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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Vivek Oberoi talks Strength, Positivity & Indian Cinema

More than being an actor, Vivek Oberoi is an icon in many ways.

Despite beginning his career as a typical ‘star kid’, he decided to kick-start his film journey with a serious and realistic film like Ram Gopal Varma’s Company.

Since then, we have seen him in various avatars… Be it a romantic hero in Saathiya, an evil villain in Krrish 3 or a real-life character in Shootout At Lokhandwala.

Regardless of facing emotional hardship and being ostracised by many people in the industry, he did not take no for an answer, which is truly inspiring.

Over time, Vivek has proven that versatility is his middle name and is currently celebrating the success of his web-series Inside Edge, India’s first Amazon Prime web-series, which has been nominated for an Emmy.

In a special and close conversation with Filme Shilmy, Vivek Oberoi breaks his silence on his career, acting and the current condition of Bollywood.

Congratulations on Inside Edge being nominated for an Emmy. It must be quite rewarding for you and the team?

It’s an incredible honour, I can’t even express how it feels.

It’s the first time that for an Indian show to be nominated across the Amazon stable globally and I think this is the only Amazon show that has been nominated which itself is a big deal.

This is because everywhere else whether it’s in the UK or the US, the budget is so much larger.

You’ve got all these really big fancy shows and our little humble attempt here has gone global and been recognised worldwide that’s an incredible honour.

How has working on a web-series like Inside Edge creatively satisfied you as an actor?

There was incredible satisfaction from playing Vikrant Dhawan.

It wasn’t an easy role because he (the character) had to be almost comic book larger-than-life when he walked into a room he owned the road.

As an actor, I had to feel a sense of the fact that this guy was somebody who used intimidation and his larger-than-life kind of aura to get what he needed to get done. He is a proponent of power.

Interestingly, that’s why the show was called Power Play. But eventually, we called the cricket team the ‘Power Play League’.

The Challenge for me was to play a character like that and make him the meanest, baddest guy yet sexy and irresistible.

As such, so many men want to be like him. He’s a mean son of a b****! (Laughs).

Absolutely enjoyed doing a character like that and I was blessed with so many awards last year.

Every single major award in the web-series space I took home and I never thought that that would happen for a character so dark.

The Indian audience seems to have opened up to the digital platform. To what extent do you feel Inside Edge has contributed towards this interest?

The content was always being made, whether it was for YouTube short-form content like TVF (The Viral Fever) doing stuff on web series for small then it was very novel concept wise you know kind of content-rich structure.

With Inside Edge, kudos to Excel Entertainment being the first to go out and tie-up with Amazon and put such a huge show together.

I’m so glad that Riteish Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar approached me, they were like “we really think you should do the show.”

At that point, a lot of people were like, “you’re making a mistake, this will be perceived like you don’t have any work” but I thought I would stick with this.

I think this is this is pioneering rather than looking at it from a negative perspective or thinking about what will people think.

I’ve always been one to be to take a bit of a novel approach with my career. Whether it was other star sons got into debut vehicles designed for them.

I went in for a pure script like Company and made my mark. So same thing with Inside Edge.

I was the first the first mainstream actor in India to do a web-series it became so big and now everyone is doing it and I’m really glad that everyone is.

I think I’m a big advocate of this space and I think this is the future.

Of recent, we’ve seen you diversity yourself – be it through judging a reality show to acting in South Indian movies.

What has prompted you to do this?

In terms of television, I really wanted to tap that audience and I felt that it was a different side to me that I hadn’t explored.

Mentoring kids, giving them a structure to achieve their dreams they all have raw talent, but to polish that talent and to get an opportunity to that has been an exceptional Ride.

I mean I’ve seen almost every kid out of the top 10 achieve their dreams and flooded with work. They’re the stars of tomorrow.

It is extremely satisfying to play a role in India’s Best Dramebaaz.

Regarding the south films, I felt that there is a whole separate India, that doesn’t really watch Hindi or Bollywood films so much.

Plus, there’s a whole separate India that I haven’t really reached out to and I really know that if you can’t do that connect with them unless you’re in their local regional language exactly.

So, I decided to do a film in each of the languages with the biggest stars in those languages.

This gives one a maximum amount of reach, an opportunity to play an interesting role which enables us to build a relationship.

Furthermore, this helps to increase your fan-base, increase your reach one machine unit language that they might be more interested to see your Hindi work.

I hope they like me. Here’s hoping that this opens more doors to do collaborative stuff going forward.

What drives you to choose a project in today’s day and age?

What drives me today is purely the satisfaction of exploring a new character.

I don’t need to do it for money. I now work for the joy of a role and to be able to play a part which challenges me or push me that much further.

Now, with the web as a platform and following the success of Inside Edge, I have been flooded with offers for more web-series.

I want to be able to enjoy the process of a character.

The first and most important thing is the story itself.

If the story works in totality, then within that story, the important aspect is that character.

