Q: How did you get into casting?
It found me actually! I started my career in an advertising & film production company where I was involved in production, casting, locations, wardrobe, production design everything! And when I had had my fill of that and wasn't quite sure what I wanted to continue with, I started getting a number of casting assignments, fortunately with some of the most reputable and creative filmmakers in Advertising. It was the pats on my back from these directors that acted as encouragement – they made me take what I was doing seriously! Gradually, commercials turned into films, through the international needs of certain films. I think my timing was good too, since the Indian film industry is becoming more organized. There is a greater role for Casting Directors with a steadily growing independent film space and globally there is also more interest in India as a filming destination; as a backdrop for universal stories acceptable to an international audience.
What are your favorite parts of the job?
Oh so many things! Every project has something new and fresh. Meeting new talented people (actors, directors, producers) on every project and having to find a new resource for each project. This is one of the reasons I love casting projects on location out of Mumbai (where I'm based) - casting real people or getting local actors who have had less exposure in films - I've met and cast classical musicians in Rajasthan, vegetable vendors in Mumbai, children who live in orphanages, barbers who sit by the Ganges in Varanasi, amateur cricketers and coaches in cricket crazy Kolkata, dancers and athletes, Dabbawallas in Mumbai (members of a local lunchbox delivery service), Pehelwans (indigenous wrestlers) and a British lady as Julia Roberts’ stand-in in Delhi apart from many talented professional actors- its been very exciting!
One memorable moment for me was on a recent Australian film: we needed a blind singing beggar in Varanasi (an ancient holy city in North India) and we went looking in a local school for the blind - where we found a young student who was a wonderful singer named Kapoor. He was very upset that day, because he had been rejected in a singing contest. When we told him he had been selected for our film he was over the moon – he started singing a beautiful lyrical old Hindi film song - the emotion was so heartfelt I'll always remember him walking away, privately singing his joy on that grey winter morning!
I love when a director and my instincts match.
I love when an actor does something unexpected and magical to a character.
I'm also very possessive of the actors who get cast and I try and make sure they're treated well by production. I always make myself available to them for any issues they might be facing vis-a-vis the project, but I also censure them if need be: a habit that earned me the nickname "mummyji" (mom!) during a recent film, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
How would you describe the differences in the casting process for US / UK films and Indian films?
For UK/US projects the filmmaker usually comes with no baggage – it seems to matter less if the actor cast is from film or television or theatre and less emphasis on what their status and image is locally and the concept of beauty differs - at least in whatever I've done so far its been a selection process based on reads and meetings rather than any consideration of fame, etc. while mainstream Bollywood is highly star-driven.
For US/UK projects, I have to be mindful of getting actors who look and feel authentic for certain roles and are fluent in English with neutral accents suitable for an international audience in most cases.
I also get an opportunity to explain sometimes certain cultural aspects that would've otherwise gone unnoticed by the director who comes from a different country and how this might sometimes have a bearing on a characters physicality, name, dressing and could help lend authenticity.
Also, Indian films usually need a broader style of acting which is not the case in films abroad. So I have to focus on actors who can moderate their performance. Right now, I'm very interested in seeing if there is a more active role I can play in creating more interest in Indian actors for work originating abroad.
Why did you join CSA?
I felt it would be a useful resource and network to be part of in a film industry where casting is a highly respected, organized and structured specialization with members whose work I admire and can reach out to if need be and provide a link to anyone who requires any casting-related information or assistance in India.
I had just worked on “Eat Pray Love" and decided to actively pursue reaching out to other casting directors and studios in US and in the UK. I had a great meeting with CSA President Pam Dixon and decided to apply while still in LA. Everyone has been very warm, welcoming and helpful - thank you!
Meet Seher Latif, a Casting Director and CSA member based in Mumbai, India