By Udita Jhunjhunwala
Back in action, John Abraham talks about the genres that work for him and what it feels like to be in control.
John Abraham has tried it all — sensual adult thrillers (Jism), romantic movies (Salaam-E-Ishq), action (Force), comedy (Dostana), offbeat (Water) and out-there (No Smoking) projects. After many misses and some hits, he’s figured out that comedy and action are the genres that work best for him, and for his audience.
Unlike his choice as an actor, as a producer Abraham has taken greater risks, backing the sleeper hit Vicky Donor followed by the political thriller Madras Café. His next release, which he has produced and stars in, is the action-thriller Rocky Handsome. Sitting relaxed in the boardroom of his stylish office in Mumbai, Abraham animatedly speaks of the exciting year ahead. “Anyone who sees my current slate — Rocky Handsome, Dishoom, Force 2 — will say I have nothing to worry about. But what makes me feel even better is that my company, JA Entertainment, has produced two out of these three films. I always feel safer in my production because I know I will control the quality of production,” says the 43-year-old.
Plan of action
From two unconventional themed films to two surefire commercial hits, Abraham’s decisions are calculated. “Rocky Handsome is commercially my safest film. Vicky Donor was about a sperm donor for heaven’s sake, and Madras Café was on the assassination of a prime minister. Rocky Handsome is far more palatable to a much larger audience. Force 2 also belongs to that space. There is a lot of credibility in both these because many elements are derived from true life stories. I am also careful about the choice of directors, in this case Nishikant Kamat (Rocky Handsome) and the mercurial Abhinay Deo (Force 2),” says Abraham.
A self-confessed admirer of Sylvester Stallone (his newest movie’s title is inspired by the action star, obviously), the well-built actor says of his career in comedy and action, “Audiences like to see me in that space. I do have three action films coming this year and that’s not a conscious decision. But I see that I am slowly fitting into that space and people like to see me there. I really want to push the boundaries, but the action must be backed by emotion. For action without it is mindless. I can do 10 back-flips, which might look impressive but you will walk out of the theatre saying it’s stupid, unless the right emotion is connected with it. Both my films have that.”
“For me, even romance is 50 Shades of Grey. There has to be an edge, an X factor. For me to do romance there has to be a Z-axis; not just an X-axis and Y-axis”
Much has been written about the training he underwent to prepare for the part of Rocky (and it’s evident now as I sit opposite him), and also the under-production Force 2. “I saw the original Korean film, The Man From Nowhere, on which Rocky Handsome is based, and I got scared because the action is intense. I knew I had to train hard, so I went to Thailand for a month and trained with experts from Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia and Thailand. I would train all day and realised how badly I was hurt only when I got into the shower at the end of the day. Honestly, there was no original skin colour left. I was black and blue. By evenings, I would not be able to stand. It was painful. I often asked myself why I was doing it. Then, when I came back to Mumbai and showed Nishikant the rehearsal tapes he said, ‘you look like you have been learning martial arts from childhood.’ Now that’s the biggest compliment I have received.”
Abraham trained in Aikido, Hapkido, Silat and Krav Maga, and the action sequences in his March 25 release are indeed showcases for various martial arts and combat forms. So were the sequences tightly choreographed or did Abraham have to go through numerous painful and backbreaking retakes? “We didn’t waste time with rehearsals here,” he says, meaning that the fights were designed during the training period itself. “We did retakes only when a table didn’t break or when I jumped through glass and got cuts. Otherwise, in terms of getting our timing right, it was bang on. We even have a knife fight and a sequence where I am doing Tai Chi. That movement, being one with yourself and your soul, is beautiful.”
“If I play a normal character, I fail. Normal is boring and John Abraham will never do normal stuff.”
‘Normal is boring’
After Welcome Back and Desi Boyz, Abraham also signed up for Hera Pheri 3, but the future of that film hangs in the balance. “Only Feroz Nadiadwala (producer) knows when it is happening. I have given him my dates, but I have heard nothing. He’s a good man, but I don’t know what is happening. Even news of the cast keeps changing. At times I hear that Abhishek (Bachchan) is not doing it and then that he is, or Sunil Shetty is out, but then I hear he’s still attached to the film.”
Comedy is clearly subjective and while the Housefull 2 brand of humour might not be agreeable to all, Abraham delights in slapstick humour. “I really love and enjoy that humour. I laugh! During Golmaal 3, I was laughing the loudest in the hall. When you work in an ensemble cast, who you work with is very important, and I really enjoy working with Akshay Kumar. In real life, we are friends. We get along well. We are similar in our nature: we wake up early, train, come to the set early and shoot on time. We have a similar discipline. I really enjoy doing comedy with Akshay. I share such a bond with Abhishek, too. Varun (Dhawan) and I have also found that bond in Dishoom.”
While he seems to have cracked the code with comedy and action, Abraham’s experiments as a performer have met with polarised reactions. “People say Water was nice; Kabul Express was different; No Smoking was crazy and Kafkaesque. But if I play a normal character, I fail. Normal is boring and John Abraham will never do normal stuff. Why should I be a mushy guy on screen wearing a frock! I can’t do that. For me, even romance is 50 Shades of Grey. There has to be an edge, an X factor. For me to do romance, there has to be a Z-axis; not just an X-axis and Y-axis. People have positioned and accepted me in a particular way. It’s about sensuality, action, body, fitness, and they are always happy with me in that space.”
My mum supports Make A Wish Foundation, she feeds stray dogs and she takes care of a home for the aged. My dad supports the National Association for the Blind. I am associated with PETA, Habitat for Humanity and I am the brand ambassador for the Mumbai marathon. As a family, we support every possible cause. Human beings are selfish and we need to look beyond ourselves in our daily lives.
I feel there should be some objectivity. I am sure the censors are going by the rule book. I respect their decisions, but there has to be change in the law. You can’t blame the Board. Rocky Handsome has no nudity, bad language or exposure, and the action is not gory. It’s palatable to a female audience… we know because we tested it on women between the ages of 16 and 35. It has a child at the centre, for heaven’s sake. Which is why we were challenging the adult certificate.
Besides training co-star Varun Dhawan on the sets of Dishoom, Abraham has his nose deep in books on nutrition. According to recent reports, the actor is planning to go professional on his interest in the subject. He has travel plans in May to the US to get an official certificate and has been preparing hard for it. The benefits will be two-fold, as he helps protect himself from injuries and assists willing co-stars in their fitness goals. After all, being six feet tall and weighing 94 kilos,
action on the sets can be full of challenges.