Why Bollywood is casting Internet celebrities
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New Delhi: Released in September, director Nitya Mehra’s romantic comedy Baar Baar Dekho may not have worked for most audiences but ardent followers of comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB) were in for a treat, with the brief but significant appearance of Rohan Joshi, one of its most popular faces, in the film.
Joshi, who played an important supporting role to male lead Sidharth Malhotra, is part of a string of digital celebrities making their foray into movies. Last month’s acclaimed drama Parched starred Sumeet Vyas, credited for work as actor and director on web series Permanent Roommates by content creator The Viral Fever (TVF). Other crew members from TVF Jasmeet Singh Bhatia and Nidhi Bisht will soon be seen in Dharma Production’s OK Jaanu, a remake of Tamil movie OK Kanmani and Anushka Sharma’s upcoming production Phillauri , respectively. Bhatia has also been signed up for a role in Aamir Khan production Secret Superstar to be directed by the actor’s manager Advait Chandan. Standup comic artist Kannan Gill, best known for his humourous YouTube channel Pretentious Movie Reviews will feature in upcoming Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Noor.
All these movies are slated for release between January and April 2017.
Industry experts say the progression towards casting faces from the Internet makes sense because that’s where media consumption is happening now. For instance, the YouTube channels of AIB, Kannan Gill and TVF have 1.7 million, 4 lakh and 1.8 million subscribers, respectively.
Director Mehra knew of AIB as a group of entrepreneurs who had gotten together to direct and act and had been following their work before she chose Joshi.
“Earlier, we’d have television actors doing roles in movies. But now, all the consumption is happening on the Internet. So the pool has become wider though the process of selection remains the same,” Mehra said.
“It’s all character and director-driven. I wouldn’t have met or known of Rohan personally had I not seen AIB. That is the root of how I chose Rohan,” she explained.
Joshi confirmed Mehra had seen him at the AIB Knockout, the infamous roast comedy event that created legal trouble for the group, and a month later, he got the role.
“According to her, I completely met the brief for the character which was to be douchy but always sweet. I was the typical NRI who had preconceived notions about India,” said Joshi, who enjoys being on a film set, and has plans to write and direct in the future in collaboration with other members of AIB. “I will act whenever a fun part is offered to me.” He agreed that Bollywood has found a new talent pool across the board, from actors to writers, to tap into from the Internet.
The popularity of these actors on the web translates easily to live events which, in turn, enhance their audience skills. Bhatia is currently prepping for Open Mic, a live show which takes place across colleges in Mumbai, while groups like AIB and celebrities like Gill are regularly seen at public shows and festivals.
“Essentially, they are performers and are used to being in front of a live audience, so their impromptu skills are excellent,” said Aadore Mukherjee, casting director for Baar Baar Dekho. “They’ve been working on their craft for some time and know how to tell a story and that translates quite easily on to the screen. If you’re looking for a fresh face, instead of going for someone who hasn’t done anything, it’s better to go for somebody who is used to working with audiences, making people laugh and pulling an act.”
A preset digital profile like that ensures these actors don’t need a portfolio and in some cases, might not have to audition for the role either.
As 23-year-old Bhatia, a software engineer by qualification, said, “The best thing about digital is your show reel is already prepared. You don’t necessarily need to have a portfolio or network at parties for visibility. Shaad saw all of my work with TVF and said your thing is energy. I love the attention and I’m ready for any kind of fame. With digital, you get attention if you’re relatable. However, in Bollywood, you have to have heroics. I’m eager to learn but at the same time, skeptical about people’s reactions.”