Janet Ellis – Transforming dreams into reality

Janet Ellis
Janet Ellis Prajapti, Janet’s Casting Hub

Okay, so acting is your passion, you have got talent and are desperately waiting to start off your career or to get that much desired break. But you are unsure and sceptical about casting directors, either because of past experiences or because of the most tabooed word in the entertainment industry – Casting Couch.

Put all your inhibitions and fears at rest, because the personality in focus manages a credible casting agency where artists realise their dreams and the directors and producers are content with the work.

A well-known name in the entertainment industry, particularly in television, Janet Ellis-Prajapati is well-respected and most sought-after casting director by virtue of her innate qualities like giving 100 percent to whatever she undertakes, adamance about quality work, delivering in time and strict professionalism. Janet’s Casting Hub not only does the casting but also manages the profiles of artists while they are working on the projects.

It all began in the late 1990s when little did this electronic engineer realise that her career was snaking into an altogether different territory that would later become her passion.

Born and brought up in the cosmopolitan township of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Nashik division where people across the country and Russians resided, she was fortunate to have holistic development. And her career was already decided by the degree she acquired.

After I completed my engineering degree, I worked in HAL. I took internship for couple of weeks, but I could not continue because I felt that that was not my line. I somehow felt that there was lot creativity that was lacking and something that I wanted more than what I was doing,” narrates Janet.

Eventually she started looking for work and got a job related to computers. It was there that changed her fate forever.

It was not an office related to entertainment. There was this senior gentleman Radhakrishnan who suggested that I should get into working for actors and financing stuff and PROs,” she shares. “The company closed down after a month of my joining and I was high and dry. I said okay to him. He told me don’t worry I will introduce you to some people who are good enough and do financing for the film industry. I agreed. I was a young girl full of life, naughty as ever and wanted to do something extra in life…. with the dreams that every youngster has. That is the period in life when a youngster decides whether he/she makes it or does not make it. It is all about the dream that you to follow. I wanted to make it big. I wanted to make the dream to come true and I wanted the world to know who I was,” she says passionately.

And by God’s grace that is what happened eventually – the dream came true. It was a big struggle. Radhakrishnan introduced her to some people who were handling finances for films. Janet began bridging gaps between the financers and the film people.

But again, she became restless. She did not like what she was doing though it fetched good money.

I felt more like an agent. I did not enjoy that. I wanted something where people would look up to me or come to me and not me going to everybody, waiting here waiting there. It was not what I really wanted. I kept meeting some people and lot of people began to appreciate my work and my spontaneity. Back then we did not have mobile phones. We had pagers and landlines. But I was spontaneous in connecting people,” says Janet going down the memory line.

She continues narrating with the excitement of a teenager how the events that followed gave her the creativity that she was craving for since long.

One person introduced me to director-producer Inder Kumar and told me that they were doing this Hindi film called Mann. He said, ‘Why don’t you figure it out and check with them? They want actors.’ I did that. Inder Kumar said he wanted hell lot of actors. I did Mann, Kyun ho gaya na pyaar, etc Back then there was nothing known as casting director. There were only the producers and directors and the coordinators who used to work for the actors. So, I started working on that ground and I started getting lot of offers for ad films. I did big ads. I did Shahid Kapoor’s first ad, Shah Rukh Khan on the train dancing to the tune of Chhaiyya Chhaiyya. There are so many to name. It was then that I really realised I am doing a good job,” she shares.

Her journey to fame began then onwards. This was in 1997 where she started taking up everything on her own. In 1999, she was approached by Sanjay Khan Productions, which was the biggest break that led to an unending flow of work, success and fame.

That is the first time Khan said that he needed a casting director for his show known as Jannat on Doordarshan and also for Maharathi Karan. I said okay but at that point of time was 8-9 months pregnant. I told them I was full pregnant. He said it does not matter ‘I heard you are a good casting person’. I said I cannot do the coordination part. He said, ‘no you be the casting director’. That was my first journey as a casting director and I became the first female television casting director in India,” she recollects vividly.

She had to take a sabbatical due to childbirth after which she joined Contiloe as a casting director and did wonders behind the scenes for those on screen.

That is when I did my biggest shows like Phir Koi Hai, Jhansi ki Rani, Maharana Pratap, Ashoka, Maniben.com, and many others. By the grace of God, I have been a super hit because I was one casting director who used to fight and say that she/he is the one, please reconsider. So instead of getting angry on me the producers and directors used to feel happy. My producers Roopali and Abhimanyu Singh were quite supportive, and they helped me from that part of life to a very bigger one where I got a huge recognition and did one of the best shows with them. Then I started getting lot of films and other things,” she says humbly.