As long as it is something that I haven’t done before then and pushes a new boundary then definitely I’ll do it.

Then there’s also the people associated with it. I.e. good filmmakers, actors, etc.

For example, the Telugu movie I’m doing now is a completely wild masala space.

The director Boyapati Srinu is one of the most popular masala film directors and the movie I’m doing is very larger-than-life.

But the Malayalam film I’m doing, on the other hand, is so real and finely tune.

So, these are two south films but they’re completely opposite ends of the spectrum and cater to different audiences.

I admire your courage for the way you have overcome hurdles/difficulties and yet established a successful career.

How did you overcome any fears or concerns during that rough patch?

My family has been a huge support system.

They are always a haven/refuge to come back to when the world out there is really difficult.

It gives me a sense of deep strength knowing that unequivocally, unconditionally you have this love and acceptance in your house.

My family is the greatest strength and wealth that I have.

My mum has always been my hero in real life and she’s been somebody who, for 35-37 years now, has been working with terminally ill patients.

She’s been going out there, doing good karma, taking care of people who are in pain and bring a smile to their faces.

Since she’s done that all her life, this inspired me to take up so much social work so early in my life and my career.

There was a moment where I was very depressed one day, I sat with my mum and I was in the whole “why me” kind of space – when things were going wrong personally and professionally.

She took me to the TATA memorial hospital and I went to the cancer patients water paediatric cancel is 5-7 or 10-11 year old kids with no hair, chemotherapy you know made them go bald completely.

Their eyes were bloodshot red, skinny and unwell. They were not able to play, unable to go to school fighting cancer and yet.

When I walked in, I learnt two things.

What did you learn?

One, even in that situation, God blessed me with something so magical that I could make them smile.

They would look at me and smile, that could give them joy and happiness even in that situation.

The second thing that I learnt was that if they, at the age of 7 and 8 with cancer can smile, I have no right to complain about anything in my life.

From that day onwards, I quit complaining, quit feeling sorry and said ok, I’m gonna do what I do, I’m going to fight to get better.

You are defeated if you accept it. If you don’t, you keep fighting this and that is something I chose to do.

It got tiring sometimes but I just kept fighting and then I rose from the Ashes, like a phoenix.

One has to be strong and say I’m going to stand up.

No matter what I’m going to fight this and you have to be undeniable.

Nobody should be able to deny you what you deserve.

Even now it the powerful seem to continue to oppress the lesser-known. Despite time progressing so much, why do you feel this still happens?

It’s been an unfortunate trend which I’ve faced the brunt of.

People reached out to me saying, “isko kaam mat do” (don’t give him work) and some really exercised their power.

It is so wrong.

What I took from it, wherever I’ve reached and with the power I have, I’ve stood on my own without any lobby.

Despite that, I’m here.

Whatever I can do in my capacity – I make sure that I can help people who reach out to me, especially if they’re young/new or trying to make a career in Bollywood. 

It (film industry) should be a great conducive atmosphere where you’re mentoring people when you’re polishing talent because this is a beautiful industry you can co-exist.

The more happy you are for other people’s success, the more successful you truly are as a person.

Otherwise, how can you be so insecure and call yourself successful?

If somebody said no to you and you got so insecure that you decided to crush and destroy them?

So what’s the solution?

I truly believe there should be a purge. People should be punished for abusing power. When that happens, this will stop.

When people say to me “that incident happened so many years ago why is he or she you not talking about it now? How does it affect anybody?”

I say that it may affect the people in the future will go through this if it doesn’t change.

Unless you know that there’s a price to pay, you will keep abusing your power.

I’m a HUGE Kevin Spacey and House of Cards fan, but I admire the way their industry (Hollywood) rallied around and said no to such behaviour.

One has to be responsible.

Listen to our candid chat with Vivek Oberoi here!

Given your experience, why do you think this still happens?

To me, anybody who abuses power is the most insecure person and is an individual who feels threatened.

That’s why they feel the need to go out there cross somebody who’s coming up or who are trying to make a stand of their own.

You hear about it all the time. Somebody powerful tries to hit on a girl and she stands up for herself and refuses.

When the girl says no, the powerful person is so fragile in terms of their ego that they can’t deal with that.

Now, they need to destroy/crush her to try and set a trend or a sense of satisfaction that no one can refuse me.

It’s nothing but ego and that is an abuse of power.

This abuse of power should not happen and we must make sure of that.

What does power mean to you and how should it be exercised?

I was in the UK recently raising money for underprivileged kids in Vrindavan so we can send them to school.

To me, this is using power. When someone is blessed and using it.

Whatever we read about are examples of people abusing power and there’s a big difference.

Could this power abuse change in the near future?

Not unless there’s a purge. Unless people stand up and say “No, this is not okay”.

Unless people say that “no matter what we lose, we will not standby or abide by this.”

Until abusers don’t realise that they can’t get away with it, this will continue to happen.

Well, more power to you Vivek. Filme Shilmy wishes you all the best for your current and future projects!

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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