Tanuj Virwani, one of the breakout stars of Amazon Prime Video's Inside Edge, is filming a scene on the set of his latest web series for ALTBalaji. Titled Cartel, Tanuj plays a local mafia don. Here he's in a heated confrontation with a particularly retro-looking Jitendra Joshi (most known for his role as beloved police constable Katekar in Sacred Games). Cartel is one of the three shows Virwani has up for release in 2020.
Earlier this month, the second season of Inside Edge, released. Based on the murky world of Indian cricket leagues, Virwani plays Vaayu Raghavan, the hot-headed ace cricketer of the fictional Mumbai Mavericks.
The son of actress Rati Agnihotri, Virwani's career found a new lease of life on the web after featuring in a number of forgettable films like Sunny Leone-starrer One Night Stand and Purani Jeans. In between shots, Virwani spoke to me about his upcoming projects, his concerns about the streaming landscape and why we haven't seen him on screen since the first season of Inside Edge.
What's the response to Inside Edge Season 2 been like so far?
When we started making the first season nobody could've imagined that the OTT space and Inside Edge could've blown up to such an extent. We were pretty much there right at the start. But Farhan (Akhtar), Ritesh (Sidhwani), Karan (Anshuman) and Amazon were all clear they didn't just want to dive straight into Season 2.
When you look at the script, it's like this 422-page bible and that takes time. People are liking it and I'm glad because sometimes when we rush things, the content suffers. And the longer a show is, the more the chance of us screwing it up. A movie is two hours so you can still get away with it, but here you've got 8-9 hours of content so even if one episode, one scene, or one arc is weak, it can make a difference. People aren't responding to just one character or element, people love it for different reasons which I think is the biggest win for us. You don't want one person towering above everyone else, but of course, that will happen, like how Bhaisaab (Aamir Bashir) is getting a lot of praise.
Where did the character of Vaayu come from? Were there any specific cricketers you modelled him on?
It's a combination of things. The entire process started with sitting down with Karan (Anshuman). We had a lot of discussions and he's very open to suggestions, so he gave us a freehand. The trick is trying to find the balance between improvising and not deviating from the source material.
For Vaayu there weren't any specific cricketers as such. My main challenge with him was to not make him a caricature. For me, he embodies the modern-day Indian cricketer. If you look at the cricketers back in the 90s, their vibe was different. The Dravids, the Gangulys, the Sachins. Now if you look at a Virat or Hardik and all these new-age cricketers and their body language, you feel like as soon as they walk out onto the field, they back themselves to whack it for a 6. That comes from fearlessness. That's the attitude I tried to get into Vaayu.
When you're one of the stars of a big web show like this, what does that do for you as an actor? Are web shows given the same level of respect by the industry as a hit film?
I wouldn't know. I've never had a hit film (laughs). I've done a couple of movies which didn't work out, but I think it's important to taste a bit of failure before success, so you don't take things for granted. But the perception did change. With the work I'd done before, I was still in my mother's shadow. But once Inside Edge came out people were like 'he can actually carry a project'. The phone did start ringing.
But one problem I had is that I started getting stereotyped as the 'bad boy' and I consciously wanted to stay away from that. I did a web show earlier this year called Poison on ZEE5 which was in the revenge drama space which was interesting. But the worst thing for any actor is to get typecast. All I've done is work this year so all my stuff will come out in 2020. I don't want to be the a trick pony. I don't just want to be the guy who played Vaayu Raghavan.
This season Vaayu is a lot more unhinged. Were you worried that there was a risk of him coming across a lot less likeable?
He's always been a bit of a brat. Think about it, if you were in that position of power and strength and money and have people worshipping you, you would be like that too. So it was natural progression. But there's a distinct shift in Vaayu in Season 2. When he has a conversation with Mantra (Sapna Pabbi) and she says 'it's all in your head', it was a big moment for Vaayu and that really brings him back.
Is there a downside of being typecast as a 'web actor'?
I don't think so because I think the lines are very blurred and it also depends on the kind of projects you're doing on the web. I'm definitely not going to do something that's cringe-worthy where the production value is low, or the star cast isn't good. I also feel that for better or worse, the bar has been raised since Inside Edge and it would be a disservice to my own career to do just anything.
I've got a show in January for ALTBalaji called Code M where I play a lawyer. In Cartel I'm playing a local mafia don and I'm doing an Amazon show called Kamathipura where I'm a sex trafficker. So I'm trying to do different things.
You've said before that you love the game. How do you maintain that love when you heard about some of the things that happen in this world?
What the show presents is heightened reality but it's not fiction. It's based on stuff that actually goes down. I think Season 2 is a celebration of the game. What Arvind and Vaayu say is 'Hey, fuck everything that's going on around us. Let's play one last clean game. We'll play fair and square and may the best man win'. So I think in a lot of ways that's a silver lining in this dark, murky world. The celebration for the game we love, not the tamasha that they've made it. So I feel at the end of Season 2 the game has won.
Where do you think the webspace is today? Do you feel we've cracked the medium or is it still early days?
It's still very new but I just think a lot more focus needs to be given on development. Right now it feels like there's a rush to get projects out. I mean, we got done shooting for Inside Edge 2 almost a year ago. They've taken almost a year in post-production to ensure we get it right. I have this one concern that there are too many platforms and too many series and there's too much and it's starting to become a case of quantity over quality. I think it's only a matter of time where only the best will survive. I just hope that this bubble doesn't burst just because there's too much of poor content out there.