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Vivek Oberoi, off the record

By Sukanya Verma
March 19, 2003 19:03 IST
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It is a hot Friday afternoon at Mumbai's Kamalistan Studios as I wait for Vivek Oberoi to complete his shot on the sets of Sameer Karnik's Kyun? Ho Gaya Na Pyaar costarring Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. Vivek Oberoi

Only Oberoi is required for the day's shoot.

The entire nation is glued to the television set. India is playing New Zealand in the World Cup; their first encounter after India's nightmarish tour of New Zealand. The men in blue are looking to settle scores in this crucial match.

I check the score via SMS (key in 7333, type 'cric') to discover New Zealand is two wickets down at 27/2 and skipper Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris are struggling.

A production assistant signals for me to enter Oberoi's van. The van is familiar. It was where I interviewed Oberoi at Kamalistan three months ago. Two releases, Saathiya and Dum (one hit, one flop) and Roland Joffe's The Invaders notwithstanding, the man remains unchanged.

Confidence intact, attitude in check, Oberoi is safely non-starry.

Spontaneously, I declare, "I am lucky for you, Vivek. After I spoke to you, Saathiya became a success. Dum's failure didn't affect you. Then The Invaders happened. It makes me very proud. You are like my ghoda [a dark horse one seldom bets on]."

The denim-clad Oberoi is graceful about my tactless outburst. He is more interested in the score and thrilled that India is blasting the Kiwis. "India will beat NZ really bad. [Stephen Fleming] Bahut bol raha tha [boasted], defeating India won't be difficult. He will be the first to get out. Indians inko peetne wale hai. [The Indians will thrash the Kiwis].

I point out that Chris Cairns is a dangerous player. He says, dismissively, "Woh to duck pe out hoga [Cairns will get out for a duck]."

I'm not very pleased; Cairns is my favourite player.

"Cairns buddha ho gaya. He can barely play," Oberoi says, suggesting 1966-born Cairns is too old to be anyone's hot favourite.

"June 13, 1970," I happily correct him.

"Ah, Geminis are flirts," says Oberoi.

"Are you a Gemini?" I ask him.

"I am not a flirt. I am a seedha sadha, [simple] sweet guy," he winks.

Oberoi, born on September 3, 1975, is a Virgo. Vivek Oberoi

Like three-quarters of India's population, Sachin Tendulkar is his favourite player: "He is the best."

Oberoi also thinks opening batsman Virendra Sehwag is a fantastic player with a great approach who has not had a good stint in South Africa. We concur on vice captain Rahul Dravid being the rock in the team, who stands through when the top batting lineup collapses.

Oberoi leaves on March 21 for Johannesberg, South Africa, for the World Cup final on March 23, courtesy Sahara India's special arrangement that includes Raveena Tandon, Fardeen Khan, Manisha Koirala, Twinkle Khanna and Rani Mukherji.

The topic shifts to mobile phones. Oberoi, who owns a Nokia 7650 feels the SMS short text messaging service will boom. It will also increase the possibility of nerve-related diseases, I add.

Gorging down homemade daliya [porridge], Oberoi insists I eat lunch. I decline because film unit food has never caught my fancy. My "Please don't bother," appeal falls on deaf ears. Oberoi's man Friday Mahesh (who is sulking after being scolded for not keeping the van clean) shows up with food. And Coca-Cola.

After Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and Aamir Khan, Vivek Oberoi is the latest entrant on the Coke bandwagon and will feature in the new Coke commercial directed by Shantanu Sheorey.

I take a sip and ask him, "Have you seen the paanch commercial?"

The chotta (small) Coke advertisement directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, featuring Aamir Khan (in a Bihari get-up) and Rajesh Vivek (Guran of Lagaan), is very popular and enjoys prominent airplay on Indian television.

Oberoi does a take off on Vivek uttering the catchy paanch liner to hilarious effect.

Noticing my untouched lunch, Oberoi threatens to tell my mother. Mom's out of town, I tell him. "Mothers can do anything, " he says. "They have ways of finding out if you have eaten or not. My mom keeps calling and asking me, 'Khana khaya [did you eat?]?"

We are interrupted by some charity workers from Project Crayons; they want Oberoi to contribute to the education and other needs of a mentally challenged child.

Sceptical at first of the authenticity of this organisation, Oberoi warms up to the idea when he is told his friends Diya Mirza (his Dum costar) and Caesar (choreographer and Vivek's school buddy) are active participants.

There is a moment of silence. Then Vivek says, "My first film was Ram Gopal Varma's Company. I was paid Rs 3 lakhs for it. I remember going to this studio where the gatekeeper's six or seven-year-old daughter would be around. One day, when she was playing, her face suddenly turned blue. She was gasping for breath. When I asked the gatekeeper what was wrong, he broke down. He said she had a hole in her heart.

"I asked if they had shown her to some doctor. The man said, 'Yes, she needs to be operated.' He told me it would cost around Rs 1.5 lakhs to Rs 2 lakhs. I told him not to worry; I would take care of it. She was operated upon successfully. Now, when I look at that girl playing like a nVivek Oberoi in Companyormal kid, the feeling I get is amazing."

He assures the Project Crayons team he will definitely get in touch with them.

His eyes shift to the lunch in my hands. In a teasing tone, he quizzes, "Do you know there are kids in Ethiopia who don't get even one meal?"

I don't have the heart to tell him how awful the food tastes.

The production assistant beckons Oberoi for a shot. I ask him to sign a few autographs for my friends who have threatened to slaughter me if I don't. The actor obliges.

Looking at the fancy ball pen I hand him (Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame is attached to its top), he squeals, "This is so cute. I want an exact same pen like this." Tigger, says Oberoi, is his pet name.

I sadly inform him this ball pen was the last piece left. We make a deal. Till I find a replica, he can hold my pen for ransom.

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Sukanya Verma