The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For Vivek, charity is not a flash in the pan

London, Jan. 22: Vivek Oberoi last night promised to continue to work for the tsunami victims even if it meant sacrificing some of the time he would otherwise devote to pursuing his Bollywood career.

'It has already taken up a slice (of my time),' said Vivek, who was speaking at a function in London where the stars of Subhash Ghai's latest film, Kisna, helped raise about '10,000 for the Prime Minister's relief fund.

In an interview with The Telegraph, he spoke with passion about his charity work and made it clear that his involvement was long term and wouldn't end with the 11 days he had spent in south India with those whose lives had been shattered by the December 26 disaster.

Since then, India has seen a new, more caring Vivek who has 'adopted' the village of Devanampattinam. No one who listened to him last night thought he was playing the Bollywood star, cashing in on the misery of others to project his own profile. His desire to help others, said observers, seemed genuine.

He had come to London along with Ghai and cast members Isha Sharvani and Antonia Bernath. Ghai donated items from the film, including a sword, a Neeta Lulla black sleeveless jacket, some outfits and a flute, for an auction. These were bought by, among others, Lakshmi Mittal and Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja.

Vivek said what had shocked him most 'was not the physical damage but the way people were being deprived of their dignity. They told me they were angry because food was being chucked at them. If you break the human spirit, that cannot be easily mended'.

He said he was warned by officials not to go to the villages with medicines because of the risk of being infected by disease. 'I told them if we don't go in, there definitely will be disease.'

The actor said he was discovering some unpalatable facts about his country. A boy, who had nothing to do with the tsunami but whom he had promised help because he needed surgery to rectify a hole in the heart, wondered whether the assistance would be forthcoming. Vivek was stunned when the boy said: 'I am Muslim. Will you still help me' The actor's response was to get into his car and 'personally drive him to Chennai to Apollo Hospital'.

As he signed autographs last night for a gaggle of women, someone asked him: 'Where are you from' Without a script, the actor spoke well. 'I am from Bombay, I am also from India. India is my country and these are my people.'

When it was pointed out to him that he had appeared a less serious person when he had turned up in Cannes two summers ago to be with Aishwarya Rai, he grinned and remarked: 'People can assume I am flaky. Sometimes, it is an advantage to allow people to go on thinking I am dumb and flaky.'

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