Vivek Oberoi was like an excited child when I met him in early January at Thevanampattinam in Cuddalore. Thevavnampattinam is one of the largest fishing hamlets in Tamil Nadu and Vivek Oberoi had announced that he was going to adopt the tsunami-hit village and turn it into a 21st century colony. “Nothing could prepare me for the death and devastation I saw and I really felt I should do something”, said Vivek.
He gave me lengthy, detailed answers for every question, praising the government in each one of them. “From the chief Minister’s office to the Collector’s office, everyone has been very supportive and co-operative and have given us the go-ahead for everything.”, he had said.
But three months on, Vivek Oberoi has moved out of Thevanampattinam. Jayalalithaa has insulted him in the Assembly and many people in Thevanampattinam snigger at the mention of his name.
But it must be said that his efforts “to do good”, although naïve in their eagerness did seem sincere. However, the actor has only invited the current scathing criticism upon himself by unceremoniously taking his ‘Project Hope’ to another village in Pondicherrry.
Vivek Oberoi says that he had to shift out of Tamil Nadu because the government was taking too long to finalise locations for permanent housing. “My donors were threatening to pull out. They would have put their money in Banda Aceh or Sri Lanka, if I didn’t show them something concrete soon. The Pondicherry governor called me and after just a few discussions he gave me the green signal. So the choice before me was clear – either I could help nobody or move out of Tamil Nadu and at least help somebody,” said Vivek at a press conference, explaining his exit.
Many in the administration however don’t buy that. One of them said, “All the others donors in so many other villages were ready to wait. How come his weren’t?”
It’s been difficult to catch Vivek Oberoi since his controversial exit from TN. So I cant tell you what the real reasons are but sources in the administration say that Vivek Oberoi didn’t feel like working for the people of Thevanampattinam anymore. The atmosphere had become vitiated, the people had turned against him and he didn’t want to work in that hostile environment. Vivek has often spoken of “fundamentalist elements” approaching him to milk the situation. Maybe those are the forces that ultimately forced him to leave as well.
Machcekaandi is one of the spunkiest old ladies in Thevanampattinam. She remembers Vivek fondly saying he was like “her son”. She belongs to the pro-Vivek camp because the mention of Vivek Oberoi always divides any group into two opposing camps.
Perhaps what Vivek Oberoi should have done is quietly exited from Thevanampattinam, done his work in the new village silently and avoided the media like the plague. Instead he participated in a press conference where he droned on and on about plans for his new village… this after he had just dumped Thevanampattinam.