It was when we were shooting the fifth episode of the first season that we realised it was big," says actor Sumeet Vyas, who plays the endearing Nikesh in the web series, Permanent Rommates. "We were all on the shoot, and the fourth episode had been uploaded the previous night.
And, from midnight to morning, four lakh people watched it. That's when we knew this was massive." Since the first season, which was uploaded in 2014, the show has become the second largest watched web series in the world on YouTube, with each episode bagging more than a million views.
Sumeet Vyas and Nidhi Singh who star in Permanent Roommates. Pic/Nimish Dave
We are sitting with Vyas, 32, and the female lead of the show Nidhi Singh, 29, at the office of The Viral Fever, which created and produces the web series, currently in its second season. Singh is from Allahabad, and quit engineering to become an actor. Other than Permanent Roommates and her theatre performances, she is known for her viral videos, especially Shit Delhi Girls Say, where she pronounces Louis Vuitton the way it is spelt.
Vyas, born and brought up in Mumbai, joined Nadira Babbar's theatre group, Ekjut, in 2000 and worked with them for six years. It would make sense to know that the two leads for this show have roots in theatre. They bring to fore a characteristic that is important for the sucecss of a web series — believability.
The show, which is about the travails of a couple living in, relies on their chemistry — which Vyas and Singh have down pat. If they are great on screen as the loving yet different couple (Vyas playing the sweet, thoughtful boyfriend Nikesh, and Singh is the bratty, I-like-to-do-it-my-way girlfriend Tanya), that could be because they have great chemistry off screen too.
They laugh and joke as they let our photographer take pictures, exchanging gossip. "We gelled from the first meeting. I was in awe of him, when I was called to audition, as I knew his work in theatre and thought he was awesome. We are good friends in real life and react well to each other," says Singh, who plays pregnant in season 2. "And the writers write such great lines, we just have to perform our best," adds Vyas.
They are aware of the power of the medium, and the reach it has, but are clear when they say that they are not trying to make a statement with the show. "People have the wrong idea of what a web series is. Those who watch our show are like you and me, who have already watched Game of Thrones or blockbuster Bollywood or Hollywood movies. They want something different, and of good quality. And so, writing and acting has to be superlative," says Vyas. Singh has a different observation.
"People think if you make it bold, it will work. Our team has never said, 'oh let's make you say something scandalous to get views'. It's just about telling a good story. And, even though I am pregnant now and not married, we are not making a statement! And even when I say f***, I am not being 'bold', just normal," she smiles.
They may not be out there to make a statement, but they have built up a decent fan base thanks to their show, and are the hottest digital stars around. Both have fans who follow them on Facebook and Instagram, their favourite social networking tool. "It's so much easier than Twitter, where you have to think," says Vyas.
Singh screams, "It's not easy. You have to take a good picture. I have some fun followers, especially this really cute boy who comments on everything I put up. I often go and stalk my followers!" As they soak in the stardom, they have their eyes firmly on the prize — Bollywood. "That's the goal. Let's send out signals to the universe," grins Singh. Yes, let's.