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Why Vivek Gomber keeps producing Chaitanya Tamhane’s award-winning films

Gomber was so impressed by the Marathi director’s passion and eye for detail that he offered him Rs 15,000 a month to help him earn a living from projects he cared about

Gomber moved to Mumbai 16 years ago in order to become an actor.

Vivek Gomber’s friends describe him either as insane or brave. “But they mostly stick to ‘insane’,” says the actor-producer. One of these friends is filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane, whose two award-winning projects, Court (2014) and The Disciple (2020), have been produced by 36-year-old Gomber.

Tamhane is puzzled by Gomber’s dedication to another person’s work. “It’s not like he will get much of his money back. But my work and I exist only because of him,” says Tamhane, who often refers to Gomber as “my father”. “He was weeping in the audience when I won at Venice the first time,” says Tamhane. Gomber has a more prosaic explanation for his decision to produce a project. “I love Chaitanya but my resolve to produce a film always comes from the script,” says Gomber, over the phone from Mumbai, where he is based.

Gomber moved to Mumbai 16 years ago in order to become an actor. Since the age of 10, he had shuttled between Singapore, where his banker father was based, and Jaipur, where his mother was a high-court judge. He watched Amitabh Bachchan films, all the while nurturing his own dreams of acting, even after he joined the Singapore Army on his parents’ suggestion in 1997. Two years later, he moved to the US to study fine arts at Emerson College in Boston and came to Mumbai in 2004. Gomber met Tamhane in 2008, when they were both active in Mumbai’s theatre circuit. Gomber was so impressed by Tamhane’s passion and eye for detail that he offered him Rs 15,000 a month to help him earn a living from projects he cared about. A few years later, he again put his money where his friend’s heart was. “My father had just passed away and left me some money,” says Gomber. He was also certain no one else would produce a film like Court.

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The film won a number of awards and was India’s Oscar entry in 2015, but the two years after were tough. “I didn’t get any work and nothing really changed,” says Gomber, who has worked in films such as Morning Fog (2006) and The President is Coming (2009), before playing lawyer Vinay Vora in Court. He went on to work with filmmaker Ere Gowda on his Kannada film Balekempa (2018), which was on the list of 10 most notable films at International Film Festival Rotterdam that year. It was withdrawn from Mumbai Film Festival 2018 after Gowda was accused of sexual harassment.

The success of Court didn’t make it easy for Tamhane and Gomber to fund their next venture. Gomber, who had set up a production company called Zoo Entertainment Pvt Ltd., asked Tamhane to continue writing. When the script of what would be The Disciple was ready, he read it and was hooked. “It’s a luxury to create something that you believe in. Which is what made me agree to do it again with The Disciple,” he says.

Gomber has a small role in The Disciple but it’s taken a long time for his acting career to take off. The release of one of his last assignments, Rohena Gera’s award-winning film Sir, was delayed due to the pandemic. But Indian viewers can watch him in Mira Nair’s adaptation of A Suitable Boy, in which he plays Arun Mehra, the protagonist’s older brother, and in Alankrita Shrivastava and Bornila Chatterjee’s web-series Bombay Begums — both will be on Netflix India soon.

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