Luckily i am no longer known as my mother's son:
– By Farhad Dalal
With a stellar start to the year with Abhay 3, Tanuj Virwani is on a roll. In an Exclusive Interview with Farhad Dalal from Popcorn Reviewss he talks about the reception of his show ABHAY 3, his journey, how the onset of OTT has resulted in opportunities for artists like him and the year 2022 ahead.
1. Abhay 3 has got you a a huge amount of praise for you and Divya. Did you guys think that these characters will strike a glowing chord with the audience?
Divya and I were very excited about our roles, they were very well written. They may not have been the biggest parts but I am of the firm belief that it is not the number of scenes but if the scenes are strong and contribute to the larger picture then that is what really matters. It is always fun to work with people who you are comfortable and friends with and as you know Divya and I had earlier worked on Cartel. So this was a great reunion. The roles and the dynamics were so dramatically different from what we had done earlier. We couldn’t have anticipated the response but one is always cautiously optimistic.
2. During the lockdown, you seemed to be the most busy actor doing the rounds. It shows in projects like Illegal 2, Inside Edge 3, Tandoor, Cartel and The Tattoo Murders to name a few. Was it a conscious decision to keep going?
Absolutely, I am glad that you noticed that. It was very much a conscious effort because I remember during the first lockdown in 2020 one had no option but to stay at home. The world had literally shut down. But the moment things started limping back to normalcy, I decided that now was the time to strike. But it did entail certain sacrifices as I had to stay away from my family for extended periods of time. I had to stay in a bubble but fortunately the kind of work that I picked up was aided by me living in a bubble. The isolation and the sense of dread and fear around in the world helped me manifest that into my performances. I am aware that compared to whatever was going on in the world, this would seem extremely small and trivial but it did help me on a subconscious level. I am just grateful and very blessed that the offers kept coming in and I was able to do different roles on different shows.
3. Your roles in your projects have been an interesting choice. What do you keep in mind while selecting a role/project?
For me it has always boiled down to the script which is the king. After that the basic setup – your director, your co-stars. If you are talking about the shows then the platform is important. You always need to trust your instinct. I prefer taking brave choices and more the audience accepts certain choices, the more it gives faith and the belief and confidence that lets take a different route this time around. Abhay 3 would be a good example of that. It was not a title role nor was the character present in all the episodes, it was an out and out villain and it went against my image which was cultivated over the past few years. And that is what made it exciting. I don’t think people expected this from me. So it is fun to mix things up now and then. It keeps things fresh and gives me scope to challenge myself in the process.
4. Which has been the most challenging role and also one character which has been close to you as a person?
Every role has its fair share of challenges. So it would be almost impossible to pin point one particular role. Inside Edge was initially very tough. From initially getting a grasp on the character to working on the physicality, the pressure to make cricket look as authentic as possible, the entire team was very dedicated to the cause of it. For those reasons, Inside Edge was pretty tough initially. With the subsequent seasons, the challenges grew in different directions. It was no longer about the cricketing skill but it was more about retaining the authenticity of the character yet make it new and interesting to the audience. These are long format shows and your character is sprinkled across 10 episodes and if you showcase a few facets of the character then it can start getting boring and dull very soon. So it is important to mix things up without losing the character and what made him tick in the first place.
Another role would be Cartel, again a character very different from me in real life. For those who know me, I am quite energetic and hyperactive. But Cartel required me to show a lot of restraint in the way I compose myself and the way I spoke. It all boiled down to less is more and for that I have to credit my director Suyash who was single handedly responsible for helping me in tapping into facets of my own personality which even I was not aware of.
For me Tandoor was also a pretty challenging role where it was the first time that I attempted playing a real life character. That had an added sense of responsibility as you did not want to glorify such an heinous act of violence. But at the same time you are the face of the show so it was tricky to balance it out. It did take a lot out of me, there were days when I felt emotionally vacant and very saturated. Till date I have failed to understand how somebody who has loved someone can behave in such a manner. It wasn’t very gratifying to play that role but gave me an insight into the difference between being in love with someone and the feeling of having an ownership over someone. So yes, it was quite an insightful journey.