Today again I really want to thank Jesus that I am doing one of the best web series with one of the best production houses, I am doing ad films, I am doing films, I am doing serials and most of the ones which I am doing is for the best of people of the industry. That is how it started off and that is how it is continuing,” smiles a content Janet.

But she is still waiting for a big break in films, although, she has always been doing them.

I have not yet got the path breaking thing where my name is pitching up, because lot of time there is already a casting director linked to the company and they take help from us but their name features and my name does not feature. Now I am yet waiting for that opportunity. I have done couple of films which are to be released where my name is featured and lot of actors who I launched are there. One is, Vishal Jethwa who did TV serial Maharana Pratap, and then Hindi film Mardaani 2. There are lot of people who I launched in TV are doing big time in films,” says Janet proudly.

She adds that there are many A grade films where her name has featured but there are also lot of A plus films where she sent casting but her name has not been featured because the name of the casting director already exists. But that is irrelevant, she says.

My name featured in Mann, Kyun ho gaya na pyaar, Direct Ishq, Taxi Driver and many others but these are not very known films.”

Janet and her husband Bhavesh Prajapati also co-produced a film that was directed and co-produced by Divya Rathod and Uddyan Singh, Silence of Sleep. The film was aired in the Cannes Film Festival, 2017.

Being consistently popular particularly with majorly male bastion in the casting business is no mean feat.

Janet explains that being in this industry for over two decades is a prima facie thing for her success and that she is very known in the television industry.

In films, I still have to make a huge mark. But I am sure I will very soon, 2021 is going to be the time. Now I have entered into web series which is again by God’s grace doing very good. I am working with good production houses and I am doing quite a few web series which are big names already. Secondly, I find there is zero competition between males and females. The reason is people tend to feel more comfortable with females, more secure with females especially the girls and the children and parents. Boys on the other hand feel that they can trust a woman’s words rather than the men. But it is a struggle,” she shares.

In the initial stages though she was among the first casting directors, she was always on the top position. Back then it was not about a male or female climbing up there.

I am yet standing at that position. So, it is much easier for me to not really have a great competitor. But it was not about other casting directors; it was other people like some producers and directors who think that women are not made to do any job. I come from that system since 1999 where women were given glamorous roles only, you cannot do anything else. That is the mentality of people. I met lot of people. I told them that it is not about glamour quotient it is about having brains and strive hard to work for what you want and what you want to achieve,” she says.

With no background in the industry and for one who came here by chance but made most of it through hard work and confidence, it was not cakewalk.

My work gave me recognition and it gave me more work. For one show I did I was approached by 10 people. That hit show gave me another show. My success led to another success and so on. But the struggle is there for each show even today after more than 20 years. I have to prove myself. I got into a web series for a very big production house. I was literally interviewed for it. I was asked to make a power point presentation to prove what kind of casting I could provide for a web series. The challenge is yet there. By the grace of God, they loved the PPT and signed me for the show. I am already done with the casting for them. We had a final meeting with the broadcasters, and I am waiting for the results to come in. Lot of actors are cast in it and they have already informed that they are very happy with me and so they would be giving two more series,” she reveals.

For someone who started off all alone, having a dedicated team has been a big relief. She refers to them as her kids working with her for 12-15 years.

Yes, I have a very strong team. They are part of my success. When I was doing shows like Savdhan India I used work for eight production houses at one shot. I used to go crazy doing it. I used to literally start from 4 am-5 am and sleep at 2 am. I used to sleep for only 2-3 hours. For one-and-a-half years I did Savdhan but then I had to give up after one point of time because my body was also not taking it. Any person I used to look at I used to think he was a criminal. I started getting mentally affected because of the stories that I had to read and work on it You deeply get into it. That was very difficult,” Janet shares.

She continues, “Then I started having assistants I had my camera’s eyes, I had my editing guys, casting call guys. Today I have a complete set of people who handle the web pages, the auditions, the mock shoots, the costumes, the creativity, the casting, the audition calls and stuff like that. I am quite sorted at that front, but the calls are all mine to reach to the clients.”

Now it is easier because everything is done on the phone and online. It is like a cakewalk, she says.

With no plans to be in this field and with no filmy background, obviously there was scepticism in the family. Initially her parents were shocked and asked why after doing engineering she wanted to be in the film line.

