Exclusive Interview with Casting Director Panchami Ghavri | – Times of India

It has been a fulfilling 10-year journey for casting director Panchami Ghavri, from her early days as an assistant director on ‘Wake Up Sid’ to pulling off casting coups in projects like ‘Class’, ‘Kapoor and Sons’, ‘Gehraiyaan’, and the upcoming ‘Murder Mubarak’ and ‘The Crew’ to name a few. Throughout this journey, Panchami has established herself as a critical talent scout, valuing individuals based on their merits.
In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Panchami opens up about her distinctive casting approach, shared insights into her experiences working with star kids such as Janhvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, Ananya Panday, and Ibrahim Ali Khan, her casting philosophies, and much more.
You have a lot of upcoming projects lined up including Mr. and Mrs. Mahi, The Crew, Murder Mubarak, Yodha, Sarzameen. Tell us about the procedure you follow while casting.
This is actually a very exciting year for me and my team, because we actually have lots of lovely releases this year. Of course, the casting process is pretty much the same for all projects whether it’s OTT or film. But, of course, our experience on each of these projects has been different because the requirement was only so different. ‘Murder Mubarak’, for instance, has a very big ensemble cast. It’s almost 20-odd people we’ve casted in the film. For ‘Mr. and Mrs. Mahi’, Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao were already on board by the time we got on to the project. So it was the world that was around them, their parents and their siblings and all of that, and their younger relatives and stuff that we had to cast. So I think every film has different requirements depending on the project you’re working on and what they’re looking for exactly.
Have you been in a situation where the actors were already on board and when you came in, you found that the spark was missing?
Sometimes, to greenlit the project, you need to have certain names on board to know that, okay, we are going ahead, actors have shown interest because there are producers involved. In this case, the director will get in touch with me and I’ll already know that such a process is on or such meetings are being taken. With the newer age directors, they kind of keep their casting directors in the loop. So that ideation happens already or has been happening. They already understand the source and bring in those actors who are fit for that part. On that level, I could also be involved.
How do you approach actors while casting for certain characters?
I have a personal relationship with so many actors that I’ve worked with. So the ones that I know and I’m comfortable with, I literally just pick up the phone and tell them what the show or series or film is about personally. And then alternatively, there may be certain actors that I’ve not worked with directly. So that would typically be via an agency. So we work very closely with talent management agencies. Those are literally like speed dial calls for me on my phone. So, day in and day out, we speak with the managers. We already have an idea of what they’re doing, what’s their plan for the year, what are their dates, what are their projects. We always have this information.
So ‘Karma Calling’ actually has a very big cast. Other than Raveena Ji, who’s playing a lead as Rani Kothari, we also have Namrata Seth, Varun Sood, Gaurav Sharma, Amy Aela. Then there’s Piyush Khati, who I also casted in Class. Then there’s Viraf Patel, who was on TV earlier. So, all of those characters were casted and have come in rotation with us and been casted. I don’t want to reveal ‘Murder Mubarak’ cast yet because you should see the trailer for it. It’s going to be out very soon. But it’s probably one of the biggest ensemble of actors that India has ever seen. That is a very exciting one for us also. You’ll see it in ‘Class’, all the characters were cast by us. They’ve done so well for themselves. They’ve all come in and given an audition in the studio or even for Mismatched.
How has been your experience casting star kids like Janhvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, Ananya Panday and Ibrahim Ali Khan?
To be honest, I’ve seen them from the time that they’ve started their careers out. They are putting in the time and effort like any budding actors would, which is to come and do a lot of readings with the director, with us, and put in the work to fine-tune or work on their Hindi diction. While we may feel like certain ones are more privileged or not, I think the amount of work that all of them put in is really the same only. Everyone just is trying to build a name for themselves. So, my experience with Ibrahim (Ali Khan), or Sara (Ali Khan), or Ananya (Panday) has all been, like, they’re all hard-working kids.
How were they in comparison to other actors that you auditioned for?
The industry kind of likes to sometimes highlight actors that may come from film families. But the process is very much the same. We are like a creative house. It’s the same scenes that are being read by other actors are being read by them as well. The same feedback that we would give to newer actors, we give them as well. So, everyone gets a unique sort of response as they’re performing and as they’re getting better and spending more time with the script. It’s natural that they are only going to get better. So, I’ve really seen the journey with, especially Ananya and Ibrahim, from the time that they started to where they are today. I think they put in a lot of work, like any other. Of course, some days are better than others. But what’s important is that you put in the right kind of energy to understand the opportunity that you have at hand. Sometimes I feel that they put in a lot of hard work because there can be so much criticism. So they have to work doubly hard.
