The first thing that you notice about Vivek Oberoi when you meet him in person is his optimistic nature and calm persona. Donning a casual navy blue shirt, Vivek gave us a warm smile nestling comfortably on his leather couch. 15 years ago, the actor made his Bollywood debut with Ram Gopal Verma’s ‘Company’, opting for a unconventional role than those stereotypical roles. Leaving us stunned with his honest acting in ‘Saathiya’ to playing Arjun Balachandran in ‘Yuva’, the actor has received his share of love and criticism. Over a bowl of freshly cut apples, sitting in his living room, the actor talks to MensXP about living in slums, rejections, being a feminist, relationship and his latest series Inside-Edge.
How would you describe your journey in Bollywood?
A rollercoaster ride (laughs). I have always tried to do things my way, I have broken boundaries, changed pieces, structures and definition ever since I joined the industry. When I joined the industry people said a hero has to be launched and my father said let me launch this guy. He was about to spend all the money he had earned to make a film which would be a big launch and my show reel. And that time I came back from New York after completing my masters in film and I was under the whole pressure that I can’t allow my dad to gamble on me. And if I have talent then I should get picked up anyway. That time I did something radical, I went to my dad and said I don’t want you to produce this film, he was like am I crazy? I went to Abbas Mastan, who was supposed to direct that film and said, sir, I am not willing to do this film. Because if it’s my father’s money that is going to get me a film then I don’t want it. If it’s my talent and you believe in me then take me. I went on to a journey where I decided to struggle. I dropped my father’s name and used to go everywhere as Vivek Anand which is my middle name. I started giving auditions, waiting in line for 6-7 hours waiting for them to only tell me that you can’t make it, and you don’t have it in you. One thing you get free in India is advice and they constantly kept giving me random advice. Year, year and a half of rejection. Every time I got rejected, I used to make my mind stronger.
How did you get your first break?
One fine day I found out that Ram Gopal Verma is casting for his film ‘Company’. I landed up in his office and introduced myself to him. He said look you look too sophisticated, internationally educated. I am looking for a guy who is rough-tough from Mumbai’s slum, underbelly and you can’t do that character. I told him sir give me one chance. He said see you don’t look like it. I told him to give me a meeting after 15 days and just to get me out of his office, he said fine. Then I went and rented a ‘kholi’ in a slum and lived there for 15 days, literally using the sulabh shauchalaya and slept on a floor. I had massive cockroaches and rats around me. Watched their body language, and observed then came back out of that place after 15 days. Called a photographer friend, asked him to shoot photos of me in this look and said can’t pay you at the moment but if I make it will make sure you shoot a whole bunch of cover photos for me. Wearing torn vest, dirty pants and shirt, I landed at RGV’s office and watchman stopped me and I was like this is a victory. With beedi in my hand, smashing mud on my face from the flower pot I went to him and threw my picture on the table. I said, “Aye thopada kya dekhta hai photo dekh.” He looked at the picture, got up clapped and said have never seen an audition like this. He said you are the guy of my film and that’s how I got Company. And ever since I am trying to break the norms. When I got Saathiya, people told me am I crazy, doing such film, killing my career, I am an action hero and I should ask them to add some action scenes. Since then I kept trying to do different roles.
It’s very natural for an actor to venture into film production, what prompted you to take a different turn and get into infrastructure business?
I always had a business mind and wanted to do something which would have a social impact. My preference to get into any business is how I can make life better. How can I change someone’s life? Affordable housing is one such thing and it is life changing. A number of people who live in sub-human conditions, I have seen their lives when I stayed there. It’s a poverty trap. You pay unaffordable rents, when you can give payment on time, they grab your child and say will keep it until you pay them the amount, such things do happen. Physical and sex abuse is rampant, lack of infrastructure and sewage everywhere, that’s not how anyone is supposed to live. The idea was how to get these hard working people who aren’t in the banking system houses? How do you get them out of poverty trap? And with the grace of God, I have been successful. And the Prime Minister has a vision for housing for all, the timing for that has been perfect. So the effort is to build a community where their child has access to what your child has. There shouldn’t be a difference of having or have not.
