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Beyond stardom


ONE FILM; overnight fame. As Chandu Nagre he was riveting. Oberoi's dark, deep-set eyes, unconventional looks and an unflinching belief in the self are what set him apart from the new crop of actors. After his breakthrough role in Ram Gopal Varma's film, `Company', Vivek Oberoi was billed the `Next Big Star' in Bollywood. His subsequent films, `Dum', `Road' and `Saathiya' earned him the `label' of being a `good actor and star material'. The actor does not mince words when he says, "Ask me anything but my private life". Oberoi was in the news last April following a tiff with actor Salman Khan. About the Salman Khan controversy, he remarks, "What more do I say? It was a small issue, which was given undue importance." During that time the paparazzi were agog about his `friendship' with Aishwarya Rai.

So who is the real Vivek Oberoi? Is he the new star-kid (son of actor Suresh Oberoi) on the block whose personal life has found its way to the SMS jokes (about incoming calls being free)? Or is Oberoi the Good Samaritan who rushes to the aid of accident victims and saves their lives, plays with the children at The Tata Memorial Hospital and finds time to do charity work amid his hectic schedule? "I don't usually talk about the social work I do because I don't do it for publicity. If I can bring a smile to the face of a few children in this one lifetime, I'd be happy."

He acknowledges that he is a "very religious person" and ascribes his belief in God to some "miracles" in his life. "I have reason to believe so, I've been able to pursue my dreams. God has saved me from accidents."

He says, "Let's talk about my passion -- acting. It is my life; what I live for each day". Just being in front of the camera gives him a high. Oberoi says he is "addicted" to films. "I have to watch at least one film every day." Acting, says Oberoi, is a process of self-discovery. "Actors get type cast easily in Bollywood, so it's very important to choose your films wisely," he points out. The film must have a resonance with you, he insists. "I wish to be associated with meaningful cinema and strike a balance between my creative vision and the commercial parameters."

The length of the roles does not matter to him, as he puts it: "It's what you make of the role and how you portray the character that counts. Ultimately, only my work will speak for me." He believes in taking risks and that explains why he chose an unconventional debut role in `Company'. Oberoi's primary allegiance has always been to acting. He has been acting in plays from his school days. A post-graduate in acting from the New York University, Oberoi stresses the importance of retaining your perspective and learning from life. His accident, around six months ago, prompted Oberoi to do some introspection about life. "It irked me to be left at the mercy of my crutches. It strengthened bonds with my family and friends. I believe God made me go through the accident for a reason." Oberoi segues into a philosophical mode: "You do owe something to society, irrespective of who you are." Oberoi had been under Dr. Ali Irani's treatment. It was on a visit to the hospital for his physiotherapy sessions that Oberoi was inspired to do his bit for society. "I saw little children struggling to cope with their disability. My pain paled in comparison with theirs. Mine was just a temporary condition unlike theirs." At present, he is busy discussing his plans with Dr. Ali Irani to bring prostheses "in a big way" into India. "We are normally so pre-occupied with ourselves and our lives that we hardly stop to think about the less fortunate around us." He made the best investment in his life after he got his paycheck for `Company'. He had wanted to invest his money in shares and bonds and had been scouring the stock market for information. While on a shoot, an old man approached him for help. "He had a daughter who I learned had been diagnosed with a coronary dysfunction. When I met her, she told me her greatest ambition was to run around and play. I funded her operation."

Today, when the seven-year-old Pooja calls up Oberoi and gushes over phone of how happy she is, to be able to play like a normal kid, or when she smiles at him with gratitude, he feels overwhelmed. He talks about the ideological moorings his favourite authors gave him: "I love the writings of Ayn Rand, Wilbur Smith and Paulo Coelho. `The Alchemist' is a beautiful book." But the elemental roots, Oberoi says, are equally important -- strong family ties, love and friendship.

About his personal life he adds, choosing his words, "Life's not about solo-flying all the time. The person who is part of my life needs to understand that this is what I am. I work over 20 hours at a stretch. My family accepts me the way I am. So the person, too, should be able to do the same." And who is the `person' in question? Isssh! It's a secret, or is it?

SMITHA SADANANDAN

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