In the new Christopher Nolan film, Tenet, Dimple Kapadia initially appears as the enigmatic wife of a major arms dealer in Mumbai, but pulls a bait-and-switch when she reveals herself to be the one really calling the shots. “A masculine front in a man’s world has its uses,” her character tells The Protagonist (John David Washington). Landing the part took one audition and some convincing from talent manager Purvi Lavingia Vats.
Earlier based in Los Angeles, Vats worked in casting departments of Twentieth Century Fox Features and Warner Bros before moving to Mumbai in 2010. She’s been trying to bridge the gap between Hollywood and the Indian film industry since. She talks about how secretive Tenet was, how she drew the casting director’s attention to Kapadia and what Indian actors can do to better their chances of being noticed in the West:
‘Everything about the film was very secretive’
“Since I was exposed to Indian films at such a young age, I’ve always felt that there was so much talent to tap in India. Once I moved back to Mumbai, I began meeting actors that I felt had the potential to crossover and began representing them for international projects. The process is very organised. If I feel like any of the actors I work with are right for a specific role, then I reach out to the casting office. I got Ali Fazal his role in Furious 7 (2015). I had pitched him for the part and asked him to do a self-tape audition and he was in the mountains during that time. He had very limited resources to shoot it but he pulled it off and gave a fantastic audition. I sent it in and we got an offer the next morning. He’s such a spontaneous actor and an absolute delight to work with.
I had an actor self-tape for a role in Interstellar (2014), and since I knew the casting office very well, they reached out to me for Tenet. Everything about the film was very secretive. I just got a single scene. It wasn’t from the script, but it had the kind of character they were looking for someone to play. They’d given me very limited information about the character and an age group. That was very tricky for me, it was basically one’s own interpretation of the character. But based on this limited brief, Dimple came to mind.
As Dimple has said in her recent interviews, she was initially hesitant to do it. I had other actresses go on tape and very few were shortlisted. Based on feedback, however, my mind kept going back to Dimple. I kept checking back with her as I really felt that she was the right choice for this role. Her answer was the same every time but I just couldn’t get her out of my mind. I even put footage together of her work and pulled out a few scenes from Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and sent that to the casting team. After seeing the scenes, they were even more keen to see her audition. She finally came around and, as luck would have it, Nolan was flying in for a location scout and he brought casting director John Papsidera. So the meeting was fixed.
I went to the audition and waited outside anxiously. Once it was done, John came out and said: She’s recommending another actress for the part! We had a good laugh. That’s the best thing about Dimple. She’s a legend and yet so humble and nonchalant. She’s a powerhouse of talent and I’m so excited to see what she does next in Hollywood.
At one point, it was a long road for Indian actors looking to make it into mainstream Hollywood films. However, last year, I came across quite a few projects in which the kind of roles being offered to Indians were very strong. Things are changing for sure. Now, casting diverse talent has become more and more relevant thanks to the kind of shows and films we’re seeing. I would still say that the chances of Indian actors getting cast as a lead in a project are more likely if the story is based on their ethnicity. But I do believe it’s just a matter of time when we’ll get to a point where color blind casting is the norm.
Some of the biggest obstacles for actors are securing the 0-1 work visa and finding representation. My advice would be work as much as you can and build your body of work. Currently, the new norm for international casting is self-tape auditions, which can be done from anywhere around the world. So I would advise actors to stay put where they’re getting the most work and the auditions will come no matter where one lives in the world.”