Dream Girl

Why Bollywood aspirants chase Shanoo Sharma

01 March 2013

ONE OF THE FIRST LINKS TO COME UP when you perform a Google search for Shanoo Sharma, the casting director for top Bollywood studio Yash Raj Films (YRF), is a blog called ‘Chasing my only dream...’, written by Dilip Merala, an engineer turned aspiring actor based in Mumbai. The blog, which began in Oct 2010, documents Merala’s journey as what is in Bollywood parlance known as a “struggler”. In this particular post from May 2011, titled “My meeting with Shanoo Sharma”, Merala recounts his numerous failed attempts to contact Shanoo over the course of months, and his eventual success. “I was anxiously waiting for Monday because I realised how important this meeting with Shanoo was!” he writes. “It could change my life forever. Shanoo could say—‘Ok, I am casting for this film and you fit the bill...come and audition’.” Given just 20 minutes to get to her office, Merala bikes there in a jiffy. “I was getting all kinds of thoughts … What the hell do I tell her? How do I start? … Shanoo must be meeting thousands of aspiring actors ... how do I make myself look different? I think I should just be myself … but myself?”

The meeting, on the face of it, ended badly, with Merala riding away with a standard assurance of “I will let you know if anything comes up”. But the comments on his entry, from a few days after the incident up to a few months ago, are breathless in their admiration of his guts and his luck, and infused with the conviction that his fleeting encounter with Shanoo Sharma signalled the beginning of a change of fortunes too dramatic to be described. Of the nearly 50 people who responded to his blog, most are aspiring actors, including a seven-year-old boy. Practically each of these responses ends with the same question—dressed as exhortation, admiring request or just plain entreaty: “Can you give me her contact?”

Finding Shanoo Sharma, for those who seek her with such fevered anxiety on such forums, is the first step on the road to stardom. Ironically, her intense fame in these circles is matched by her near-invisibility in the larger public sphere—an absence that she takes some pains to maintain. Like many truly powerful people, Shanoo works behind the mirrors, hiding in plain sight. Since 2006, she has cast for almost 30 films, working with a range of directors, from Sudhir Mishra to Aditya Chopra. In a career spanning just over six years, at the age of 34, Shanoo has become one of the most powerful casting directors in Mumbai, and certainly the most flamboyant. “She’s a star casting director,” said actor and friend Ranveer Singh, whose ‘discovery’ by Shanoo in the 2010 romantic comedy Band Baaja Baaraat has become one of the best known milestones in her career. “She can be at a party full of the top actors and directors in the city, and she will be centre of attention, she will own the space.”

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    Taran N Khan is a journalist based in Mumbai. Her work can be found at www.porterfolio.net/taran.

    Keywords: Mumbai Bollywood Karan Johar Yash Raj Films Ranveer Singh film actor Shanoo Sharma