A lot of actors have complained about social media influencers being cast in acting projects and losing on projects because they didn’t have a certain amount of followers on social media. What do you think about this process?
I do have a certain thing that I believe in. Whether it’s social media people that are testing, or your regular actors that are testing, we as a creative house, or between me and the director, we’ll always select the take that’s good. So we don’t really select on the basis of how many followers they have, we select on the basis of a good audition. Actually, Prajakta Koli is a great example to this, because she just gave such a phenomenal test for both ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ and for ‘Mismatched’. So I think that whether you see Kusha (Kapila), or you see Prajakta, or you see Dolly Singh, these guys are actually giving good auditions. So that’s the reason why they’ve been able to find themselves a place in the industry. So if we don’t give them that opportunity, because they have a following, that’s also not fair. I think that if you just go ask for merit, then I don’t think it’s a problem.
What has been your favorite casting coup?
I think in the more recent work, it has to be ‘Class’. Because we got such an amazing talent of actors to cast. It was in the lockdown and the casting really stood out. We got a lot of appreciation too. And then I think the other one would be ‘Kapoor and Sons’. It changed a little bit of my life in a way. Our work in casting got identified, and I started getting many more casting opportunities after ‘Kapoor and Sons’. What was amazing about this movie is that the plumber became such a famous scene and everyone really enjoyed that. We had very talented actors like Sukant Goel, Ratna (Pathak Shah) ji and Rajat (Kapoor). After I came on board, they came on board. So all of those readings, and putting the cast together was very, very exciting, because there were small parts in the film that really stood out. And that was a big, big thing for us.
How has been your journey so far?
My journey has been lovely. I think in the last few years, I’ve got to do the work that I’ve always wanted to do. And the kind of projects I’ve always wanted to be a part of. I would say a lot more ensemble cast is coming our way, which is a big compliment to us. Because that means that we are being recognized for a talent-driven cast. And that’s always very exciting. There’s another show we’re doing ‘Call Me Bae’, which I’m supremely looking forward to. Again, we put together a really, really nice cast of actors. And I think that that’s another show that people will be able to resonate with, especially the younger audience, because it’s a very fun-loving show. Ananya is playing the lead in it.
And ‘The Crew’ for us was like a full circle because Rhea Kapoor and I were actually assistant directors on ‘Wake Up Sid’ together. So to be back after so many years when she’s producing and I get to cast for the film was a really fun process for us, both as friends and as colleagues. Rhea is almost like my sister. I have really known her for so many years that we have been friends. And she’s almost been like a mentor to me. So I really enjoy working with Rhea.
Have you ever had a difficult time with actors or directors you worked with?
I have been very thankful that I’ve had a very good experience. I’ve worked with some amazing directors. So I don’t think that I have had such a situation at least so far. And hopefully I won’t in the future. Ups and downs in casting happen. The truth is that it’s a very high pressure job because we are constantly racing against timelines. So I think that bit sometimes can be the tougher part of our job. I think other than that, I have found a way to manifest working with some really great directors like Shakun Batra and Homi Adajania. I feel like I’ve been lucky only. I’ve worked with some really progressive directors that really give me a lot of freedom to do casting the way that I see it. And I’m really happy about it. I’m very blessed to be able to have that kind of energy in my life.
Casting couch has been prevalent in the film industry for a long time. Have you come across any such situation?
I’ve heard of people having uncomfortable situations in the casting space. Of course, because I’m a woman and I’m leading a team, we are very, very mindful about the safety with which we work when it comes to the casting space. Misuse of power in such a way is absolutely unacceptable.
What advice would you like to give to aspiring actors?
I think the most important thing in India is that people need to identify that if you want to become an actor, you have to learn acting first. And I think this is a new phenomenon. In India, I think it’s still a new concept. People don’t realize that it’s like any other job. It can’t just be that you’re a big-mouthed person and you can become an actor. It’s not like that right now. I feel like the most important thing is to learn your craft and just really dive deep into it. And then that is the most important thing that I think we are looking at in today’s world of casting.
Do you feel pressured by industry insiders to cast their friends or family in a project?
No, no, not at all. It’s very normal that someone will tell me that if someone wants to become an actor, meet them. But there’s never a pressure to cast them. Now we’ve become a very talent-oriented industry. People can put in a word, but eventually they have to audition well. Casting can only happen if you’re talented. When it comes to having the final word, it will always be me and the director together discussing and then taking a final call. If there’s a platform involved, then it would be their opinion as well. It’s a collaborative thing. It’s never only one person.

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