Maanvi Gagroo did bit roles in Bollywood, left Mumbai, and came back right before the web series scene was taking off. Now, she could be the web’s first female star.
We’re at the TVF (The Viral Fever) campus in Andheri (W). The curiously named conference rooms — Baker Street, Gotham, TARDIS, among others — are full of 20-something employees, ideating and furiously scribbling into notepads.
It feels like college: classrooms, whiteboards, and that one group of students that’s managed to bunk class and hang out in the corridors. It’s a millennial office, producing millennial content: some of the most popular web series in the country.
We’re here to meet Maanvi Gagroo (29). She shot to fame with one of India’s earliest web series, Pitchers, and now plays Chanchal on TVF’s latest, Tripling — a slick-looking (evidence of higher production budgets) sibling road-trip drama.
Gagroo is like a real-world version of Geet from Jab We Met (2007; played by Kareena Kapoor) — wide-eyed, animated, the most energetic person in the room. She walks in from a smoke break. In a pastel yellow off-shoulder dress, she could be dressed for either destination — a picnic in Lonavla; or Sunday Mass.
She wants to do the photo shoot first. “My hair’s looking good right now,” she says. A few shots in, Gagroo asks, “I feel like Priyanka Chopra. Should I pose like her?” She proceeds to strike Chopra’s pose from Elle’s January 2016 cover — hands on her forehead. “Arre, but she has a tattoo on her wrist. I want one,” she says. Someone steps in with a marker and scribbles “Ranisaa” (queen) on her wrist. It’s the character she plays in Tripling.
Gagroo is not new to the camera. You might have discovered her recently, but she’s been in entertainment for seven years now. She debuted with a Disney TV series, Dhoom Machao Dhoom (DMD), in 2007, did a series of Idea ads with Abhishek Bachchan in 2011, and had minor roles in No One Killed Jessica (2011) and PK (2014). You may not remember her right away — but you’d go ‘I’ve seen that face somewhere’.
Until, the web series changed things for her. Pitchers debuted in 2015, and Gagroo played the only female character on a show that otherwise traced the journey of four young men. With Tripling, she has a chunkier role, and, yet again, is the only female lead.
The fairy-tale start
Growing up, Gagroo’s passion lay in dance. “I trained in kathak till I was 12, then shifted to jazz because that was big at the time,” she says.
Inadvertently, dance would lead to acting. In 2007, when Disney India announced their TV series, DMD, about an all-girl school band, audition calls were sent out to schools across the country. Gagroo’s dancing skills and effervescent demeanour landed her the role of Ambika ‘Bikki’ Gill, a tambourine-playing Bollywood fan.
Does she have fond memories of the show? “I remember getting mobbed by fans at Inorbit Mall (Goregaon). My fellow actors and I were fairly young, and the thought of getting mobbed was quite awesome,” says Gagroo.
Medium no bar
Soon after, other film and TV offers started coming in. But everyone wanted her to play pretty much the same character: loud and happy. Far from thrilled at the prospect, Gagroo went back to Delhi
to pursue a degree in psychology from Gargi College.
But she’d come back right after. “I couldn’t shake off the acting bug,” she says. She returned to Mumbai in 2010, and worked in theatre with artists like Danesh Khambatta and Meherzad Patel (at Silly Point Productions). Thanks to the location of the production house (in Tardeo), and the largely South Mumbai crew, Gagroo soon found herself speaking the dialect.
“They have a peculiar vocabulary: a mix of Gujarati, English and Hindi. Words like ‘bro’, ‘dude’, ‘yaa’ feature prominently. I found it amusing,” she says. Her newly-acquired diction landed her a role in a video, titled Every Bombay Girl in the World, by YouTube channel BeingIndian. The video has over 2.5 million views on YouTube.
It was also through the theatre circuit, that she met Nidhi Bisht, a regular TVF actor and casting director. She introduced Gagroo to TVF’s core team — founder Arunabh Kumar, writer Biswapati Sarkar and others — and that led to a career in web series.
Caught in the web
Gagroo’s character in Pitchers is self-aware — a stark contrast to her previous work as that chirpy girl. The stint on Pitchers got her an audition for Tripling — as Chanchal, the middle child among three siblings. An unusual story of a road trip with immediate family, Tripling looks like TVF’s most elaborate venture so far, and was shot for over a month across northern India. She co-stars with Sumeet Vyas (from Permanent Roommates) and newbie Amol Parashar.
“I am the youngest child in my family, so it took some research to understand the middle-child psyche. I put my psychology education to good use,” she says.
By her own admission, her favourite moment from the shoot was in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, when the crew had 20-odd minutes to shoot against a clear sky. “It had rained non-stop the day before, and we needed the sun shining through for a sequence. When the shot was ready, Kunal [Roy Kapoor, who has a cameo] cracked a joke and I couldn’t stop laughing. I ended up delaying the shot, but it was the best day on set.”