatre culture in Ahmedabad. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
Tell us about your casting studio ‘AB Casting Studio’. How did it begin?
Casting Director is basically a Hollywood concept. The value of Casting Directors is equal to a director there. But Indian cinema never had this position in its team because it was always a director or a producer who would select the leads and other starcast. But since last 7 years times have changed. From the time directors like Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali have entered the Bollywood; they gave importance to this particular position.
My first film as a casting director was Abhishek Jain’s ‘Kevi Rite Jaish’. This film was not only the first urban Gujarati film but also a film which gave roots for AB casting studio. Abhishek was aware about my theatre group in Ahmedabad and had asked me to join his team at the script level. I liked the script and got more and more involved with the movie. Slowly, I started suggesting him actors. This is the point where he saw my talent as a casting director and offered me the post officially. I hesitated initially as I had no clue as to what a Casting Director does. But then he said “As a director of your plays, you do choose actors for your play. It’s the same thing you will be doing for my film but just under the name of Casting Director.” I thought of those parameters and thought of giving it a shot. I had nothing to lose so thought of gaining an experience in this position.
The film was not only successful, but opened doors for this position in Gujarat. I observed that though we have a good script, sometimes the movie fails because of good actors who would actually fit in the role. After Kevi Rite Jaish, I was a Casting Director for few short films and advertisements. It’s then I realized that there are no Casting Directors in Gujarat and decided to take it up as a full time role. I also felt that by this, I could take Gujarati cinema to a different level.
And soon, I reached Bollywood too and did the casting for D-Day and Gori Tere Pyaar Main. This is how AB Casting Studio took place and now I get calls from people whom I have never spoken in my life, whom I don’t even know. But it gives an immense satisfaction and I am sure with people’s love and support AB Casting Studio will soon have a physical place too.
What exactly is the role of a Casting Director and at what point in the production process do they come in?
People often confuse a Casting Director as a coordinator, which is not at all true. I don’t know about other Casting Directors but I have used my theatre background basically. The role of Casting Director involves going through the script, understanding what a director would want from that role as an actor and then sort out different characters and then take auditions.
According to me there are two ways of selecting a cast. First is knowing the actors in their real life. If you know that person and his nature, you can make a judgment whether he /she will fit the role or not. I generally sit with the actors, know their background, what are they in their day to day life and then go ahead with casting. This is because an actor completely changes in front of camera. If you know him personally, you will be able to know whether he/she can do that role naturally or not in the film.
But this could take a lot of time sometimes. So the second way is to keep open auditions. Here in the first round we can just see the screen presence. Whether the face and body language is suiting the screen or not. If yes, then we go ahead with personal interaction in the second round where we tell him the role, character and other detailing. It also happens that after finalizing the actor, the shooting dates don’t match with the actor, or any other problem. So while auditioning, we always keep 2-3 people selected for the role.
You are a director, writer and actor. What defined your own work in the theatre?
Honesty, hard work and faith. Whatever you do in the theatre, your faith with the director as well as the team and vice versa will take you ahead and build a relationship.
You started your career in theatre before having a degree in performing arts. Is it necessary to have a degree in acting to perform ?
I was a B.com student and after graduation studied M.com too for a year. But then I quit it due to lack of interest and started visiting the Performing Arts department of Gujarat University for 2 years. One day, the Dean said, “You have been coming since 2 years, why don’t you come for another year and you will get a degree” I joined it by completing all the formalities and got to do a lot of experimental plays, which was hard to get at that time in Gujarat. In 2006, before I got my degree I acted in a Mallika Sarabhai`s play. I never went to get a degree, but all I wanted was a good exposure. It was important to be a part of that culture. When you see something for 24 hours and be a part of it, you automatically start going deep in it .Later, I also got a Gold medal and I started alumni department in the college as well as organized lots of festivals in the campus. But I believe no acting course or university can make someone an actor.
Your latest play ‘Chalta Phirta Bambai’ is a big hit and the talk of the town. What is it all about?
We actually started this play based on Delhi gang rape but then saw a lot of plays were already being made. So we stopped. But then we gave a thought over it and came up with the other ways girls get raped. A husband could rape his wife, I feel prostitutes get raped everyday! So we took up this as a base and came up with 3 stories of girls of 3 different ages.
The first story is about a 14-year old teenager who is a heroine and is very strong in her ethics and moral .But how long can she survive in this industry on her morals?