Basically, people do not understand that it is not film line. It is media line. Film is different line. I told dad not to worry and that I was not going into film line but into ads and television. Though coincidentally I did films after ads. My parents were very sceptical at first. But I remember my parents telling me one thing, especially my father who told me very clearly, ‘We trust you completely. We know you will not do anything that will bring disgrace to our family or to us.’ I told them trust me, rest is assured”.

Her brother James flew from New Zealand and checked the work she was doing and how she was doing it. He was very supportive and also got her an office on rent with his money.

Without that also I would not be able to work because at that point of time I wanted to establish everything myself and he was one major support who gave me the first rentals and money for office stuff. He said let us see how things work. I was given three months’ time. They said if I could work it out it would be great, if not, I could always go back home and look out for other jobs. But I was bent upon, ‘No way, not going to any other line, I know where my heart lies’. In the first month itself I made not only lot of money, lot of success, lot of projects but I did couple of ads that paid me really good. At that time, we had black and white TV. When those ads used to come on air, I used to tell my mom and dad that is my ad. Back then, we did not have pictures on mobile to show them. But my parents had come for the Thumbs Up ad, my brother had come for another ad. So, they have seen me working and they said it does not seem as bad as the world says. No work is bad if you are doing it right,” Janet explains.

Once she gained their confidence, they supported her and there was no looking back after that. Till date they support her in everything. But she had her share of downfalls, and lots of them.

In our industry many times there were strikes and what not. During this corona virus time there was complete shutdown not for only the media but for everyone and it has not been easy at all. But I have always been a fighter. If I take up something, I want to do it, or else I will not even go that way. If I go that way, I want to complete it. That is one thing that parents teach you that if you do it complete it, never leave anything half done. So, I never leave anything half done,” Janet emphasises.

Having her better half in this business has been a big blessing as well. He is an IT expert and helps her in everything. He handles the commercial part.

I am handling casting, so I have enough of headache. He handles the commercial for all the other companies I am working for. He works over the IT. Everything now is digital, handling auditions etc. Even previously when there was none of these digital platforms, getting the recordings done, putting them on tapes and getting them delivered were headaches taken care of by him. Now, my son Reuben has entered this industry. So now he is another big help for me,” says Janet.

One would be amazed at how this super busy bee balances duties towards her family, parents, in-laws, seeing that their special days are celebrated in a special manner, keeping in touch with friends while at the same time not letting work get affected.

Revealing about the secret to her wholesome life, she says, “I am very much a family person. I am not a party animal. I don’t mind partying as long as it is with family and friends but after some part of time in life I realised that there are people who will fall at your feet, do everything and after they become big they will not deny you but at the end of the day they will avoid you so that they don’t have to be embarrassed in front of others. This they do even after giving them a big launch. I realised all this is just dikhawa (superficial). Jo apnapan hai, pyaar hai wo apne sage mein hi hai… They are family, friends who can do anything for you and who you can do anything for and yes even I have been in spot when at times I could not do anything for the family, husband, child or in-laws but at the same time I have been having their support in everything always. So, wherever I can I try to give my 101 percent as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, as a daughter-in-law. Somehow, I happen to be very good in dividing time for everyone. I do tell a lot of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but I learnt it the hard way though.”

Talking about the repercussions of Covid-19, she says that though it has not been easy for many with all shoots halted, she enjoyed family time.

Our shoots started from July with Pinjra on Colours TV, for Saurabh Tiwari. We started working from June itself when our team used to come to the office in day-wise but we did not let actors come in. I enjoyed Covid vacation for two months and later 10-15 days of Covid holiday. I enjoyed a lot during those days with family, cooking, doing other things. I have lot of animals, and pets. I get them saved from all other places. I enjoyed with them. I really needed that break to spend quality time with my family with my animals and do lot of things I think were must. But I know there are people who were suffering, and I feel sorry for them,” says Janet.

All her family members are animal lovers. If they find any on the street, they bring them home and start looking after them.

After some time, everyone came to know we are animal lovers and lot of people bring animals to us – with maggots, injured in accident, broken leg etc. We are there to take care. I have good team who takes care of cleaning up, cooking and everything. As of now we have 15 dogs and some cats. My plot area is 5000 sq ft out of which on 2500 sq ft is my office and rest is for animals,” she says.

In addition to pets she is also taking care of 30 children of an orphanage close to her place.

With her eyes set on the future she says that there is no going back now and that though 2020 is almost gone, 2021 is going to be quite big for her because of the shows she is already doing, web series she is already doing and where she is foraying.

I know they are all big ones. Hence, very soon I am crossing the mark of being a much bigger casting director. I am also looking at doing international work which already I have done to some extent,” she concludes.

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