Decoding ‘The Bombay Dream’ with Mukesh Chhabra

The casting director is trying his hand at being a talk show host.
Decoding ‘The Bombay Dream’ with Mukesh Chhabra

Bollywood’s leading casting director now has his own talk show. After casting for films like Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), PK (2014) and Jawan (2023), as well as streaming shows like Delhi Crime (2019), The Family Man (2019) and the Scam series (2020), Mukesh Chhabra, who describes himself as “an excited child”, is now keen on sharing what he has learnt over the years with audiences. His talk show “The Bombay Dream”, which can be viewed on Mashable India’s YouTube channel, currently has five episodes that follow Chhabra’s conversations with film directors about their casting process. The guests so far have been Farah Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Hansal Mehta, Kabir Khan, and the duo of Raj & DK. 

Film Companion spoke to the casting director-turned-star about being a talk show host. Edited excerpts from the interview:

What made you want to start “The Bombay Dream”?

Whenever I listened to actors’ interviews, I realised that there’s a missing link here —  how were they cast? What was the process? I thought people should know this from the point of view of the director — on a show where there is no gossip, no affair-talk, no random Rapid Fire. It’s just purely on performance and casting. When I shared the idea of this talk show to my friend at Mashable, he loved it and immediately jumped on it. And all the directors I’ve worked with, who are very close to me, also loved the idea. You won’t believe, some of our discussions go on for three hours, but we have to edit it down. But they have so much to say about the actor, the performance, and the process of casting and the script. This is just a pure discussion on the craft of casting. The show is entirely shot in my own studio, next to my office in Andheri. 

What do you want audiences to take away from the show?

The objective is just to spread positivity and motivation. If you give yourself over to the craft, you can make it. There’s no rocket science. There are a lot of misconceptions about casting, but it’s actually a simple process that you can hear straight from the director. That was the whole idea. [Audiences] will get the right advice from the guest and me as a casting director.

Mukesh Chhabra with Raj & DK
Mukesh Chhabra with Raj & DK

How do you choose your guests? 

Firstly, it’s people I’ve worked with, whose films I’ve cast for. I have a good relationship with them, whether it’s Kabir Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Raj & DK, or any of the guests who will be appearing on my show: Rajkumar Hirani, Nitesh Tiwary, Abhishek Kapoor and Vishal Bhardwaj. Since I have worked with them, I know their entire process.

Would you interview someone you haven’t worked with?

100%. I have already got a few calls. I will watch their films, do my research on their work, and ask my questions accordingly. Mostly, I improvise. I don’t really plan or write my questions. I just go with the flow of the conversation, so that it doesn’t feel like a burden.

In the episode with Farah Khan, you called her ‘didi’ and made jokes with her. How does your relationship with your guests inform how you conduct an interview with them?

Because [the interview format] is not formal, people have made it formal. My relationship with Farah [Khan] is something everyone knows, so why should I hide that in the interview? I told her she can scold me, abuse me, shout at me, that’s how we are together. When we are society-conscious, we try to fabricate what we say and try to be politically correct. I will just say what my heart is saying. I’m a casting director who has done close to 300 films. I want to share the experience I have. All the discussions I’ve had with directors over the years are now happening on camera. 

Mukesh Chhabra with Farah Khan
Mukesh Chhabra with Farah Khan

Who is your dream guest?

I want to talk to everyone in Bollywood, especially Sanjay Leela Bhansali. From Hollywood, I want to speak to Todd Phillips, the guy who made Joker (2019). 

What are some casting misconceptions that you want to dispel with this show?

Everyone thinks people only get jobs because they know someone in the industry. But when they find out the process, they realise how much thought went behind casting a certain person. Why did we take so many years to cast for Dangal (2016)? People don’t know the journey of actors, and how much time it all takes. 

You’ve acted in the past, but most of your work has been behind the camera. What is it like to be in front of the camera in this setting?

Maza aa raha hai (I’m having fun). I’m enjoying it. Even when I do guest appearances in films like Jawan and Chamak (2023), I just want to be myself. I don’t do it with the intention of being in front of the camera. With this show, what’s important to me is to get this information out there. I just enjoyed the whole process.

Would you say you’re an ambitious person? 

I am very ambitious. Every day I come up with 10 ideas. I run a theatre festival. I’ve also written a few books for children. I want to open more offices, I want to do more workshops. I want to do something everyday. I don’t want to let myself be bored.

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