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OTTplay Exclusive! Tanuj Virwani: Sometimes I wanted to break free from my monk-like character in Cartel

Tanuj Virwani spoke to OTTplay about his role as Major Bhau and working with co-actors like Supriya Pathak and Rithvik Dhanjani, among other things.

Shaheen Irani
Aug 22, 2021
cover image
Tanuj Virwani.

Cartel, presented by AltBalaji and MX Player along with MX Gold, started streaming from August 20. The show has been well-applauded. A character that has left an impression on people's minds is that of Major Bhau aka Arjun Angre, played by Tanuj Virwani. He plays the sensible brother among two hyper beings.

Talking about his role and the project to OTTplay, Tanuj explained how he wanted to often break character and have as much fun as his brothers, played by Jitendra Joshi and Rithvik Dhanjani. He, however, thought about the monk-like presence required from Major and thus, kept going despite all difficult times.

The actor also spoke about how 2021 has been his year so far and what went behind his look in the show. He shared his experience working with Rithvik and Supriya Pathak, while also talking about his long list of upcoming projects, including Inside Edge 3.

Excerpts from the interview...

2021 has been quite the year for you with three releases and the fourth one on the way...

I feel gratitude, blessed and am hopeful that I can keep the train chugging along. It's extremely difficult because of COVID-19 because we never know when we go into lockdown and there's delay after somebody tests positive on sets. In the midst of such uncertainty, I'm really happy that I'm able to put this kind of volume of work without putting the quality in jeopardy. So I'm very blessed.

How did Cartel happen to you?

I have an old association with Cartel. Back in the day, it was called Family. I was playing a different character on the show. At some point, Ekta ma'am told me she wanted to cast me in the role of Major Bhau. I thought it's phenomenal because he's one of the best characters. The three brothers and Rani Maai are the best characters on the show. That's how my official journey with Cartel in this avatar started. I didn't have much prep time. We barely had three weeks. I had to work on my physicality, unlearning a few bad habits I developed as an actor. I had to do weapons, knife training and hand-to-hand combat. I had to put in a lot of work in less time. It was crazy how that happened.

A 'Major' Bhau being in the story of gangsters is quite a spin, no? Is that what attracted you to Cartel the most?

Absolutely, spot on! That's exactly what made me gravitate towards the character and role. I thought that he's in the army so he has his tactics in place. He's almost clinical in his execution of things. When you come across this organized crime-syndicated family in a city of Mumbai which has a lot of chaos and anarchy. He uses his experience from the army to try and keep a lid on top of everything. It's not just a gangster drama. It has politics, land mafia, property, cricket, Bollywood among so much. Anything that has power, glamour or money or all three attached to it, is part of Cartel. It was really interesting for me to be the voice of reason in a family where everyone else is just screaming and acting.

Did you go through some research for your character?

Most of the research I required was a backstory which I follow as a principle for every character I play. I think you need to root your character into some sort of reality so that it gives them a bit of a feeling as opposed to you just performing one scene at a time. I did that. Apart from that, our director and writer were very gracious and forthcoming who answered all my questions to the best of their ability. That really helped me in putting together and sculpting the performance. I had to work on my physicality and skill-set (weapons training). 10 days into the show, I sustained a nasty injury to my right hand while playing cricket. I got four hairline fractures on my right pinky finger which left me worried. I couldn't even hold a weapon so they made me a lefty for the rest of the show. The doctor asked me to put my hand in a cast but I couldn't afford to. It was just like how can this tough guy like Major have his hand in a cast. So they gave me a customized removable cast. I would strap it onto my hand and before the shot, I would take it out despite the tremendous amount of pain. I would pop painkillers and give the shot. The first three months while I was recovering, was a physical torture.

What kept you going?

I saw people so motivated about what we were making. Nobody knows much. You go out to make something substantial but you never know till you watch the edited form. There was a great energy on the set which made me want to do it.

You have also undergone a look change. Tell me about that.

We wanted Major to be well-presented and palatable to the audience. At the same time, we wanted him to have a functional feel about him. So he's a very jeans, shirt and denim jacket guy. He's always wearing boots. It's become an extension to his body. He would always have pockets in his pants because he's always keeping guns or knives. He's very functional. When he does not want his eyes to be seen, he'll wear aviators and conceal his emotions behind that, but when he's with his family, then you see a very different side of him. You can see that he has let his guard down.

