Till not too long ago, the Punjabi film industry wouldn't have a casting credit in its films. Jyotika Badyal decided to change that. In a span of six years, she has become Punjab's first female casting director and has 14 films to her credit, that include Sajjan Singh Rangroot, Toba Tek Singh, Kala Shah Kala, Rockey Mental, Lahoriye, Kaptaan and Nankana.
Tell us a bit about your background and how did casting happen?
I was a film enthusiast from an early age. So much so that I would watch regional films on Doordarshan without even understanding the language. I joined Actor Prepares Chandigarh as an administrator after my graduation where I was introduced to world cinema. In 2011 I did a film appreciation course from FTII Pune and that's where I met an actor Sunil Palwal who later recommended my name to Mohinder Pratap Singh who was directing his debut Hindi film Bhujang for the Children's Film Society of India. He wanted someone to cast local actors in Chandigarh. Honestly, I had no clue if I could do it but once he saw my work he said you have an eye for casting. I always say I became a casting director by chance, not by choice.
Has Punjab opened up to the idea of casting?
It's in a very early phase. Majority of casting is still done by various departments but the casting director. Therefore, you don't see casting credit in 90% of Punjabi films that release. When a professional isn't hired, it will lead to typecasting and repetition of actors. Having said that I can see some of the directors really rooting for good casting and insisting on getting a casting director on board. But the numbers are handful and it needs to grow.
Lack of professionalism is one of major difference that I find here. The industry is not very organized, and actors have no clue where to go for auditions or how to find out about the casting opportunities. According to them casting happens through liaisons and recommendations.
What is your forte while casting for films? Who are your prominent discoveries?
I cast actors mostly from theatre background. In films like Sajjan Singh Rangroot, Kaptaan and Tiger I had cast theatre actors only. Many of them were from National School of Drama, Delhi and Department of India Theatre, Chandigarh who've never or rarely been cast in a film. I try and travel within Punjab to watch theatre and collaborate with theatre groups for casting and auditions. Poppy Jabbal whose work in recently released Uda Aida was praised by critics as well as audience is my discovery. I had cast her in Mahi NRI as the female lead. Also, another girl to watch out for is Anchal Singh who's debuting with Punjkhaab.
How are actors from small cities different from actors struggling in Mumbai. What edge do they have?
Lack of professionalism is one of major difference that I find here. The industry is not very organized, and actors have no clue where to go for auditions or how to find out about the casting opportunities. According to them casting happens through liaisons and recommendations. Amidst such a mindset, when I ask for auditions, they mostly have a casual approach. And some are even skeptical as they haven't heard about casting at all in Punjabi cinema.
However, they have small town/city charm and a variety of faces that are so raw and cinematic. And that's why you see a lot of regional casting happening in Hindi projects now. I have just finished casting for RSVP film's Bhangra Pa Le in collaboration with its main casting director Shruti Mahajan.
Is there a challenge to being the only female casting director in Punjab?
The challenges that I have faced weren't gender specific. They're more in regard with casting itself. There's no recognition to this department and hence casting is not considered crucial to a film. So the challenge remains in how to tell producers, directors and production houses to get you on board. And if someone has approached you then most of the time you are just given a list of characters that you need to find from your database. You aren't given a script narration or character briefs more than one liner.
Also, some of the industry people are ignorant and unaware of the fact that casting director and coordinator are two different people. So I would often get call a night before shoot where I am asked if I can send actors on set next morning – with no script, no auditions, and the payment will be negotiated on the set once actor reaches. Also the lack of contracts leads to uncertainty about getting a casting credit too.
Most of the time you are just given a list of characters that you need to find from your database. You aren't given a script narration or character briefs more than one liner.
How have you worked around this?
My professionalism and diligence has worked for me. I don't do any project without a contract now and I have been getting credit as well. Some of the makers have involved me from day one of the production and that has helped me in assembling a good cast as I had enough time to cast. For Nankana and Kaptaan I worked for around four months on casting and casted actors with theatre background only. For Parmish Verma's Rocky Mental and Diljit Dosanjh's Sajjan Singh Rangroot I was given complete script narration and it was a big help in understanding the foreground and background of characters.
Do you see better roles being written for women?
I am part of the industry from the times when absolutely no importance was given for casting of female actors to now when the films are being written around female characters. I see a steady change in the industry in that context. Films like Jatt and Juliet, Angrez , Lahoriye, Rabb Da Radio, Nidhi Singh, Qismat and Uda Aida had balanced scripts. Neeru Bajwa has reigned the Punjabi industry for almost a decade now and she's still going strong. She can pull the audience to the theatres on her own. Sargun Mehta is another name who's proving her mettle with each film that she's doing. And so is Simi Chahal. But again, these are just the few names so imbalance is there.
Where do you see your future in Punjabi film industry?
I have a team of three now. To sensitise actors as well as aspiring casting directors I am doing regular workshops with various theatre groups in Punjab. I have held two such workshops in this year alone. Now actors can walk in for auditions with prior set appointment to our office. Social Media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have helped me in connecting with actors. I have got emails from actors from outside India who were interested in auditioning. I am growing my tribe of casting directors because you only grow when you take your tribe along with you.