By Jackie Thakkar
In 2002, as a 10-year-old, I watched Saathiya spell-bound. The music, the refreshing narrative flow, and the sparkling chemistry between its immensely likeable leads had me in its thrall. My friend had to remind me that “yeh wohi hero hai jo Company mein tha.” His convincing portrayal of a gangster, followed by a passionate lover, had made him the ultimate Bollywood find of 2002: a level of stardom that few could dream of after two films, in an industry saturated by Kapoors and Bachchans. It seemed as if Bollywood had found its true-blue golden boy, the next SRK.
Sixteen years on, where is Vivek Oberoi?
Vivek Oberoi’s career can be neatly split into two halves: The pre-Salman-spat phase, and the post-Salman-spat phase. Oberoi, who turns 42 today, did some of his best work prior to the now infamous press conference in 2003, barring Omkara (2006) and Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007). In the three good years that he had, he delivered hits across genres: the dramatic hero in Company, the romantic hero in Saathiya, and a distinctive voice in an ensemble film in Yuva. For the average Bollywood fan, though, Oberoi’s career will forever be stained by his controversial romantic past with Aishwarya Rai; followed by the beef with industry bully, Salman Khan; and his subsequent public apology.
Every time an Omkara or a Shootout at Lokhandwala released, I prepared for Oberoi’s second coming.
Image Credit: Balaji Telefilms
How exactly did it all go so wrong, so quickly for Vivek Oberoi, the man who would have been a superstar? In an industry that’s rife with examples of good PR management creating stars out of actors, Oberoi is a case study – in how not to mess with Bollywood heavyweights and how not to get too real with the media. Ever since his brawl with Salman, there seems to be an invisible glass ceiling over the younger actor’s head. Without the clout of an SRK, who also feuded with Salman, Oberoi’s career took a nosedive post the bombing of 2004’s Kyun! Ho Gaya Na...
Like most folks who really saw potential in Vivek, I watched this downward trajectory with a heavy heart. From the Smart Alec that used to occupy our screens, I watched him give shoddy interviews on Koffee with Karan, trying desperately hard to stab at relevance. The media had latched on to the narrative of a brash young upstart trying to take on an industry bigwig and then facing the consequences – excellent myth-making, but terrible for his Bollywood career. The best example of this shameless gimmickry was during Farah Khan’s short-lived talk show Tere Mere Beech Mein. In a 2007 episode where Vivek was the guest, host Farah Khan made it a point to exploit Vivek’s already spiralling career with questions related to his then four-year-old controversy which poor Vivek went on to express guilt about.
The days of taking Oberoi seriously as a major box office draw seem to now be a thing of the past.
Since then, there have been blips and spots of brightness – especially around 2006-7. Every time an Omkara or a Shootout at Lokhandwala released, I prepared for Oberoi’s second coming. His portrayal of the gangster Maya Dolas in the latter, ranks among one of the best in Bollywood history, as was his praiseworthy turn as Kesu Firangi in Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of the Shakespearean play. Things finally seemed to be looking up after nearly half a decade, when Oberoi’s acting prowess was being discussed with more interest than his personal life.
But then, then came Prince in 2010. A movie that was such a blatant and terrible rip-off of the Jason Bourne series, Matt Damon might as well have it show up in his IMDb filmography. There was no returning from that – beyond Prince lay the wasteland of the Masti series (that might have done well commercially). And of course, the final nail in the coffin was playing the wheelchair-bound villain in Krrish 3. In another ill-fated interview, the actor once again ended up with his foot in his mouth by comparing his role in a Rakesh Roshan film to the greatest negative character portrayal of this century.
In the three good years that he had, he delivered hits across genres: the dramatic hero in Company, the romantic hero in Saathiya, and a distinctive voice in an ensemble film in Yuva.
Image Credit: Yash Raj Films
The days of taking Oberoi seriously as a major box office draw seem to now be a thing of the past. But maybe we’re all a bit too harsh on good ol’ Saathiya. With a renewed focus on films in South India, and being named the top billed actor in the Southern territory, perhaps a much-needed resurgence is inevitable.
As a Vivek Oberoi fan who still can’t help get up and groove to “O Humdum Suniyo Re” and “Aye Ganpat Chal Daru La”, I really really hope he finds his way back. Even the most average actors have witnessed tremendous comebacks – an actor of Vivek Oberoi’s calibre surely deserves one.
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