Local lustre at Silver Screen Awards

Local lustre at Silver Screen Awards
Local film-maker Kirsten Tan

VIVEK GOMBER, 35

Vivek Gomber (below) was born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, nicknamed the Pink City for the lovely hue it is awash in. He was transplanted to Singapore at around age 10, when his late father came here to work in the finance industry. Gomber went on to do national service and ended up with more pink in his life - the Singapore citizen's identity card.

Now based in Mumbai on a work visa, he tells Life! that winning at the Silver Screen Awards was "pretty unexpected and quite emotional". It must have been particularly satisfying to triumph here, for as he puts it: "I love both India and Singapore. For me, they're both home."

He was speaking over the telephone from Dubai, where Court is taking part in the Dubai International Film Festival. The movie is about a folk singer who is tried in court for inciting a manhole worker to commit suicide with his inflammatory song. Gomber plays the lawyer defending him.

The actor first met writer-director Chaitanya Tamhane when they worked together on a magic-themed play, Grey Elephants In Denmark (2009). They became friends and Court evolved in an "organic" way after Tamhane came up with a script about the Indian legal system.

To get the project off the ground, Gomber decided to step up as producer. He says it was a big challenge "getting people to believe in a first-time, 24-year-old director who has never made a feature and a first-time producer whose background is completely in theatre".

He has also done "small parts here and there" in Bollywood films and on Indian television.

Finding funding was tough as well, though getting about €10,000 (S$16,000) from the International Film Festival Rotterdam's prestigious Hubert Bals Fund last year helped to open some doors. Still, Gomber says he had to plough in "quite a bit" of his savings for the "low-budget" film.

He says: "I was frustrated because not a lot of interesting work was happening or coming my way. I was also frustrated with complaining and I just wanted to create my own work and collaborate with people I want to collaborate with."

While the film seems to be an expose of Indian judicial workings, he points out that it is not simply about exposing the system's flaws. He notes: "It's more of a case study of humanity, trying to understand where somebody's coming from. I don't think anybody's at fault here."

For legal expertise to ensure the film's authenticity, he turned to his mother, Meena V. Gomber, 63, a retired High Court judge in India. But he was nervous about letting her see the entire screenplay and she watched the movie only when it was completed. "She surprisingly agreed with a lot of it and said she could see that frustration in her 35 years in the judiciary."

Earning his producer stripes could come in handy for him. He says: "I would love to focus only on acting, but if need be, this has given me the confidence that I can rely on my instinct, that I can find something to fall back on in terms of creating work for myself."

The only child adds: "My being single hurts my mum a lot. Even though they have been supportive, I think my parents had secretly been hoping that at some point, I would quit acting." His father died in 2010 from bone marrow cancer.

The actor-producer says: "But now, mum just wants me to get married."

The recent Singapore International Film Festival was notable for not only its strong showing of local content but also the contingent of Singaporeans with winning works at the Silver Screen Awards on Dec 13.

Kirsten Tan's Dahdi (Granny) won Best South-east Asian Short Film, Shijie Tan's Not Working Today won Best Singapore Short Film and Court, which Vivek Gomber produced and starred in, won Best Film and Best Director for India's Chaitanya Tamhane.

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