Casting director serves as cultural compass

On “Slumdog Millionaire,” 2009’s runaway sensation that nabbed the Oscar for best picture despite heavyweight competition, Loveleen Tandan’s role as casting director — like the film itself — morphed into so much more than she first imagined.

The film’s credited director, Danny Boyle, might have received much of the glory, having copped a statuette himself, but it was Tandan’s contribution that added to the film’s vivid sense of charm and place.

“The key lesson I learned from Danny was to embrace the idea, to be open, rather than arrive with a preconceived notion of what it should be like on a daily basis,” she recalls of her experience. “Something can strike at any moment on set.”

In this regard, Tandan expressed her discomfort with English-speaking Indian children because it didn’t ring true. When Boyle agreed to her idea — that 25% of the film be shot in Hindi — she started scouting the slums of Mumbai for children while translating the screenplay with Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy.

Eight months after enlisting her services, Boyle came to rely on Tandan as the film’s “cultural compass.”

Her multitasking, collaborative approach to filmmaking is part of a pattern. Her feature debut credit on Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” led to “a barrage of casting offers from everywhere,” she says, “from L.A. to London to Switzerland and even Iran.” She again collaborated with Nair on “Vanity Fair,” as well as with Steven Spielberg on “The Terminal.”

Tandan sees casting as “instrumental” in her training because she learned how to work with actors, something not taught at film school. She has her own aspirations to direct and is currently working on a script set in New Delhi.

“It’s an exciting time to capture India, with the traditions and the modernistic changes coming together, creating a vibrant energy.” Because she’s from a country where “film is like a religion,” Tandan’s passion runs in her veins. “We’re crazy about cinema here,” she says.

IN A NUTSHELL:

Job title: Casting director
Mentor: “Good work is my mentor — commitment to good work.”
Career mantra: “A passion to create something original.”
Leisure pursuits: “Cinema: It gives me happiness to sit in a dark theater with hundreds of others going through the experience of watching the story unfold together.”
Philanthropic passions: Education and the AIDS epidemic. “As people, let us help people.”

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