By Jackie Thakkar May. 25, 2019
While the first half of Vivek Oberoi’s career remains a lesson in how not to mess with Bollywood heavyweights, the second half is a case study in how sometimes it’s best to keep one's trap shut. Is it any wonder then that in 2019 Vivek Oberoi is known more for his political affiliation and a questionable taste in memes than his acting prowess?
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.
Today, Vivek Oberoi is little more than a BJP mouthpiece with questionable taste in memes. I can’t help but wonder how exactly did it all go so wrong, so quickly for Vivek Oberoi, the man who should have been a superstar? And can even the Prime Minister’s biopic manage to turns things around for him? In an industry that’s rife with examples of good PR management creating stars out of actors, Oberoi is a case study. If the first half of his career is a lesson in how not to mess with Bollywood heavyweights and get too real with the media, his recent escapades are a reminder in how sometimes it’s best to keep one’s trap shut instead and let their work do the talking.
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
Ever since his brawl with Salman, there seems to be an invisible glass ceiling over the younger actor’s head. The 42 year old also hasn’t done much to endear himself to audiences post the bombing of 2004’s Kyun! Ho Gaya Na...
How exactly did it all go so wrong, so quickly for Vivek Oberoi?
Image Credit: Twitter / PM Narendra Modi
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.
Vivek Oberoi’s publicity gimmicks have become almost predictable. Where he starts off running his mouth instead of shutting the fuck up (see: Vivek failing at memes), continues to defend his usually ludicrous views (see: Vivek being blind to his own misogyny), followed by inevitably apologising for said buffoonery for the rest of his career (see: Vivek’s recent apology).
It’s hard out here for a one-time Vivek Oberoi fan. How does one even defend him after all this? Back in 06-07, 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, still 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. At that point, 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. Seriously, who even let’s this guy get near a mic after all this?
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. In fact, his middle name being Anand is ironic since that’s the last word people associate with his films now. 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. And let’s face it, despite the obvious propaganda of the Narendra Modi biopic, this film is touted to be at least an attempt at bringing him back to old form, albeit in a more rigidly rightist avatar. After Modi’s massive win, the earned Rs 2.88 crore on opening day, despite poor reviews.
As a closet 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. If not with the prosthetics-led PM Narendra Modi, then with something grittier like his stellar showing in Amazon Prime’s middling Inside Edge. Even the most average actors have witnessed tremendous comebacks – an actor of Vivek Oberoi’s calibre surely deserves one.