5. We have seen stories where you are quite fond on cricket. If not for acting would that have been an alternate career choice? Also how did cricket help you in your preparation for the Inside Edge franchise?
When Inside Edge came to me, it was a bit of a no brainer. I have loved cricket since a very young age. I started watching it around 1996 probably The Wills World Cup that was played in India. To get an opportunity to collaborate with Excel and Amazon and play cricket and act at the same time, these are things(acting and cricket) which are very close to my heart and very dear to me. So it was fantastic and has been so every single season. I am unsure if it would have been an alternate career choice as I haven’t trained professionally. The first time I had any sort of training was for Inside Edge. Most people start off at a young age but I was a gully cricketer playing in my colony with a bunch of friends which is pretty much how I learnt the sport. I do not have the most conventional approach to the game but I really enjoy cricket.
6. You are the son of legendary actor Rati Agnihotri. Did that put extra pressure on you while you were entering the industry?
As media usually touts it, being a star kid does come with an additional sense of pressure and responsibility. You have to get out of your famous parent’s shadow and carve a niche for yourself and at the same time be extremely respectful and regardful of their immense body of work. In that regard it is a double edged sword. There are a lot of positives. There is a lot of recall value when you initially set foot in the industry. There are people who will entertain you and grant you an audience because of who your parents are, out of respect for them. After that, the journey is yours alone. If any star kid think that just by being someone’s son or daughter you get everything on a silver platter then that won’t be the case. At the end of the day, it is the audience that accepts you or rejects you. Every single star kid today who is doing well for himself in the industry is on his own merit and not on the merit of his parents. Initially, I used to get quite flustered as there was a burden of expectations. But after a point when you are able to differentiate what people’s expectations are from you as opposed to what your expectations are from yourself, you will be in a better place. So I have always consciously tried to do that and now I have reached a point where I am just focussing on my job. Luckily now I am no longer known as my mother’s son and I have carved a bit of an identity for myself, so I am very happy about that.
7. Was it a conscious decision to switch over from films to the content on OTT?
Not at all, it was not a conscious decision. It just so happened that the first three films I did, did not perform at the box office as per the expectations. So all of a sudden I was unemployed and almost in Box Office prison so to speak. It just so happened that Excel and Amazon were producing Inside Edge and I was fortunate enough to be cast in it. At that time, the entire OTT space was very much in its infancy and I would even dare say that people looked down upon it thinking it is a massive step down from films. But I decided to run with it as I had nothing to lose at that point. I just lucked out, I happened to be at the right place at the right time. God has been kind and I just grabbed that opportunity with both hands.
8. Would you wish to foray into other technical aspects of filmmaking like direction, if given an opportunity?
Actually very few people know this but the hope and intention was to always get into direction first. I never thought I would become an actor and many people think it untrue considering that my mom is an actor, but it is a fact. But I really love the process of writing and directing. I have also directed a bunch of short films although not professionally. But it really gives you a lot of insight I believe when you direct other actors. It is like a note to yourself where you are growing automatically at a subconscious and a molecular level as a performer. So I do see myself stepping behind the camera at some point in future. No immediate plans but it is something that really excites me, so yes you never know!
9. 2022 has begun on a good note with Abhay 3. Are there any other films or shows lined up which we as fans should be looking forward to?
The slate for 2022 looks quite interesting. We started off with Abhay 3 and next up we have got the second season of Code M with Jennifer Winget, really excited for that. A lot of fans were excited when we decided that we were coming for another round. Besides that, I just completed a show with KK Menon called Murshid where I play a police inspector, so looking forward to that. Then I have a film coming up with Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Zakir Hussain and Zarina Wahab called Johnny Jumper. I am really looking forward to that as I haven’t done a film the longest time. Apart from that there are a bunch of projects which are in the pipeline but I am not entitled to speak about them unfortunately. But it is just a matter of time before the producers talk about it. So it is interesting in trying to raise the bar and trying to do some different work and hopefully gain some more appreciation from you guys!