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The Singapore Soldier Who Became A Bollywood Actor

By RONJITA KULKARNI
Last updated on: April 28, 2021 10:04 IST
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'I don't know if I became an actor, I was just trying to book jobs and survive.'

IMAGE: Vivek Gomber produced the award-winning films Court and The Disciple and stars in Sir, A Suitable Boy, Bombay Begums.

"A big part of acting is not being employed and waiting for your chance."

Vivek Gomber's assessment words come from experience.

The actor, who has starred in the Web series Bombay Begums and A Suitable Boy as well as the well-reviewed film Sir, knows the struggle behind the glamour only too well.

But he has got a lot to be thankful for as well, with two of his productions -- Court and The Disciple -- earning worldwide acclaim.

He lets us into his life, and tells us his story, even as he promises never to produce again.

"I'm broke!" he exclaims to Ronjita Kulkarni/Rediff.com. The first of a two-part interview with an actor we would like to see much more of!

Shahana Goswami and you play a couple in Bombay Begums as well as in A Suitable Boy, but the relationship is so different.

In both cases, the texts were completely different, so the approaches to the characters were different.

A Suitable Boy is a period show.

In those days, men and women were very different though Meenakshi (Shahana's character) is an anomaly to that.

My character Arun is more Western, influenced by the British. But he's still an Indian male, so he is kind of dominating.

In Bombay Begums, our relationship came from a more even place since it is set in modern day Bombay.

We get obsessed with having kids and building a family here while in the other, it was more about status and power, and striving towards the upper class.

Shahana and I finished A Suitable Boy and about two days later, we showed up on set on Bombay Begums.

I am glad I had someone like Shahana working with me, who was a very generous actor, very collaborative.

Also, in both cases, the directors trusted us as actors to build these relationships.

IMAGE: Vivek with Shahana Goswami in Bombay Begums.

Did you know Shahana from before?

I knew of Shahana from the early days, when she was doing Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd.

We were having that conversation when we met at A Suitable Boy, whether we'd met or not because it felt like we've known each other but I don't think we did.

How much do you relate to your character Arijay from Bombay Begums?

I don't have kids of my own, but, you know, I like kids and stuff.

The way I understood Arijay and Fatima's relationship is like, you know, these insecurities that happen in the workplace, they can happen for different reasons.

I think sometimes I'm not very good at communicating in life. Like, he's also not very good at communicating his obsession for having kids.

Her success does not bother him; it's just that he has made a plan.

He feels there are more important things in life.

You get happiness through work, but I think relationships are very important, how you treat the people around you. Those things make a bigger impact on your life.

But he breaks down a lot, you know, he is very emotional.

He is somebody who doesn't have a spine; he's not as strong as Fatima.

So in that sense, I think I'm pretty strong. (Laughs)

IMAGE: Vivek with Tanya Maniktala, Mahira Kakkar and Vivaan Shah in A Suitable Boy. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vivek Gomber/Facebook

Did you always want to be an actor, growing up?

Always, since I was eight or nine.

My parents thought I was just another silly Indian child, but I didn't give it up.

I was very insistent.

I had an IB (International Baccalaureate) education abroad, so I picked drama all the way through high school and college.

Tell us about your early years.

I was born in Jaipur.

My mum retired as a high court judge in Rajasthan.

My father initially worked in a bank.

When I was nine or ten, he moved to Singapore to work in the private sector.

My parents wanted me to have a good education and better opportunities, so I was sent to Singapore too.

They made a very brave decision that dad would be like a single parent and raise me, and mom would be alone in India.

I would visit mom in the summer holidays.

IMAGE: Vivek with Mahira Kakkar, who plays his mother, in A Suitable Boy. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vivek Gomber/Facebook

You joined the army in Singapore.

Yes.

When my dad got his Singapore citizenship, he took the decision of making me a dependent.

That means when you turn 18 -- if you are a male -- you have to either give up the permanent residence dependency (and leave the country) or join the army for two-and-a-half years.

That's a way of earning citizenship.

So at 18, they (his parents) pushed me towards the army, which was not something I thought I'd be doing, but it happened.

I made a deal with them that I would pursue acting after that and get a formal education in it.

Why did you want to be an actor?

I got really attracted to watching the odd Bollywood film that would come out in Singapore.

On Sundays, we had to give the maid a day off.

My dad wouldn't want to cook because it was his day off too, so we would just go buy some food and watch a film.

Even in Jaipur, we would go to theatres and watch films.

I was quite obsessed with Amitabh Bachchan.

I used to watch Agneepath a lot, I don't know why (laughs).

How did you become an actor?

I graduated in 2004 in Boston and then moved to Singapore for a while.

I worked as an assistant teacher for toddlers for a couple of months and then came to Bombay by the end of that year.

When I moved here, somebody told me about a play, which -- well, at that time, people didn't know him but Neeraj Kabi was doing that play.

I had heard of Prithvi theatre so I went there, and people told me that someone had dropped out of this play, and I could go meet the director for that part.

I got the play.

I met Neil Bhoopalam there and we did a couple of plays later on.

I did a play called The President is Coming, which eventually became a film.

Meanwhile, I ended up booking a job on the television show, Astitva: Ek Prem Kahani in 2004.

I did that for a couple of months, but I realised very quickly that I didn't want to do television.

It wasn't very organised.

I had a very different idea of training and theatre from the US, so it took a while to figure stuff out.

I get a couple of short films and plays.

I also booked a film called Meridian Lines, which never really came out. It had Irrfan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Abhay Deol.

I did many bits, like I played Ali Fazal's best friend. He was starting out too.

I don't know if I became an actor, I was just trying to book jobs and survive.

I'm fortunate that I'm from a well-to-do family, so I wasn't struggling financially. I could eat and afford rent.

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RONJITA KULKARNI / Rediff.com