He has clashed with the press and has a reputation as a firebrand, sometimes, but Vivek Oberoi's aggression is the driving force that has landed him some great roles in films like Company, Shootout At Lokhandwala and Saathiya. The latest as a journalist in Rensil D' Silva's Kurbaan is no exception. He confesses about many things, sitting in Dharma Production office. His wrong choices, his trappings of stardom, his time with RGV, his time with Bebo and Saif, his intention to get into a relationship and many more interesting facts. But hearing him speak with razor sharp confidence makes you want to think that he is going to take his second innings seriously.
Vivek Oberoi is a changed man, in his walk and in his talk. Ten minutes down the interview you feel as if you're talking to a senior journalist and not an actor. Oberoi is in command from the word go. We caught hold of the underdog who has already embarked on his journey to be a top dog in his second life.
I think you've always looked colourful in grey shades. Company, Shoot Out At Lokhandwala and your next project Rakht Charitra and who knows Kurbaan.
(Laughs) Thank you for Rakht Charitra, but I think it's a little pre-emptive to say that till the film releases. In Kurbaan, you're assuming that I play a grey shade. So I'll let you live with your assumptions till you see the film.
Audiences like your rawness more than the clean and sophisticated looking Vivek Oberoi. Do you get to hear such things too?
I don't know, may be. I think it's about performing a character to the fullest. I'm really curious to know what your reaction to Kurbaan will be. My role in Kurbaan is that of a journalist, a polished journalist. He is a pretty solid character. Rawness also depends on what the ambience of that film is. Kurbaan is a high drama film. It's not the terrorist we hear of who comes from a remote village and dresses in some Pathani clothes. These are the people who live in sleeper cells and you don't even realise that they are terrorists and what they're going to do.
What kurbaani was given by you to get Kurbaan?
From my own level, a lot of hard work, a lot of filming in bitter cold is the physical kurbaani I had to give in. Mental sacrifice was to stay away from my family for that long, especially at the time when 26/11 happened. I was shooting in Philadelphia at that moment. It was a scary experience.
Your take on the 26/11 as it approaches a year next week.
I am deeply hurt and disappointed as an Indian. It's not even a year it happened, and at that time it was so much about taking lessons and doing good, and right now we are having non issues grabbing attention in the print and television media. All this is speculative rubbish. As people we need to review ourselves how we spent the last year. Are we thick skinned insensitive people that anybody can treat us anyway they want? All we need is a political leader saying 'Move that way' and we'll move that way. This is utter nonsense. We aren't even a developing nation. I'd call ourselves an emerging nation. There is so much pride connected to India and lot of expectation from the entire world today and look at us. We should be spending this year in trying to make sure that the Mumbai we felt so much pain for, that Mumbai which was attacked and which attacked our sentiments, what have we done for that Mumbai?
You getting emotional?
Yes, I am. There are so many children who need health care, accommodation issues, water, land, etc. You name it and we've got issues. We've got so many problems in Mumbai. It's sad and it's not we should feel proud of. We haven't achieved anything out of it. I thought that 26/11 will change our Mumbai and our country for good. There'll be a revolution. Sadly, nothing has changed.
Kurbaan deals with terrorism and there were terrorists in Mumbai when you were filming. How spooky was it?
You won't believe this. We had a scene in a sub-way station in the US and at the same time there was an attack carried out at our CST station in Mumbai. It was bizarre. Life was unreal and it was like a twilight zone experience. I felt so much anger towards the media in the US that our Mumbai was being projected as an unprepared city. I don't know. But I was really hurt.
Your steep rise, then a downfall and now looking to climb the ladder back to the top. You've learnt it the hard way?
I think this time around it's a conscious effort. I've also learnt to appreciate the value of an opportunity. Somewhere I took a lot of things for granted in my life. I spent about nineteen years of my life wanting to be an actor. Till I was about twenty three when Ramu cast me as an actor in Company. It was ridiculous that within a year of achieving my first success, awards and getting all that acclaim, suddenly I felt I wasn't hungry any more. My focus was all over the place. I was more interested in my personal life, speculations, controversies and getting dragged into so much nonsense. I was known when I came in this industry for my art and talent. Suddenly I was known for everything but that. I accept that I was to be blamed and that's what you call the trappings of stardom. It was a trap I walked into. But having wasted so much precious time, I feel different today when I look forward for my second innings. I think I've traded my ego in for humility, I've traded my innocence for my experience, I've traded my complacency for a raging fire in the belly.
Is Kurbaan a pacey thriller?
Considering that it's a two and a half hour film, yes it is. Once my character Riyaz Masood comes into the film, the thriller begins and the pace picks up.
You play a journalist in Kurbaan. What do you know about journalists? What did you research on?
(Laughs) I know a lot about journalists. Sitting on the other side for seven years is too much of the research done. I think Riyaz Masood is very different from the Bollywood beat kind of a journalist. I don't take Bollywood journalism very seriously for what it's made itself into. Today it's a competition between who can run whom down more. We do have a few journalists who are holding it up right there and not ready to bow down. But most of it is about TRP's now. Riyaaz Masood is a serious journalist and that's what gives him so much depth.
Is Kurbaan a burning debate?
Yes it is. It is a burning debate that terrorism is consuming the whole world now. After the Second World War got over, everyone thought that there will never be any more wars. If you notice today, the equivalent numbers of people have died in conflicts alone, sometimes even more, than the Second World War. I think a war between civil society and fundamentalism has grown so large that it's become microcosmic. Every individual that finds himself on either side is at war. Peace that is born out of fear is just a suppressed war waiting to explode. That's what Kurbaan deals with. That's Riyaz Masood talking.
Having worked with Bebo and Saif previously in Yuva and Omkara, what changes have you seen in them two?
I am hugely biased about Bebo. She is extremely talented. I've loved working with her from the very first experience I had. We've had a great rapport and a great relationship. We've been really good friends for a while. She is adorable. I'm seeing Bebo blossom as an actor and as a person and I've got my friend Saif to thank for that. He brings out the best in her. He makes her groom in every sense. She compliments it completely. I've never seen Saif so calm and content and happy. Touchwood, they are my favourite Bollywood couple for the fact that they are so real and honest with each other. They are regular friends who are in a relationship. During Kurbaan's outdoor schedule, Saif and I worked out together, Bebo and I discussed books, we went out for dinners, etc. I'm very happy that they both are together.
And what about you?
I'm still single. I love my space. But seeing both Bebo and Saif I think that if ever I get into a serious relationship, I want something as real, as beautiful and as honest as they share. It's lovely to see that.
Was Kurbaan one phone call away?
When I was doing Company and was barely twenty days into the shooting of the film, I got a call from Karan Johar. I went, "Which one of you jokers is this?" Karan then stated that RGV called him and showed him my rushes in Company. That's when he said, "I think you'll go a far way and whenever you get time, do come and meet me". Now here's this filmmaker who goes out and sees my work and then calls me up and gives me confidence. Kurbaan was going to be Nikhil Advani's debut with me and Shah Rukh Khan at that time, thanks to that phone call. The same Karan calls me up after years and offers me Kurbaan again.
What about Rensil D'Silva?
It's very simple. I've put this across to him too. But today I say this in public. Rensil D'Silva is the new Mani Ratnam.