You have been in news lately for all the goodwill you have earned. What prompts you to do so?
I try to be an agent of social change. It’s like I am doing this how many of you will follow or try to do such thing, so I try to show that it’s possible. So if I have donated 25 flats, there are 100 developers across the country who are huge, they can do this. For them, it’s nothing they can make it out of their CSR budget. It’s 2500 flats. 2500 families lost their sons, fighting for your nation, protecting your life, your child, your mother, your people. They suddenly have security a roof on their head, giving them a feeling that somebody cares for us. And it is so easy to do so. My thought is if I do it, others too can. The idea is to inspire people. It will be so cool when some young guy who takes over his dad’s developing business and says I am going to do this as well. I learned this from my mom, for 25 years she would relentlessly go and help the palliative care patients. And she would do various things for them. Even when their families wouldn’t go, she would know that person has just 20 days to live. To me, she is a real hero. I am a big feminist. I believe women shouldn’t fight for equality because they are unequal, they are superior.
Amazing love story of my little sister,Lalita Bansi,an acid attack survivor,got married today to an amazing man Ravi Shankar who loves her for who she is! Lalita is a true hero because she proves to thousands of acid attack survivors across the nation that this isnt a full stop,just a comma,life has so many possibilities!
Tell us about Vivek Oberoi, the family man
I think I am a ‘joru ka ghulam’. My wife is away with kids and her mother and here I am getting the kitchen remade for her, so when she comes back I give her this surprise. So I am trying to be a good husband.
What according to you makes a relationship work?
Respect! You know when we are in a relationship, we take each other for granted. We forget to respect each other. And when you don’t have that person, you release what you have lost, when that person is gone. I feel when you have that person, get up every day and respect that person. I do this thing, whenever I am missing my wife or thinking of her I spend two minutes thinking about how lucky I am and say pray of gratitude. I say thank you god for giving me this amazing person in my life. Thank you for this person who keeps this family together and has given so much to me. Just try to do this small ritual it can be for anyone, you parents, your best friend, your partner, anyone.
What made you pick up inside-edge and how is it different than the web-series we are already watching?
When Farhan Khan and Ritesh Sidhwani called me and explained me the subject, I realised it was huge and on another parameter. I was really happy that Amazon is coming here with such a commitment in the Indian market. It was a great time working with such great actors giving a brilliant performance. And the way it has been received online it’s incredible. When it went live, the next day I got a call from one of my person saying you are trending. Was I like ‘Inside Edge’? It is a paid trend, he said no you are trending, I was like good but I have been trending before also, so ok. But he was like it is not just India, you are trending worldwide. 5-6 hours I was trending and it was great. My character in the series is larger than life, playing chess with people’s life. Seducing them, luring them to the dark side. He will do anything to do whatever he can.
Talking about the difference, the budget, the making. Web-series generally are very small budget but which inside edge these people decided to get all out. It costs three times the film. The ads were everywhere, literally everywhere. And the platform it was released on people in more than 196 countries is watching us.
#Repost @insideedgeamazon ??? The wait is over, the asli over begins! #insideedge watch now! Link in bio. @amazonvideoin @excelmovies @vivekoberoi @therichachadha @sanjaysuri @angadbedi @sarahjanedias @sayanigupta @tanujvirwani @siddhantchaturvedi
How was experience working with Richa Chadha?
Well, she is a great performer. She is natural and has got an incredible watchable personality. She is exceptional.
What web-series you binge-watch?
Lots! I love ‘The Man in the High Castle’, Game of Thrones, well who doesn’t love it? I haven’t watched the latest episode, I promised my wife we will watch it together. Game of Thrones is our thing together. I love House of Cards, it’s one of my favourite. I enjoyed Pitchers, Bang Baaja Baraat, Permanent Roommates. I watch a lot of shows.
What do you think is the future of the adult-comedy genre, since the Censor board is hyperactive these days?
It’s ridiculous. Censor board can’t be a decision making authority, it needs to be a guiding authority that’s all. It’s absurd what they are doing. I think the future for this is to go on the web and use that platform.
With inputs from Harshleen Anand