Vivek Oberoi made a memorable entry into the world of Hindi cinema with his highly-acclaimed gangster film, ‘Company’ helmed by India’s most “disruptive filmmaker” Ram Gopal Varma, followed it up with yet another RGV directorial ‘Road’ before he made a 180 degree switch with his work in Shaad Alis ‘Saathiya’ which was a Hindi remake of Shaads mentor, Mani Ratnams 2000 Tamil film, ‘Alaipayuthey’.
It’s been twenty years for Vivek Anand Oberoi in the movies and having delivered top-notch performances as per the demand of the script and story in films like, ‘Yuva’, ‘Darna Mana Hai’, ‘Shootout at Lokhandwala’ and ‘Rakta Charitra’, the man seems to be hungry more than ever for good work.
IANS recently spoke with the actor about his life before acting, making a debut with an experimental director like RGV, memories of filming ‘Yuva’ with Mani Ratnam and his pursuit for excellence as an actor.
Reminiscing what life was like before his foray into films, Vivek Oberoi shares, “Before 2000, I was doing a lot of competitive theatres in college and then I went on to do professional theatre with the likes of some great theatre personalities and luminaries. The whole desire of being an actor was over-arching.”
Having studied abroad for his masters in films, Vivek soon returned to India and was told about his launch by his father Suresh Oberoi, which he gracefully declined because he wanted to make it on his own. He mentions, “I remember my father telling me to launch me as a hero which was a typical thing to do back then, for actor fathers to launch the second generation of actors. But I didn’t give into it.”
“One morning I woke up and greeted my father, I told him that I won’t be able to do this film because it comes with a certain risk as you are putting all your career savings on my debut’ and I also wanted to make it on my own merit just like how my father did”, Vivek Oberoi adds.
He mentions, “When I started my struggle, I used to go under the name of ‘Vivek Anand’ because I didn’t want the world to know about my surname and where I came from.”
To break into the industry, he took up several jobs one of which was that of a voice artiste, “Back then, I also worked as a voice artiste, I did a lot of films for the legendary Leela Ghosh, who was dubbing a whole bunch of English films and serials to Hindi like, ‘The Young and the Restless’, ‘Small Wonder’, ‘The Rock’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘The Making of the Mahatma'”.
And then ‘Company’ happened. But, that too wasn’t an easy catch as he was straightaway rejected by RGV solely for the fact that Vivek was a “very polished guy, having studied abroad”. And RGV being a purist wanted someone ‘raw and unpolished’ to play the character of Chandu.
Vivek Oberoi says, “I requested him to grant me three weeks to let me work on myself as per his demand for the script and the part. For three weeks, I lived in a slum, got a place on rent, experienced living like they do, closely observing how they drank chai (tea) and smoked cigarettes, the way they walked and behaved. That’s how Chandu came alive.”
“I requested a struggling photographer friend of mine to click a few pictures of me in Chandu’s attire. Eventually, RGV called me to the office. I went to his office dressed as the character and the watchman stopped me, I was like, ‘Yes! I’ve crossed the first hurdle to make the part believable'”, he adds.
Opportunity knocks on the doors of those who know what buttons to push, exemplifying the same, Vivek Oberoi recollects, “I went inside, banged my foot on the door, kicked it open, sat on the chair with my feet up the table and just gave him a death stare, saying, ‘Thobda kya dekhta hai, photo dekh photo’. 10 minutes later, he said, ‘You’re doing the film'”.
‘Yuva’ is another film that is nothing short of a benchmark in Hindi cinema with heavyweights like Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap and A.R. Rahman working on it. Remembering how he came on board for the film, Vivek shares, “Mani sir came to Mumbai just before the release of ‘Saathiya’ for an official screening. We had barely met and had just spoken over the phone. After he saw the film, he came out and he told me that I surprised him with my performance and he had a new film for me.”
However, Vivek Oberoi didn’t give much thought to the offer and “took it with a pinch of salt”, thinking Mani Ratnam said this out of generosity after being impressed by his performance in ‘Saathiya’. However, 3 or 4 months later, he got a call from Chennai and was asked by the maverick filmmaker to come down and meet him.
“We discussed ‘Yuva’ and then he gave me the script to read. Just as I read the script, he asked me which character I liked. The character which Abhishek played, I felt like I had already done that character in ‘Company’ and I did not want to repeat the same”, he remembers.
“Mani sir told me that we were running on a similar thinking pattern and then he told me that he wanted me to play Arjun and then he described to me about how he wanted Arjun to be different and this crazy fun mad guy who doesn’t care about anything that is happening around him to an extent that he is disconnected to everything”, Vivek Oberoi shares.
Ask him after all these years, what is it that he is chasing as an artiste, and pat comes the reply, “I feel like if I don’t keep challenging myself this hunger will go away. Whenever I am doing a new movie or a show, the night before the shoot I cannot sleep and I am very excited to sink my teeth into the character.”
“That hunger and that passion is sacred for me”, he concludes.