(October 20, 2021) “Is love enough, Sir?”, Tilotama Shome asks Vivek Gomber in the 2018 film Sir – a love story unlike any seen in Indian cinema. It’s this poignant story that made Gomber a household name in India and abroad. But it took him 16 years to become a recognizable face in the world of showbiz. The 41-year-old who began his journey with theater and television is now an actor and a producer to reckon with. If his films have made it to the international film festivals, his acting chops have been equally appreciated.
But Gomber had to face a string of rejections to reach the top. His journey from being a solider in Singapore to an actor in Bollywood is quite intriguing and inspiring.
Jaipur to Singapore
Born in Jaipur to a banker father and a judge mother, Gomber moved to Singapore at an early age with his dad who was transferred to the Garden City for his job. While his mom, who was a High Court judge in Rajasthan, stayed back in India. Gomber would often shuttle between the two countries based on his school schedule. Summer holidays took him back to Jaipur every year where he grew up on a healthy dose of Hindi films in the 80s as he didn’t have much to do in the otherwise small town. For the longest time, he kept oscillating between India and Singapore but films are what kept him enchanted throughout his childhood and teens. So much so, that he chose theater throughout his school and university years.
While Gomber dreamt of pursuing his passion of acting, his dad made him join the military in Singapore. “When my father got his Singapore citizenship, he made the decision to make me dependent. This means when you turn 18 – if you are male – you must either give up the addiction of permanent residence (and leave the country) or join the army for two-and-a-half years. It is one way of acquiring citizenship. So at 18, they pushed me into the military, which I didn’t think I would, but it happened,” he told ExBulletin in an interview.
Filmi dreams take him to Mumbai
However, Gomber made a pact with his parents that he would continue to perform in theater and get a formal education in this area. He kept his promise and enrolled himself for a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Emerson College in Boston. After wrapping up the course in 2004, he moved back to Singapore for a while before relocating to Mumbai. Here, he heard about a play at the Prithvi Theater and soon got himself a role. He soon took center stage in a handful of plays and even directed a few like The President Is Coming.
Those initial years, Gomber tried everything from television to plays and short films to stay afloat in the world of showbiz. While certain things worked in his favor, others didn’t. It was a struggle to fit into an industry where he had no godfather. “I fought with my parents to be an actor. Even when I was training, my teachers would say, ‘This is great, but understand that the world is not very kind outside’. But in your head, you think you are the best thing to happen since sliced bread. I came to Bombay thinking like that and it took me a long time to settle into the city and make peace with it. I hadn’t grown up here, so I had to understand the city to be able to portray characters living in the city,” he told Telegraph in an interview.
After few years of trying his hand at acting, Gomber took a hiatus and returned to Singapore to be with his ailing father. After his death, the actor returned to the Maximum City in 2011, this time determined to stay put. He got back to theater where he met actors like Neil Bhoopalam and Tillotama Shome. At the same time, he met Chaitanya Tamhane with whom he went on to do Court, a critically-acclaimed legal drama. Gomber not just acted in Court but even backed it as a producer. The film premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival and went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film 2014. Despite the film’s global success, it didn’t translate into more work for Gomber.
“Court was lauded all over the world, it got a National Award, it won at major film festivals, it went to the Oscars… I both produced and acted in it, and I expected something to come out of it. But barring a few auditions, nothing happened, and that really hurt. But I got out of it, I went back to theater and then work started coming in,” he added.
It was in 2016 that this Global Indian met Rohena Gera who offered him a role in Sir, a film that was set to change the course of his career. The role of Ashwin, a rich Mumbai bachelor who falls in love with his maid, earned him accolades across the globe. The film premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and was later released in many European countries. “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,” he told Indian Express.
The film’s worldwide popularity helped Gomber bag a role in Mira Nair‘s A Suitable Boy, a screen adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel. 2020 turned out to be an interesting year for Gomber as A Suitable Boy and Sir made their way to Netflix and eventually to millions of screens across the country. The same year, his next film The Disciple which had Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron as an executive producer, became the first movie from India in 20 years to be a part of the main competition at the Venice Film Festival. The film won the best screenplay award at the festival and also picked up the prestigious FIPRESCI award given by international film critics.
Gomber, who began his journey with plays and television, has now become a known face at international film festivals and is slowly moving up the ladder in the world of showbiz.