Tanuj Virwani, the son of veteran actor Rati Agnihotri, was off to a shaky start in the entertainment industry. His first three films – Luv U Soniyo (2013), Purani Jeans (2014) and One Night Stand (2016) – bombed at the box office and he was labelled ‘unemployable’. However, he bounced back in a big way with the successful Amazon Prime Video series Inside Edge, in which he plays hot-headed star cricketer Vayu Raghavan.
Calling acting an ‘extreme profession’, Tanuj says, “There was a time after I did three films when people were like, ‘Oh, you are unemployable. You are box office poison. No one is ever going to sign you again.’ Boom, I end up being a part of Inside Edge and the same people come and say, ‘Oh my God, you are such an amazing actor.’ It’s hypocrisy to another level. The same people who raise you, pull you down and raise you back again.” He adds that he has learnt to ‘detach’ and let neither the praise nor the brickbats get to him.
Despite coming from a film family, Tanuj did not have things handed to him on a platter. “My mother goes by her maiden surname (Agnihotri) and I go by Virwani, which is my father’s surname. A lot of the time, people take a while to even make the connection. Many don’t even know I am her son. I have had my fair share of struggles also. I didn’t have the best of starts in the business. I did three films, none of them worked. My mother had absolutely nothing to do with them. They were relatively small films and I got them on my own,” he says.
Tanuj does acknowledge that nepotism exists in the film industry and sometimes, actors are chosen for projects on the basis of personal connections. “I know for a fact that nepotism does exist in our industry, favouritism does exist, camps exist, cliques exist. Sometimes you give an audition and you feel that this is going to work out but the next thing you know, you are nowhere in the running just because someone has an equation with someone. It happens. It is the nature of the business, there are no two ways about that,” he says.
However, Tanuj is glad that he made it on his own, instead of using his family connections. “If you have everything laid out for you on a silver platter, you maybe don’t regard or respect it the way you should because it came to you easy. And you can’t enjoy your success in the same way because if you do well, they will be like, ‘He did well because of his famous parent.’ And if you don’t do well, they will say, ‘Despite having a famous parent, he couldn’t do well.’ For me, it is very important to be known by my first name, even if it is in a very small way, and not to be known by my mother,” he says, adding that nepotism ‘can only take one so far’ and it is the audience who decides.
Many actors have talked about being dropped from projects in favour of someone else with stronger connections. While Tanuj has never been replaced from a film or show after being signed, there have been times when he has not made it past the audition stage despite giving his best. “I know how it is. You go to certain casting directors and sometimes in your heart as an actor, you know when you have given a good audition, but you don’t even get a call back. Then, after a few months, you hear that so-and-so got the role. And you are like, ‘Oh, of course! They party together. They are friends. Why did I even waste my time?’ You feel bad. I don’t think everything over here functions solely on merit and that’s not nice. I’ll still be okay because at least I have done some work but what about newcomers who come from all over India, with absolutely zero backing, to make a name for themselves and they get treated in this way? There needs to be a permanent change in the way we go about picking talent,” he says.
Tanuj, who has been quarantining in Lonavala with his family, recently wrote, directed and produced a short film titled Anisht. “We decided to shift to Lonavala for the time being and I started writing the script keeping that in mind. I knew we would be taking the expressway so we can shoot some stuff here. I stopped at my friend’s place on the way and shot with him. Before leaving, I shot the first scene of the film in my building basement in Mumbai. I kind of structured the script around the shooting locations where I would be because you can’t travel anywhere you want,” he says.
When asked why he decided to shoot this film under the lockdown restrictions, Tanuj says, “That’s exactly why I decided to do this because when we are working through the year, my main job is to be an actor and I don’t get a chance to dabble with things behind the camera. You have to find new ways to keep yourself entertained and at the same time productive because it has been more than four months since this started. It has been unbelievably long. For me, it is about staying creatively on point. I don’t want to be rusty or lose that edge.” Another reason he wanted to put the film out now was for his fans who were eagerly waiting for his next show.
Tanuj was also set to begin shooting for two new web series – 7th Sense and Line of Fire – in the UAE but has no update on when that will happen. “It depends on getting permissions from the government. A lot of us need to get from here to there, close to 90 people, including the cast and crew. While we are awaiting permissions, the pre-production is on. It should happen soon. I would honestly feel a lot better and safer shooting there than in India right now,” he says.
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