Inside Edge episode 1 review: This gripping web series on big bad cricket world needs better villain
The very first shot of Amazon India's first original, Karan Anshuman's web series Inside Edge, explains why it would not have been suitable for any other medium, including television or cinema.
It kicks off with a sexual act — but the idea is not to titillate. The idea is to add drama to a cricket match by juxtaposing the nail-biting final overs against the climax of a sexual act taking place in the locker room. This parallel not only transports you to the underbelly of cricket leagues within minutes, but also proves to be an effective cinematic tool.
This is exactly where the biggest achievement of Inside Edge lies. Within a short span of under 45 minutes, the first episode introduces the viewers to every major character. The introduction is not accompanied by a narration or high octane background music. The characters are so seamlessly integrated into the narrative that it does not feel like a make believe world. What transpires onscreen comes across as though it has been happening for months and it is the viewers who have become a witness to this universe now.
The narrative revolves around the character of Zarina Malik, an actor played by Richa Chadda, who co-owns a cricket team, Mumbai Mavericks, in the Power Play League (PPL). The spotlight courts her even as she does her best to conceal her growing anxiety over the fate of her team. The other co-owner — an industrialist — goes bankrupt, leaving Malik hanging in the balance.
Chadda's understated demeanour gives the audience a sneak peek into the fading relevance of an actor. She also pulls off the act of an astute businesswoman with great aplomb. But the first episode focuses on her vulnerability more than her power. This subtly demonstrates the struggles of a woman in cricket — a man's world.
The next most remarkable performance is that of Tanuj Virwani. He plays a young, brash cricketer who is confident of his form, yet cocky about his game. His character shows how a much loved cricketer, with thousands of ardent fans, cannot exactly be called a role model. He is a womaniser, often cavorting with cheerleaders in the dressing room until he's up to bat. He is also not a team player — choosing to smoke up in an empty stadium over a champagne celebration with his team. While the character may sound cliched, Virwani's unwavering sincerity more than makes up for it.
Another character, in complete contrast with that of Virwani, is that of the rookie Siddhant Chaturvedi. A national level player from Uttar Pradesh, he receives a culture shock when he is roped in to fill in for an injured player in Mumbai Mavericks. Since he always puts up a reserved self, it is a sheer delight to see his nervous face break into a confident grin when he bowls off the mid wicket in an empty stadium.
In arguably the most telling scene of the episode, he is projected as a victim of ragging by senior players who look down upon him as he belongs to a lower caste. This important scene shows how caste unfortunately persists as a factor in locker room politics.
Sayani Gupta completely owns the two scenes she has in the first episode. She plays the team analyst of Mumbai Mavericks and the brother of Virwani's character. Her scene with Virwani is the only time the audience get to see the tender side of his character. Given Gupta's confession at the trailer launch of the web series that she is clueless about cricket, it is extremely surprising to see her deliver jargon so convincingly. It shows the amount of effort she has put in to ensure that her character comes across as authentic.
The weakest link among the cast, and of the episode as a whole, is Vivek Oberoi. His character and style is caricaturish to such an extent that he proves to be that one distraction that takes you away from a compelling story. His villainous act of a calculating businessman is cliched in the superlative.
The other actors, Angad Bedi and Sanjay Suri, as the respective captain and coach of Mumbai Mavericks, make appearances too. Suri's craving for a smoke break in the final overs of a crucial match offers an interesting insight into a cricket icon's life. Also, the romance between Chadda and Bedi's characters is hinted at, which piques viewers' interest in the ensuing episodes.
The climax of the first episode adds to that as well but only because of its shock value. Otherwise, the final shot just seems like an extension of Oberoi's caricature and it marks a full circle for the episode that began with a sexual act.
Anshuman, however, establishes himself as a formidable force, given his assured direction and the ability to pack in truckloads of content within a short time period, a must for a successful web series.
Inside Edge also stars Sarah Jane Dias, who plays a television anchor of the PPL in the film. It is produced by Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar's Excel Entertainment. The first episode will air on 10 July on Amazon Prime Video.