Bombay Showcase

Being John Abraham

The skeleton of a custom motorcycle, devoid of an engine, is parked under a tree in the backyard of a residential building. One almost immediately makes the connection between the object and its likely owner, known as a connoisseur of the mean machine. Although John Abraham is an actor first, his interests go beyond that. Sitting inside his office, on a lazy Saturday afternoon in Bandra, he says it himself, “People like me for a lot more things besides films, the fact that I am into fitness, motorcycling, football.”

Abraham, the movie-star who once vroomed onto the scene with Dhoom (2004) is a thing of the past. Known for his model good looks and crunchy physical presence in the movies more than the finer points of acting, Abraham no longer commands the fan following of his initial years. His last big hit, Dostana, was eight years ago. Yet, Abraham hasn’t quite been written off. He earned newfound respect for producing – his first — one of the most talked about films in Hindi cinema in the last decade: Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor that had a middle class sperm donor as its protagonist. Abraham didn’t star in the film himself, but used his clout and money to back a film with an unconventional subject that was struggling to find producers.

“I remember telling the executives of a major studio that you are missing the chance to be a part of Hindi film history when they informed me that they aren’t going to produce it,” he recalls, adding that a new film directed by Sircar starring him can be expected to be announced soon.

He played the lead in his next production Madras Café (2013), a story set against the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. A more expensive film, it didn’t do as well as Vicky Donor in terms of the box office. But it remains one of Abraham’s best reviewed films that yet again boosted his career that had suffered with two forgettable films: Shootout at Wadala (2013) and I, Me Aur Main (2013). If those two films are to go by, Abraham the producer is the wiser one.

“I want people to experience the kind of films I want to watch even if that means that I don’t fit the bill to be cast in it. I’ve been carefully building the brand of JA (John Abraham) Entertainment that I want to be associated with content and commerce, there is high quality control. There is an element of realism to everything we make,” he says, making it clear that his company’s purpose isn’t to promote him as an actor.

But when it comes to the latest production, Rocky Handsome that releases this Friday, Abraham fits the bill. In this remake of a South Korean blockbuster, The Man from Nowhere , he plays a quiet man with a disturbing and violent past who takes on a drug and organ trafficking racket to save his neighbour, a young girl, who he forges a friendship with. It’s along the lines of characters he has fared better in — rather than his comic misfires — the sort of brooding, good-hearted killing machine he has played in films such as Force (2011) and Karam (2005). It also, perhaps intentionally, brings back the screen name of two of his most successful films Dhoom and Jism — Kabir. It has a lot of action too. And Abraham, like a seasoned producer, explains why it is unique. “It’s the kind of action that one would relate to if one had to fight in the streets. It’s very hand-to-hand. But most importantly, it is backed by beautiful emotions,” he says.

He lived in Thailand for a month to train in Aikido: a Japanese martial art form where one uses the attacker’s strength and force against him without causing serious injury to him while defending oneself. “I had to make myself really feel light to learn it, its poetry in motion, almost like dance,” he says.

There is a feeling that as an actor, Abraham’s limitations got the better of his movie tastes. “I felt I haven’t lived up to my potential as an actor, I’ve to push the boundaries a little more,” he says. His choices, barring some of the comedies, aren’t all that bad. Some of the most enjoyable films are Taxi No 9211 (2006), Kabul Express (2006), Dostana (2008) and Dhoom (2004). There are also the odd experimental outings like Water (2005) and No Smoking (2007). About the latter he says, “It’s sexy and a cult. I keep telling Anurag [Kashyap] everyone makes a sequel to a hit, lets make a sequel of a flop,” he quips. But Abraham seems self-aware that the perceptions about him, broadly, is still brawn and not brains. “People have a different impression of me before and after they’ve met me,” he says, smiling that lopsided dimpled grin we’ve seen many times on screen.

He talks about a range of things from “dark and trippy” Korean cinema to ISIS ideology as he informs us that he is a fan of The Hindu . “I like picking up topical things that interest me and go deep researching on them. I’m more aware of the world than what’s happening in my own fraternity. In a way, I’ve been brought up with certain middle class values of education and honesty that is difficult to find in the film industry,” says Abraham, who was born to a Syrian Christian Malayali father and an Irani mother.

Many passions

John Abraham the person with many passions — owner of football team North East United FC in the Indian Super League, a motorcycle enthusiast, a PETA volunteer and producer of good cinema — is bigger than John Abraham the actor.

“I believe one day I will be Rupert Murdoch, Harvey Weinstein of this country. I want my words to be weighed in gold. I have a voice and I feel I can make a change. And it’s high time that I make people listen to me that I am not just the guy who poses in yellow shorts in Miami beach. I am much more than that,” he says before signing off.

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Printable version | May 2, 2021 11:16:19 PM |

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