Actor-producer Vivek Gomber says he initially gravitated towards Rohena Gera’s critically-acclaimed Sir for its love story, but it was the director’s conviction that won him over.
“Who does not love a good love story?” Gomber, whose producing credits include internationally acclaimed films Court and The Disciple, asks rhetorically.
“It is a love story and I don’t get to play things like that. So much of the story is in silences, in the repetition of a day. There is also the conversation about the class divide and the way we treat domestic help. I had to trust Rohena for those things. I felt she knew what she was talking about,” he told PTI in an interview.
Gomber, who met director Chaitanya Tamhane when he was just 21 and then eventually ended up backing Court and now The Disciple, likes to collaborate with people who have a vision and are organised.
“As an actor, I understand that my job is to be a part of the entire jigsaw. As a producer, I’m like ‘you better not mess this up’. Being a producer has really helped me as an actor and the actor helps make me a better producer. Now, these two identities have become intertwined.”
Born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Gomber left India for Singapore at a young age. But the memories of watching Amitabh Bachchan’s films in the city’s landmark single screen Raj Mandir Cinema stayed with him.
He became a part of the theatre group in his Singapore school and later he majored in acting at Emerson College in Boston, USA.
Post his graduation, Gomber came to Mumbai in search of a career in 2004 and worked through theatre, bagging roles in shows and movies. He had to move back to Singapore when his father fell ill. The actor eventually returned in 2011, determined to stay put and make it.
Gera reached out to Gomber in 2016 and after the audition he ended up playing Ashwin, a character that the director described as someone who is “kind of lost from within”.
Co-star Tillotama Shome’s presence also helped Gomber as he knew her as a friend. They would often rehearse while travelling from one point of Mumbai to another for the film’s shoot.
Gomber, 41, said he was bowled over by Gera’s determination to release the film in Indian theatres. The movie was originally set to arrive in March but the pandemic led to postponement.
“She never approached it like a small movie. For her, this is the big, mainstream Bollywood movie. From day one, she had said that she wanted to show the film to Indian audiences.”
The journey post Sir has been “rewarding” as it has led to more work, he said.
“You have to take responsibility when a director like her is giving you a chance. These are like high stakes things and you want to bring your A-game.
“The film came to me at a time where nobody was really offering me much work. I was grateful to have work that year because I remember after Court, it kind of became tricky for me to book an acting assignment as I looked very different in the film.”
As a producer, Gomber said he would worry about the cost of the South Mumbai apartment that became the set for Gera’s story, which revolves around the tender romance between a young widow Ratna (Shome) who has been hired as the domestic help of a wealthy architect, Ashwin.
After travelling to film festivals around the globe, the film finally released in theatres in India in November and has reached the number one spot on Netflix’s top-10 in India since its premiere on the streamer last Saturday.
The actor, who also stars in Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy on Netflix in India, said Gera’s confidence about her project instilled in him the feeling that “if you stick it out, things will eventually work out”.
“As an actor you are told to do your job, forget about it, you never know what works and what does not. I have also spent so many years here so you have to protect yourself, have fewer expectations. But she spoilt me,” he said.
It is not that his journey has been easy in the film industry — Gomber spent four years on Court and another four on The Disciple, a film that now has Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron as an executive producer and became the first movie from India in 20 years to be a part of the main competition at the Venice Film Festival 2020.
“It’s nice for the community to have these films that are trying to make their own identity, survive. It’s a good indicator to the rest, for those who are younger than us and coming through or those who are older and might not have made their first film. They can think, ‘I can take a risk, why not, let’s do this’.”
Risk paid off once again as The Disciple won the best screenplay award at Venice along with prestigious FIPRESCI award, given by international film critics. The film also earned the Amplify Voices Award at the Toronto International Film Festival 2020.
Gomber met Tamhane, now 33, for a play. They eventually ended up collaborating as producer and director on Court (2014), the National Award winning legal drama.
“Chaitanya is so unique that I would love to work with him forever. This city, this business is tough. You can have friends for emotional support but you also need friends for creative support.
“Both the films that we have worked on have some political identity that resonates with us though we may not completely agree on everything. We see the world in a certain way or we like to discuss it in a certain way.”
Gomber’s upcoming project is Bombay Begums on Netflix.