Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar
Meet Vivek Oberoi, and you’d come to a conclusion – that he isn’t just an actor, but a wonderful story-teller. He loves having long, detailed conversations, rather than sticking to formulaic one-line answers. He loves narrating stories. More often than not, they are interesting instances. His latest film, ‘Bank Chor’ where he plays a cop has just released. We catch up with the actor at Yash Raj Studio for a chat! Excerpts:
“I don’t want to play a character in real life. I am me”
How’s it been playing a cop this time around for ‘Bank Chor’?
To play Amjad, since I’ve never played a cop’s role. I wanted to play a cop. who is there to uphold the law, but he feels he is above the law, he is that kind of a cop. Almost like a diva, he knows he is damn good so he has that arrogance of competence, and he has an interesting relationship with the media. Everyone is intimidated by the guy. He walks past the existing cops and everything that’s there.
Interestingly, you’re still remembered for being a bad guy – one of those rare actors who make such a debut…
When I made my debut, everyone was like, ‘this is suicide! How can you start your career with a film like ‘Company?’ Look at the last 25 years and see the history of actors being launched. I came back from New York, after doing my masters in films. When I came back, my father behaved like a typical second generation and said that I’ve had it tough, my son shouldn’t face the same, he should get a platform. So, he decided to put in his life’s income to produce a film for me. It was all sorted, Abbas-Mustan were meant to direct it. They’d just had a blockbuster called ‘Soldier’. They started writing a script for me and but I couldn’t sleep at night. So, after 3-4 months of that process, I went to my dad and told him, I can’t do it. I can’t involve you in that, because if it doesn’t work and you lose all your life’s savings, I won’t be able to live with that burden. I told my father that, you’ve been my inspiration, you came here with nothing and made it on your own, with your talent so I want to do the same. I shut the production consciously. I spent a year and four months, dropping my last name and struggled in every possible office. There was a process of personal rejection. But that made me more resilient. Then I got to know about a film called ‘Company’ and loved the thought of it. I was a big fan of Ramuji and I landed up at his office, showed him my pictures. He went through it for like three minutes and said that I don’t see you in this role. Look at yourself. This guy is from the underbelly. I just said, before you dismiss me completely, please promise me, you’ll see me again in 15 days. Then I went to a slum, hired a kholi. I spent two weeks there, and recorded everything. I met some struggling photographer. I told him, click my pictures over here, and if I get a film and make it big, my first photo shoot will be with you. So he shot, ‘a day in the life of Chandu’. I went to Ramu ji again, dressed as the character, in a dirty, torn shirt, chappals, puffing a beedi, with my pictures in my hand. The first reaction in my head is the watchman, he kept asking, ‘idhar kyun aaya hai’, and in my head, I was like ‘victory!!’ Then when I went in, I just kicked the door, went to his cabin, sat on the chair like I owned the room, kept puffing the beedi and kept staring at him. I took the whole bunch of pictures and threw them at the table. He kept seeing me and the pictures. The editor of the film was also there, Chandan Arora, so he also kept looking at the pictures. And then Ramuji said, ‘can you throw the beedi’? He was like, ‘this is the best audition I’ve ever seen.’ So, the reason for telling you this was to say that, I’ve approached everything with a perspective that, ‘can I become the character’ – whether it’s a bhai like Chandu or an educated lover boy like Aditya Sehgal from ‘Saathiya’ or the character in ‘Omkara’ or Arjun in ‘Yuva’. No matter how big or small a film is, I just want to get into the character. To me it doesn’t matter whether a ‘Bank Chor’ has the capacity to do 100 crores or 20 crores. I’m as committed to it, as I am to a multi-starrer, mega-budget movie.
Do you feel that these risks have been worth it?
It is about the perspective. If you believe that I’m nothing, then maybe all this was for nothing. But, do I believe that? Do I believe I have a body of work, am I successful or not? I still am at a position where every month I’m saying no to a couple of films being offered to me, big or small. You have to define what success means to you. Does being successful mean you’ve made a lot of money, does being successful mean that you are doing what you love doing. Does being successful mean you have a balance of things in your life? I feel that, every morning I wake up feeling successful, and grateful for the life I have. I have multiple shelves full of awards, recognition from every quarter. A body of work which is memorable in its own way. It’s been 15 years and I’m still around. I don’t know if it’s something that I would often revisit and say, 15 years ago, I did this and that happened. The way I look at it, in short is that, the day I write an autobiography, it’ll be an interesting one.
So, do you really look back? Also, how content do you feel about the fact that you’re remembered for ‘Company’, but at the same time, you’re also known for ‘Saathiya’ or ‘Masti’?
