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A prankster, a performer, a friend...

A naughty schoolboy who just carried his pranks with him to the film sets. That's Vivek Oberoi.RANA A. SIDDIQUI speaks to the hero who worships the audience... .

A KHICHRI ornamented with dead flies and a cockroach for a toppling. The `lunch' is lavishly packed in tiffin and presented to a teacher with a request. "Madam, today I have brought special lunch for you. I would be happy if you just take a bite." A persuasive tone, an earnest request.

The teacher, impressed, smilingly agrees and opens it. "Aaaaaaa," she screams in horror and disgust. The pleadings little lad is seen fleeing from the scene - the teacher following him. By the time classes are over, the boy is seen in the Principal's room of Basent Montessary High School, Mumbai.

"Look Sir, he has again played a prank on me. I can't deal with him," the teacher complains pointing towards the boy standing with his head bowed.

"You will be thrown out of the school if you do it again," the principal warns, adding, "Will you?" The boy says no. "Get Out," he is ordered, "and listen," the order continues, "come and collect the award that you won for the debate and boxing competition that day!" "Yes, Sir".

This time again the lad is spared for he has done his school proud, a regular feature.

Like to know who is this spoilt yet courageous chap? Vivek Oberoi, now 26. The incident is from his memory box that liberally opens itself and gives one by one his tales of pranks that he played with his classmates and teachers in school and Mayo College in Ajmer in the mid-nineties from where he completed his graduation. His pranks still continue. With his co-stars and film crewmembers on sets. Ask Diya Mirza, E. Niwas, Ashwarya Rai and Ramgopal Varma, a regular witness to his never-ending practical jokes.

Vivek is sitting pretty at The Oberoi, New Delhi. He is here to give to shoot for a BBC programme. Incidentally, he is starring in a 40-million-dollar Hollywood film "Invaders" in which he is playing "a Maratha warrior". The film will be made in English and Hindi.

Always an academically-oriented student, Vivek was a boxing champion also. He "played in the Junior Boxing Championship at District and State level when in college".

That makes one believe that he "never took any training in stunt scenes" and that he does all his stunts on his own, as he claims. "Sometimes, my stunt master refuses to believe me," he says. Memories of pranks, papa dear in good, bad days and changing trend of cinema in Bollywood can turn him into a chatterbox. One can witness shades of smiles, pain and intelligence as he narrates them all.If an egg yolk is dipped in ink, it emits unbearably foul smell. Vivek would have one placed in his classmate's bag."My God, don't you ever bathe? You smell,' " I would declare. I scared E. Niwas to death. Once we were shooting for `Dum' in Mahabaleshawar ruins. I was playing carrom with him. Suddenly, I got up saying I was going to sleep. I came back after 10 minutes. He asked me, `Didn't go to sleep? Come, play carrom. I said, "Sleep? When did I tell you I was going to sleep? I never came to you in past one hour. I was downstairs with others. And I produced a witness too. E. Niwas turned pale as I added that it is a haunted place, inhabited by `ichchadhari bhoot'. " But Vivek can be considerate as well. On Diya Mirza's birthday, heasked all on sets not to wish her.Till pack up, all followed his dictates. Finally at night a sad, sobbing Diya, ready to leave, complained, `It was my birthday today. Nobody wished me.'

`I asked her to come with me to a room, she refused, angrily, I dragged her inside and showered her with sparklers pouring from big, colourful balloons, colours splashed and all crew singing `Happy Birthday'.Diya cried with happiness," Vivek recalls.

Vivek inherits this feeling of love from his father Suresh Oberoi.

"He is my mentor, my strength and my best criticI remember sharing times when papa, my mother, me and my four-year younger sister Meghna, would live as paying guests in one room while he was struggling to make a mark in films. He, bidding adieu to his luxurious life in Hyderabad, had come to Mumbai with only 400 rupees in his pocket. At times, we used to have only apples as food, yet he never went to anyone for favours, not even his parents. I remember we had one old radio on which when old song would be played, he would dance with my mother and I would try to sneak in crawling between their steps."

Once he took Vivek to his farmhouse in Lonawala. "I was amazed to see the kids he is rearing up there. He is taking care of their educational, emotional and health needs. He goes among poor families asking them to send their children to him for studying." Vivek also had a very sound childhood. His father would take the entire family away to enjoy each Friday to the farmhouse after school. The happiest soul recalling his childhood, what makes him grow pensive is "unpredictable audience. "You never know how the audience would react to a film. If I take experiences into consideration, `Dum' should have been a super hit. But it is `Saathiya' that is drawing in the audience." That's what makes him work to the best of his ability. "I don't work according to people's expectations. I do what I think is best for me. This philosophy of life has taken me where I stand today."

And he finds the changing trend of cinema in Bollywood as "very positive. Now we are known internationally. People living in villages also are undergoing drastic change in terms of cinema viewing. They can't be fooled any more. A couple of years later, we will have either film projects too big - above 10 crore or small, below 10 crore," he predicts. And he also believes that nothing called acting will be a hit in films, it is only the attitude of the audience. Let's wait and watch.

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