Did you take inspiration from someone for the character?

No. Everything I needed to know about Major Bhau was in the script. This is a wonderfully and highly-detailed script. I used it as a roadmap/blueprint and followed the director because he had the larger picture in mind. For me, it was to speak less and listen more.

You share a lot of screen space with Jitendra Joshi. Did the brotherly bond translate even off the sets?

Absolutely. Not just with Jitu but even Rithvik (Dhanjani). The three of us are blessed to have come across each other during the journey of the show. Many times what happens is when there's an ensemble show and three main leads, it could give a rise to a certain amount of insecurity. I'm happy to report that didn't happen. Instead, we just continued having this amazing brotherhood between the three of us. When you see us, it would appear like we guys know each other for eternity. It really helped us in our performance. I personally feel that helps because you can't fake chemistry. We went with the flow because of the chemistry we shared off screens. So really grateful to have met some wonderful people during this journey.

As you spoke about insecurity, now in an ensemble, since audiences have a limited attention span, when you are in the same frame with another actor, their focus might be on that actor and not you. How do you ensure that the focus remains on you?

I don't. All I do is, whether in a scene alone or surrounded by 20 people, I believe in playing the most authentic version of the character needed. The harder you try to stand out and be noticed, the more stupid you will look. So it makes sense to just be authentic and perform in a way as if no one is watching or is in the room. That's how you stay true to your character. It was particularly important for me because the other characters are explosive, loud like my brothers. Arjun is calm and almost monk-like among the brats. Sometimes I wanted to break-free but realized that wasn't the demand of the character. It's important to do justice to the character to make your work shine.

The show is a big opportunity for Rithvik. How was he on sets? What was the vibe like?

Rithvik is one of the purest, nicest actors I've met in my life. That boy doesn't have a bone in his body that has any sort of malice, negativity or jealousy. He's all heart. Adding to that, he's extremely hardworking. He's someone who has a certain process which suits him and he follows that. It's amazing to see him switch on and off. One minute we could be chatting about food. Once the scene is announced, he'll put his airpods, get into the zone and the next thing you know, he's transformed into the character. It's beautiful to see the metamorphosis from his real-life to real-life personality and back. I'm sure that Cartel will be a game-changer for him. It's going to make a lot of people stand up and take notice of his acting chops. Over the past few years, he's been in news for hosting reality shows but this will make people look at him very differently and open up amazing avenues for him.

What was working with Surpirya Pathak like?

It was amazing. I've been a massive fan of her body of work. When I got to know she has been cast, I was over-the-moon. Of course, there's also some nervousness that sets in when you realize you will be shooting with her. Then you meet her in person and she's so warm and giving as an actor when you realize it would be fun and easy-breezy. She would encourage me to give more takes stating that the next one will be better. You need such encouragement from your seniors. I hope I inculcate some of these gestures when I'm more senior. She's an absolute pleasure and dream to work with. It's been an honour for me.

There are a few abuses in Cartel, which wouldn't be possible if there was OTT censorship. What are your views on the matter?

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. If your script and world demands and it makes the character look authentic, then by all means, you must do what you must do. Whether it's violence or explicit language. I've noticed for a long time that because of the lack of censorship, people just abuse the privilege. Power comes with a responsibility. At the end of the day, you want to reach the wider possible audience. I want to make content you can watch with your family. I understand that it's just not possible with a few projects. My previous project Tandoor itself is an example of that. We need to be mindful about the kind of audience you wish to cater to. If you want to satisfy everyone, you could end up satisfying no one.

What are your upcoming projects?

After Cartel, I believe my immediate release in all probability will be Inside Edge 3, coming out on Amazon Prime. I've got a show on Voot called Illegal 2 with Neha Sharma, Akshay Oberoi, Piyush Mishra, Parull Gulati, Sheeba Chaddha. It's a really interesting starcast. I also started working on Code M season 2 with Jennifer Winget. So I'm really gung-ho about that as well. Apart from that, I recently completed a film with Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Zakir Hussain. I play a cop in a show called Murshid. It features Kay Kay Menon sir. I'm excited about that. There are a few other things in the pipeline too but since I haven't started shooting for them, I probably can't speak about them.

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