The second is about a 22 year old girl who is being cheated by her boyfriend after giving fake promises and marriage dreams. They run away and sleep as well. But then the boy leaves her and runs away. She gets into prostitution later as now she can’t go back home. I feel there are so many girls in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and other cities who get trapped in fake love and end up being prostitutes.
And the third story is about a 30 year old lady, who is a prostitute by profession. She is growing old, has got wrinkles and is worried that how will she get her livelihood now as she is losing her beauty. But there is this one man, who makes her feel beautiful, keeps giving her compliments and tells her that what she is thinking is not right just to sleep with her. But when reality slaps her, she kicks out that man!
Like her, there are a lot of girls who are not self-confident in this world. And other people misuse this weakness of them…
Chalta Phirta Bambai is a story of every girl I feel. It is filled with lots of songs and emotions. The best part of the play is that none of the actors working on this play have watched theatre before and still have done a brilliant job!
Where do you see the future of Gujarati theatre 5 years down the line?
I am not sure if people are aware or not but Gujarati theatre is appreciated not only in Gujarat but also in Mumbai. In Mumbai, it is a culture to go and watch a play. But Gujarat lacks that culture. People prefer watching a movie rather than a play. But honestly, theatre culture was a very big part of Gujarat earlier. People use to go and watch plays. But now the trend is changing again though very slowly. Also, young directors and good actors are becoming part of it now. Directors are directing literature and commercial theatre is less which is a good sign.
People are forgetting that stars like Naserudhin Shah and Om Puri have worked in Gujarati Cinema and there will be a time when Amitabh Bachchan will work too.
Any advice for upcoming theatre artists in Ahmedabad?
In my theatre workshops also, I always sit with the students and interact with them. I am keen to know why they have joined the workshop, what are they looking for after the workshop and etc. But I get a little upset when I come to know that their ultimate aim is to get into films. There is a huge difference between films and theatre which I feel people don’t understand before joining the workshop.
I would advice upcoming artists to please not take theatre as a staircase to films. Both the mediums have their individual identity and to get into films through theatre is nothing but a shortcut. If you want to do film, directly join institutes which are running to give actors for films, don’t waste time in theatre. You will be lost ultimately and confused.
With movies like ‘Kevi Rite Jaish’ and few upcoming movies, the Gujarati film industry seems to be picking up. Your comments?
I have 2 views on this. Generally, whenever there is a successful film, the expectations are set by the audience. But it gets difficult to maintain that success and also there is a lot of pressure.
After Kevi Rite Jaish, a lot of urban Gujarati films are being made, some will be released soon but all I am worried is the quality. I have always been worried about it when it has been about casting too. Directors focus on a good script, good camera, good team, but then why not focus on good actors?
I really had fun working with Abhishek Jain because he is a pure person and knows what is he up to and that’s one of the reasons why Kevi Rite clicked. On this note I would like to say a quote which I always say-
“Jeni Niyat Sari Eni Niyati Hamesha Sari”
My second view is that today every house has a filmmaker. It’s same like in the earlier times every house had a cricketer. Today with the help of technology, everyone has a handy-cam and wants to make a short film. But people are forgetting that films like Kevi Rite clicked because it cracked the mentality of Gujarati Films. The costumes were modern, the music was nice , people had never thought that a Gujarati film could be made this way. So learn the art and then think of doing something different.
And now I am afraid that after setting up the standards, this industry is not kicked back again. Because even after Kevi Rite, many Gujarati movies have been unsuccessful. But I really want from my heart that the audience starts appreciating the Gujarati cinema just like the Marathi Cinema.
Last question, how can Aamdavadi`s upcoming actors and artists connect with you? Also, any message for them?
It’s very easy. You can ‘Like’ our FB page- AB Casting Studio. We keep posting updates of the auditions happening in Gujarat. We cast not only for Gujarati cinema but also for print advertisements, Ad films, Commercials etc. There are a lot of talented actors but at the same time models also have a lot to express. Models are stars in their industry but the film industry is always ready to welcome them.
My message would be that even if you have failed in 1 audition or 10 to say, don’t stop yourself. Don’t be afraid to approach anyone. After 6 months, give another try because there are a lot of scripts with different roles. Also in 6 months, a person’s face changes, maturity changes which might be perfect for our next role at that time!