Vivek turns producer to show ‘true India’

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Award-winning Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi says he is now producing movies because he wants to make films the major Indian studios won’t touch.
“I am using my success in Bollywood to do what Bolly won’t do,” said Oberoi. “These are different stories from those people are used to seeing, a different way of seeing things, and it is not all about making money.”
Oberoi, 35, was born into Bollywood royalty, the son of acclaimed actor Suresh Oberoi. He has made more than 20 films, bursting onto the scene with a multi-award-winning role in the gangster thriller “Company” (2003).
Oberoi’s first feature in his new role as a producer is “Watch Indian Circus”, which had its world premiere this week at the 16th Busan International Film Festival. The movie is competing for the festival’s main New Currents award.
“Watch Indian Circus” — directed by Mangesh Hadawale — follows the fortunes of an impoverished couple who dream of one day being able to afford to take their children to the circus.
Set against the backdrop of a corrupt local election, the film at its core is an often hilarious celebration of the human spirit. Tickets to screenings have been among the hottest items going in Busan this week.
“I think this film symbolizes the true spirit of India,” said Oberoi. “It’s not just the excitement of a cricket triumph or the madness of Bollywood.
“The real face is 70 million people living below the poverty line and still able to smile every day. It is a unique culture that has a faith in divine destiny and an ability to smile.”
Oberoi said he was drawn into working with the Sundial Pictures production house because of a shared desire to make an “Indian” movie rather than a “Bollywood” movie.
Bollywood films are noted for their trademark high drama, song-and-dance numbers and their focus on romances and the reimaging of ancient legends.
Oberoi said economics dictated that Bollywood had to appeal to its massive domestic audience’s hunger for escapism. So the big studios generally avoided productions which leaned towards social commentary or social realism.
But in Sundial, and in Hadawale, he said he had found a group of people who wanted to explore the issues facing modern Indian society and wanted to look for a wider international audience at the same time.
“In terms of filmmaking, I guess you could say they are my soulmates,” he said. “It’s a case of money not being crucial, instead it is a passion for filmmaking.
“The director certainly has that. He wants to tell stories about the real India. It reminded me of the passion with which I started my career. I went from coffee boy on sets to movie star.”
Director Hadawale’s first feature “Tingya” (2007) was made on a budget of around US$60,000 but was a box office and critical hit.
Hadawale said with “Watch Indian Circus” he wanted to make a film that was about more than his characters’ position in economic terms.
“I wanted to show the issues India is facing but not in a negative way,” he said. “Life can be about simple things. If I want to talk to my wife on the phone I only need a cheap mobile phone, I don’t need an iPhone.
“In life there is happiness in simple things — it doesn’t always come from spending money.”
While Hadawale’s film is certainly Indian in its look and feel, he believes its themes are universal and that audiences the world over are entertained by the same things.
“We are all the same as human beings and this film is about happiness we all seek,” he said.
Oberoi believes his own success in Bollywood means there are roles he cannot take for fear of damaging his image.
Thus, films which portray a very real image of life for the majority of India’s millions, such as “Watch Indian Circus”, are not an option as his audience wants him to play either hero or villain and not the type of characters they might meet every day.
“I have had 10 years of successes in Bollywood and now there are other areas I want to explore,” he said.
But Oberoi stressed that didn’t mean his acting career was over and he is now preparing for his role in “Krrish 2”, the sequel to director Rakesh Roshan’s runaway science fiction hit of 2006.
“I am still a bit of a diva,” said Oberoi. “I still enjoy being an actor.”
BIFF’s New Currents award will be announced Friday, the final day of the festival.