I think when I’m 80 years old in a rocking chair, I will have time to look back. I have so much to look forward to right now. My wife keeps telling me, please don’t take on anything more. I was at Akshaya Patra’s event a few days back and I was so excited about doing something that can help feed so many people. All this keeps me going. In their head, people want to put people in the box – who is a performer, who is the best action star, who is good with commercial cinema. So, people will always do that, but I can’t buy myself into that. The day I buy myself into it, I will lose my essence of being an actor. Then I would be in the race which people have created. I was an actor, I’m still an actor, if a role excites me I’ll do it. I remember when Hrithik and Guddu uncle called me, they were so tentative when they offered ‘Krissh 3’ to me. They asked me, ‘are you open?’ I said, why wouldn’t I be open? They said it’s a negative role. I said, let me read the script. I went to the office, and told them, I’m doing the film. In fact, I told them, if I’m doing the film, we have to make the character darker. That’s what I did with Excel. When Excel called me to do ‘Powerplay’ which is now ‘Inside Edge’. They said, it’s a dark character. But I told them, my problem is, it’s not dark enough. He shouldn’t be me. I need to lose the identity in the character. What I’ve done in ‘Inside Edge’ will shock people. I have a scene in it, where this man walks over a woman and crushes her. He would have crushed her, even if she was a man. So, it’s all about power.
You’ve had a fond association with Yash Raj Films with ‘Saathiya’ and are collaborating with them after a while. Any fond anecdotes that you still remember?
When I shot that scene with both SRK and Tabu, I never just looked at them as stars. I was hugely impressed by Shah Rukh Khan. I’ve gone and seen DDLJ, about 17 times so for me it was ‘The Shah Rukh Khan.’ This building didn’t exist when Yash uncle purchased this plot. We used to come here to play cricket every Sunday. I was not an actor that time, was still struggling that time but would come to play cricket every Sunday, Adi, Uday and everyone used to play here, and once in a while, SRK would drop in. Whether he played well or didn’t, whether he bowled or batted, everyone was so in awe of him, and we would be like, ‘kya batting karta hai!’ He was a very nice, cool, guy. So, when I had to do this scene with him in ‘Saathiya’, I just thought, how large-hearted he was, and Tabu was, to come and do a guest appearance in a small film like this. ‘Company’ had not even released that time. We were shooting ‘Company’ and ‘Saathiya’ parallel. I remember my schedule was so hectic. I was shooting for ‘Company’ in Filmcity and shooting for that scene with Shah Rukh at Films Division in Peddar road. I had to go, shoot all night in Peddar road, I would pack up at five in the morning, take a shower at Films Division, change and sleep for one hour in the car while I reached Filmcity, and then I would get dressed as Chandu, and started shooting all day for ‘Company’. I would pack at 5, 5:30pm, take a shower from there, drive back to Peddar Road. And I did this for four days and three nights. So I remember that. But for me, when I face the camera, no matter who it is, I’ve been fortunate to work with Bachchan saab, or Shah Rukh, I’ve never been intimidated by their aura, because that’s the outside. When I’m an actor, I’m into my character and just looking at the other person as a character. I still do the same. The one time I think I’ve been in a moment of intimidation was with Mohanlal. He was the commissioner, I was Chandu. In the middle of a scene, he took a paperweight in his hand and started toiling it. I was like, look at his craft. He has taken everyone’s attention to that paperweight and I’m supposed to be intimidating him at that time in that scene. It is incredible. That’s craftsmanship.
Evidently, you’ve largely been involved with social causes and that’s a huge part of your life now. What was the starting point for that, and what is it that keeps you so driven towards the society than just staying in your own bubble?
I don’t want to play a character in real life. I am me. In my life, I went through a journey. I was at a low point where things in my career and personal life, both just crashed. The funny thing I realised, is that, when things go great, when you have money, success, fame, adulation, you never ask, why me? But when something goes wrong, we always ask, why me? I was in one of those self-pity moments and in border-line depression. I did what every mamma’s boy does. I went to my mom, literally put my head on her lap and told her I feel really low, what do I do? I would just whine to her. One day, she’s said, ‘come with me.’ She took me straight to the Tata Memorial Hospital, in the pediatric cancer wing. That was the day which changed my life. I walked in and I must have met 40 kids from the age of 5 to 15. I laughed, and entertained them, I ended up spending 6-7 hours over there. I fell in love with their spirit. They were so full of life. So, the first thing I learnt was that, I have no reason to crib. Look at these kids and how they are fighting. I would be scared of that disease and look at these kids. I realised I had no right to be sad about some film career or personal break up. Look at the bigger picture, I was dumb if I didn’t get it. That day defined what happened in my life. That day I also realised what God has given me. You can be a phenomenal architect or a great engineer, but no matter what you did, it’s not going to make people smile when they see you. That’s what actors have. You don’t have to do anything. You just walk into a place and people smile. That’s the biggest blessing. I can walk into a hospital full of children and their worried parents, and they all smile. That’s what you have been given and you have to take it further. These two things I learnt – I’m never going to be upset, I’m never going to crib and be ungrateful. Second thing is, what can you use this stardom for? You need to use it. What’s the point of having it otherwise? So, I decided to use whatever little stardom I have to do something. And I can’t tell you, it’s such a good feeling.
What’s the line-up of work for you, after ‘Bank Chor’?
Immediately after ‘Bank Chor, now I’ve gone into a promotional drive for ‘Inside Edge’ which releases by July. After that, I have to go finish the last section of my first Tamil film, called ‘Vivegam’. Supremely excited for it. After I finish all this, I have to go for my final stages for ‘Company 2’. It is such a big brand, and got such credibility over the years. So, there’s pressure and we have to make sure the script is brilliant.