Why playing Narendra Modi is a curse for Vivek Oberoi

The actor has the misfortune of perhaps being the only actor to feature in biopic where the person on whom the film is based, or his/her kin have not made a single comment on the film or the choice of actor playing it   

By Mayur Lookhar

Vivek Oberoi in and as PM Narendra Modi

Just a few days ago, I had the privilege of watching the thoroughly entertaining political thriller Lucifer (2019). It starred Malayalam super star Mohanlal. It took a few minutes to realise that the antagonist Bobby was played by none other than Bollywood flop Vivek Oberoi. The kohl rimmed eyes, silly hairdo, the moustache perhaps didn’t give it away easily. I pressed back the film, saw the opening credits and it affirmed my belief that the scheming, snake-like Bobby was indeed played by ‘Vivek Anand Oberoi’.

I was startled by his look but thoroughly impressed by Oberoi’s show in Lucifer. It helped spring back memories of Oberoi’s early films Company (2002) and Saathiya (2002).  A promising actor was left in the wilderness due to some very bad choices and a tiff with the bad boy of Bollywood Salman Khan.  

The infamous 2003 All Fool’s Day diatribe against Khan made Oberoi the butt of all jokes,  His Bollywood career has since taken the downward curve. Oberoi’s made countless attempts to apologise, one even publicly at an awards do, but to no avail. That episode is often cited as the reason for Oberoi no longer being favoured by industry bigwigs, most of whom have close ties with Khan.

From a professional side, it was a howler, but on a human level, Oberoi showed guts to take on a bully. His female fan following sure would have risen then. The feminists lauded him.   It may have cost him his career, but Oberoi stood for the dignity of his beloved woman Aishwarya Rai. Remarkably, Rai herself never commented on Oberoi’s controversial press conference. Fate dealt a cruel blow to Oberoi both professionally and personally, as Rai later broke with him.  16 years later, Khan is still a bachelor, but Oberoi and Rai are happily married to Priyanka Alva and Abhishek Bachchan, respectively.  16 years later, a man who was once hailed for protecting the dignity of his girlfriend, now finds himself battered over retweeting an allegedly insensitive Tweet rather retweet.

The news media and social media, has labelled his actions as taking cheap digs at Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and his daughter Aaradhya Bachchan.   The actor didn’t help his cause when he later claimed that his account was hacked but then subsequently clarified that he was merely amused by the meme, and also subtly took a dig at Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee. 

Now only the Bachchans, and Salman Khan can tell whether they are offended by it or not. Truth to be told, they simply don’t care. With his film Bharat releasing on 5 June, Khan certainly wants no unnecessary distraction. Buzz has it that the Bharat (2019) actor had cancelled his media interviews yesterday. perhaps fearing being asked about Oberoi’s Tweet. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is burning the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

Honestly, Oberoi’s action was never aimed at riling Khan or Rai, this was perhaps a cheap but a calculative retweet aimed at bringing to spotlight the biopic PM Narendra Modi. Slammed by the Election Commission and the court not permitting the film to be released before 23 May, PM Narendra Modi [the film not Prime Minister Narendra Modi] had an egg on its face. With the entire country, news media now simply focused on the all-important Lok Sabha elections, the film was lost and it needed a Twitter stunt to attract some attention.

Oberoi has spoken to a select media before the initial release of 5 April and later shifted to 11 April. There was nothing new to say, and given how the poor the entertainment media is, the customary media interaction would simply have a sense of déjà vu to it. So, Oberoi needed to resort to sensationalism to bring his film into focus again.

However, beyond the initial the shock, this story is bound to perish in no time, unless Khan or Rai comment on it. That’s highly unlikely though.  Oberoi has managed to get his 20 minute of attention and that’s where it ends for the news media has bigger story to cover – Lok Sabha elections.

As an neutral, I found the pictorial Tweet to be a fine jibe on the various news exit polls. To me, there is nothing offensive in it for the actors involved in it. The creator of the meme has taken a wily dig at the news channels and their exit polls. Perhaps, the creator is confident of a third front leader coming to power.  Great meme. End of debate.

However, does it benefit Vivek Oberoi? Does it help the film ? We wonder what the producers of PM Narendra Modi, Sandip Ssingh [ a controversial person himself] think of this? Those who think Oberoi’s retweet was sexist and mocked a woman, are least inclined to watch PM Narendra Modi.   A Bharatiya Janta Party defeat in the Lok Sabha elections would spell doomsday for the film too. 

But What about Vivek Oberoi? 20 May was no Fool’s Day, but has Oberoi made himself the butt of all jokes again? Perhaps not and its for good reason.  

After struggling long in Bollywood, Oberoi has perhaps realised that he has nothing to lose. The actor himself knows PM Narendra Modi is not going to revive his Bollywood career.  It’s Lucifer that has opened more doors down south. Though not confirmed, but the actor is said to be having good offers own south.

As we write, news comes in that Oberoi has issued an apology to Rai. Perhaps he was advised by his PR team and PM Narendra Modi producers. Oberoi can take the flak from the media but he knows, Bollywood is not the same as it was earlier. The beast called social media has scared Bollywood into lending support for its dubious stars.  Hindi film industry rallied in support of the convicted Sanjay Dutt in the 1990s, but there was not voice that condoned Dutt’s six year jail sentence in 2013.  Any one who decides to condone Oberoi’s Tweet will invite the wrath of trolls, while most are simply not bothered to condemn it.

Bollywood has too much money at stake, it’s scared to condone or condemn any act by its own. Quite frankly, it lacks a spine.

While the actor goes gaga over PM Narendra Modi, deep in his heart he knows that till date, the Prime Minister nor his office has made single comment on the film.  As per reliable trade sources, PM Narendra Modi is said to be the brainchild of BJP president Amit Shah who supposedly allocated Rs50 crore for this film.  However, the strict code of conduct of the Election Commission meant that the BJP nor any of its members can promote the film. 

For Oberoi, he carries a curse. The curse of perhaps being the only actor to star in a biopic where the person on whom its based or his/her kin has not blessed the biopic. Imagine you play someone, but that person doesn’t have a single word of encouragement for you or the film. Poor Prime Minister Modi can’t even comment on the choice of Oberoi to play him. The director Omung Kumar too doesn’t instil much confidence. Perhaps, Modi silently knows it’s best to not align with this film.  A second successive term as Prime Minister is all that he seeks.

If the film flops, BJP will distance itself from Oberoi and co. If it clicks, then its unlikely that Modi will be spending 24 May watching PM Narendra Modi.  Hit or flop, Oberoi gains nothing from the film. All Oberoi is left with is a curse, a curse of playing a man who didn’t say a word about his biopic.  That ain’t any joke or meme, Vivek.

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