Creator: Karan Anshuman
Cast: Tanuj Virwani, Angad Bedi, Richa Chadha, Aamir Bashir, Vivek Oberoi, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Sayani Gupta
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
I’m not sure Inside Edge Season 2 can be described any differently from its first season. It shows no real evolution in terms of its tone or ambition – somewhat reflecting the stubborn status quo of the sport it features. Like modern cricket, Inside Edge is comfortable in knowing that it doesn’t need to rely on depth and sophistication in order to keep its viewers interested. Like religion, it dumbs down the dialogue and dials up the corruption rhetoric.
It’s more of the same despite the two-and-a-half year gap in production: A branded soap opera unravels around another edition of the not-so-fictional Indian T20 tournament, the Powerplay League (PPL). It still plays out like the television equivalent of a blind item – a based-on-true-rumours quasi-exposé in which much of the viewer’s entertainment is derived from having to guess the real-life heroes and scandals that the “imaginary” narrative is based on.
For instance, it’s amusing to realize that the Mumbai Mavericks team is a spiritual combination of Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians, Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings. It’s successful, led by a tattooed wonderkid, run by a Bollywood actress and swims in conflict-of-interest wealth and spot-fixing allegations. The Board President has a personal stake in its management (his daughter, not son-in-law, is one of the co-owners). There’s a bit of (junior) Virat Kohli in Tanuj Virwani’s hot-headed man-child Vayu, the star batsman with anger issues. The new South African superstar in his team, TJ, has a lot of AB de Villiers about him – and he’s sort of a grey character. (Did Kohli and AB not get along? Why not? Was AB dishonest? Really? I want answers, I need gossip). The new teenager in the team resembles young Sarfaraz Khan. Bob Woolmer’s murky death was hinted at in how the Mavericks coach (Sanjay Suri) was bumped off last season.
Vivek Oberoi’s villainous Vikrant Dhawan, who makes his comeback this season, is clearly a wounded Lalit Modi out to destroy the top brass that sacrificed him. And the shadowy “Bhaisaab,” who was only mentioned in whispers last season, turns out to be the powerful boss of the Indian Cricket Board called Yashwardhan Patil, a flattering stand-in for the wily N. Srinivasan. The season has an Icarus-themed doping sub-plot, too, but it’s strangely cut short – possibly due to Luke Kenny’s goofy German accent as an anti-doping inspector – to revert to the tried-and-tested spot-fixing thread. Not even Bollywood is spared. At one point, Hindutva thugs burn the set of a historical drama and blacken the face of its director so that news channels get distracted from a major cricket controversy.
Despite a resourceful screenplay packed with easter eggs, Inside Edge is curiously careless with its execution. The dialogue is painfully expository (“Zarina, this is our studio’s third film of the year and it’s going to be your career-defining film!”) and mostly terrible.
In physical terms, this is what happens: The PPL moves to South Africa. Vayu takes over the Mumbai Mavericks. Old warhorse Arvind Vashisth (Angad Bedi) returns from Jamaican exile to lead the Haryana Hurricanes. Mavericks owner Zarina Malik (Richa Chadha) slurs her way to fame. Head honcho Patil is introduced as a vengeful man who gets a famous journalist fired after he is grilled on live television. Patil’s pretty daughter, Mantra, gets it on with vacious Vayu. Team analyst Rohini (an excessive Sayani Gupta) is at odds with brother Vayu after reconnecting with his abusive childhood coach. Fast bowler Prashant (Siddhant Chaturvedi) is still haunted by the night he shot the team’s traitor (Amit Sial). And Vivek Oberoi plans yet another comeback: He is seen in a hoodie and a baseball cap across the season, perhaps partly an effort to camoflauge his PM Narendra Modi beard/hairstyle.
In some ways, this is (almost) a brave show for being unabashedly frank about India’s sordid establishment culture. It’s also angry – at the decline of test cricket, at the sport’s gatekeepers, at the players. A fair bit of research seems to have gone into making the details hint at a dark cricketing underworld that we have only ever heard about from tipsy sports journalists. It can be fun, but too much of tabloid filmmaking offers nothing more than cheap thrills, just like…T20 cricket.
We are familiar with the faces, but the writers quickly brush aside the repercussions of last season’s life-altering drama. People return easily. Too much is swept under the rug to start afresh. But I suppose that ties into the morbid show-must-go-on nature of the sport. No matter how dark it’s gotten, cricket has always – fortunately and unfortunately – found a way to survive.
Yet, despite a resourceful screenplay packed with easter eggs, Inside Edge is curiously careless with its execution. The dialogue is painfully expository (“Zarina, this is our studio’s third film of the year and it’s going to be your career-defining film!”) and mostly terrible. Mid-way through the season, half an episode is dedicated to South Africa tourism, forcing the most unlikely characters to get romantic so that they have an excuse to showcase the country. For a show that’s all about professionals who sell their soul for a living, resorting to product placement (Alexa, am I a harsh critic?) and lazy sponsor-posturing is tragically ironic.
The on-field action is better, but the makers visibly mess with the frame rates to make the bowlers look faster than they are. At times it replicates the effect of a video-game glitch in which the ball gets stuck mid-delivery and suddenly resumes with unnatural speed to compensate for lost time. Actors like Angad Bedi (son of Bishan Singh Bedi) look comfortable on the pitch, but I don’t understand why Tanuj Virwani – mainstay of the theatrics – hasn’t improved his technique since 2017. He still looks awkward with the bat in hand, like a gym fanatic forced to play cricket. Not to mention his one-dimensional interpretation of cussing/rage. Even Siddhant Chaturvedi, post his Gully Boy breakthrough, is underwhelming as the underconfident small-town bowler. Which goes to show that there is no such thing as bad students, there are only negligent teachers.
Inside Edge has already dedicated one season too many to the IPL. Any more and it’ll be impossible to wonder why the filmmakers didn’t just make an investigative documentary series instead.
Except for Aamir Bashir’s Ronit-Roy-ish performance as Patil, the acting across the board is despairingly amateur. It’s to Bashir’s credit that you almost believe in Bhaisaab’s passion when he speaks about Test-match purism, evolution and “protecting” kids’ dreams against the reckless pragmatism of anti-doping agencies. On the bright side, Vivek Oberoi does not act like he is starring in Don 2 this time. It’s Richa Chadha’s performance that sticks out like a sore thumb – everything about her, from the way she lights a cigarette to her flirting (in strange drawls), is dreadfully stilted. It’s about time directors understand that she just doesn’t cut it as the sultry femme fatale in tight clothes. Oddly enough, she has only excelled as strong native characters (Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Masaan, Gangs of Wasseypur, Fukrey). I still believe that, not unlike Kangana Ranaut, if cast in a role that compliments her off-screen personality, she can light up the screen.
The season ends smartly, in a Succession-like moment. Which means there will be more. But Inside Edge has already dedicated one season too many to the IPL. Any more and it’ll be impossible to wonder why the filmmakers didn’t just make an investigative documentary series instead. But if they had done that, how would we join the dots and play super sleuth? After all, nobody cares about the grammatical composition of tomorrow’s spicy blind item.