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Star secretaries to casting directors

There used to be this breed called star secretaries. Now, they have been replaced by casting agents or talent managers. You must have seen what a secretary’s job was; just maintaining a star’s date diary and face the producer’s music when the dates needed to be cancelled and when it came to asking for payments!

Asrani plays a secretary who manages the affairs of first, Amitabh Bachchan, and later, Jaya Bhaduri, in the film ‘Abhimaan’ (1973). But the star secretary as projected in ‘Abhiman’ was straightforward, very businesslike, one busy with a fading singer husband and the rising singing star, and balancing their competing egos.

That is not what the real-life star secretaries were really like. They would not survive in the business if they were anything like Asrani in the film. The secretaries of the big stars were exclusive – they attended to just one star. Then there were those few who handled a lineup of stars, their clients being mostly character artistes.

A star secretary was as much sought after as the star himself, if not more. He made meeting a star possible and adjusted your film’s dates into the star’s schedule. A star did three shifts a day and the dates were handed out by the hour, so the stars sometimes ended up doing four to five shifts at a time. No wonder producers often took two to three years to complete a film.

But one thing was common. The ambition of all these secretaries was to become film producers. Rajesh Khanna’s first secretary, Gurnam Singh Arora, produced ‘Savera’ (1972), his second secretary, Yusuf Hassan produced ‘Chakravyuha’ (1978). Dharmendra’s secretary, Dinanath Shastry produced ‘Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke’ (1969).

Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha shared a common secretary, Pawan Kumar, who along with Jaya Bhaduri’s, Sushila Kamat, produced ‘Abhimaan’, though, it was said the original producers of the film were Bachchan and Bhaduri. Rakesh Nath, who handled the work of Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor, produced ‘Yaraana’ (1995). Akshay Kumar involved his secretary in his many productions. Ajay Devgn’s secretary, Kumar Mangat, has produced a number of films, the latest being ‘Drishyam2’.

A lot many guys who descended upon Bombay of that time, had dreams of becoming stars or directors or film producers, took to other jobs, such as becoming star secretaries, PRs or journalists after the initial struggle. It was the norm, either a secretary turned an independent filmmaker, or it was the star who made films in his name.

A secretary normally charged 20 per cent of a star’s remuneration. But once successful, the secretary would be replaced by one of the family members. The stars found 20 per cent of what they charged too high to part with, once they were successful.

Now, the scene has changed. The star secretaries are out. Instead, the casting agencies have taken their place. Yet, the background stories are the same. The top casting agent, Mukeh Chhabra, for instance, aspired to be an actor and played a bit role in ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’. Kunal Shah worked for trade journals and, finally, found his calling as a casting agent. The other known agents are Abhishek Bannerjee, Honey Trehan, Vicky Sidana and Jogi Malang.

Things are easier for these casting agencies. The scope has grown manifold as they don’t have to depend only on film casting. Now, there are television serials, OTT platforms and films.

Earlier, an aspirant was accepted by a secretary only after he/she signed a film; no secretary wanted to struggle on behalf of an aspirant. Today, as a lot of makers depend on such casting agencies, it is easy to push a newcomer. But casting agents now seem to go by the social media following of aspirants. If you don’t have much of a following, you don’t qualify!

How can one expect a lay netizen to have a huge following? That can happen only if one has achieved a status of, say, a film or TV star, a social media influencer, or some other kind of celebrity.

‘Pathaan’, the column this week would be incomplete without mentioning ‘Pathaan’. A lot of curious observations and claims are floating around. One would be able to do better justice to it with an article about it in due course.

–By Vinod Mirani

Pic. Sourceimdb
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