A little girl trailed after him, an old woman smiled shyly through betel-stained teeth and young men jostled to shake his hand. In this fishing village on India's tsunami-ravaged southeastern coast, where at least 71 people were killed and the lives of hundreds of others shattered, the Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi was an unexpected hero.
In a Tamil-speaking region where Bollywood movies are rarely seen, Oberoi has spent the past three weeks with other volunteers building thatched huts for those who lost their homes to the tsunami and helping set up community kitchens and medical facilities.
On Saturday, a day after Pongal, the harvest festival of southern India, he cheered as a dozen anxious fishermen launched their newly repaired boats3 for the first time since the tsunami hit on Dec. 26.
Trudging through the debris-strewn village of 3,000 families, Oberoi, 29, is an oddity in India's flourishing entertainment business.
The country has the world's biggest movie industry, churning out as many as 1,000 films a year, most of which are made in Bollywood, as the Hindi film industry in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is called. But Oberoi has been the only big-name actor to take part directly in relief efforts in a tsunami-hit village.
Some of his colleagues have written checks and planned fund-raisers. The director Karan Johar and the superstars Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee jointly donated 10 million rupees (about US$230,000) toward relief.
"The tsunami affected all our favorite holiday destinations, so one of us could have been affected," Johar said. Khan, widely considered the top star in Bollywood, is helping set up a celebrity fund-raising gala for later this month in Bangalore.
But for the most part, Bollywood has seemed remarkably unaffected by the plight of the tsunami victims.
"Actors are paid tens of millions of rupees for each role; surely they can afford to spend a little on a humanitarian cause," said Taran Adarsh, editor of Trade Guide, which monitors the industry. Adarsh noted that even leading Bollywood trade groups like the Cine and TV Artists Association donated just 200,000 rupees (about US$4,600) for the tsunami victims, while the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association donated 100,000 rupees and the Indian Film Directors' Association 10,000 rupees. Such sums are "not something the industry can be proud of," Adarsh said. "This is a national calamity and more people ought to have stepped forward."
The star of a string of successful films, Oberoi said he was stirred by television images of the victims.
"Sending a check was not enough for me," he said. "I decided to go to the worst-affected villages for a day after collecting several trucks of supplies."
When he arrived in Devanampattinam, three days after the tsunami struck, Oberoi said relief workers frightened of disease were throwing food packets, medicines and clothes at the survivors from supply trucks. Oberoi said the villagers told him: "The tsunami took our homes and our belongings. Please don't take away our dignity."