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In the company of a Prince

To bring Chandu to life, Vivek had lived in a slum in Vikroli, worked out every day for an hour-and-a-half, coloured his body a few shades darker than his natural tone.

entertainment Updated: Apr 11, 2010 18:24 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

With Prince, he returned to the marques yesterday.It was showtime again for Vivek Oberoi. And for me, flashback time. April 2002. Vivek was gearing up for the release of his first film, Ram Gopal Varma’s Company, and I was waiting to file a cover story with the errant superstar-to-be. Early in the day I had caught him briefly on the phone and he has assured me that the confab would happen.

“My dad’s (Suresh Oberoi) first interview appeared in your newspaper, now I’m waiting my turn. You’ll just have to wait an hour or two,” he promised. Wait is on.The two hours had stretched to almost 20. I’d been given just about every excuse on planet Earth for the long-drawn-out-delay. “Vivek’s working out… Vivek’s busy with a photo shoot… Vivek’s drained out after too many interviews… Vivek’s catching a flight to Delhi… Vivek’s at a press conference… Vivek’s at dinner… Vivek’s…” Whoa!

It was now close to midnight. My deadline had crept up on me and I had to sheepishly confess to my editor that a 26-year-old boy without even a release to his credit had slipped out of my reach. “Never mind,” the boss consoled, “We’ll run with his dad’s first interview.” I was just about to get into bed when the phone trilled. It was 12.15 am.

And Vivek was on the line, finally. After a flurry of apologies I was told, “I’ve just entered my hotel room. Give me a minute to step out of my shoes and we can start.” A minute later he was back, sighing tiredly, “God, I’m exhausted. But we can talk now.” Sure, and this would be interview number… Laughing, Vivek admitted that he had stopped counting after Interview no 162. Boy, he’d been busy!

But obviously, the interview was all about B-Company (Bollywood) and D-Company (the underworld outfit for which he works in the film). To bring Chandu to life, Vivek informed me that he had lived in a slum in Vikroli, written an autobiographical sketch for him, worked out every day for an hour-and-a-half, coloured his body a few shades darker than his natural tone, grown a beard and clipped it in places so it would look straggly and ragged, mussed up his hair, worn chappals and ill-fitted, tight clothes, changed his gait to read awkward… Phew!

Pursuit of immortality
That drew another laugh, “Yeah, I know it’s a lot of effort and I knew I might be killing that lover boy image that every newcomer aspires to, but my Chandu had to be in keeping with Ramu’s conception of the character. Just today, I had a poster of the film in my hands and I noticed the liftman at Delhi’s Hotel Meridian looking at it and then shooting me a puzzled glance wondering if both of us were the same guys.”

I had started out the conversation determined not to like either Chandu or Vivek. By the time we ended it a good hour later, I kinda liked him. And after I saw Company, I liked him even more.May be it was the passion he brought to screen that expressed itself in extravagant phrases like, “Acting is my pursuit of immortality. If I’m part of a memorable movie, I know I’ll live on, long after I’m gone.”

May be it was his youthful can’t-go-wrong arrogance: “Perhaps Company is not a conventional launch for a beginner but there’s no doubt that it is a great film, that Ram Gopal Varma is a great director and that I have a great role in it.” May be it was just his natural charm that brought sackfuls of mail to his house everyday though he was quick to add that not all of them were love letters. Undoubtedly it was the presence of steady girlfriend Gurpreet that made him more of an unlikely Rambo on screen and less of an unlikely Romeo off it.

Whatever may be the reasons, Vivek Oberoi got my thumbs up initially. In fact, he got the thumbs up of the industry. I was told that after reading my interview, even the not-easy-to-impress Shabana Azmi had agreed that the “boy talked sense”.

Hi Roshu
Dum hai ladke mein, was a comment I overheard when he was picking up his Most Promising Debutant Award nine months later. But the promise fizzled out too soon. Somewhere along the road, Vivek lost himself. I guess it had something to do with too many wrong choices, a Miss World obsession that turned him into a not-wanted dark knight and a superstar attitude that he adopted way too soon.

To his credit, he publicly admitted to making some mistakes. And that turned him from super-human to human. The passion is still there, mirrored on screen, whether he’s chasing after a terrorist or running from them. May be even the arrogance is there still, though now it is firmly reined in. And as for the charm, sample this: Vivek: “Hi Roshu!”

Me: “What’s with the Roshu?”
He: “Isn’t that what your dad calls you?”
Me: “He’s never called me Roshu in his life. By the way, when did you meet him?”
He: “Uh, well, may be I just heard him someday, but hey, Roshu has a nice ring.”
That’s Vivek!