Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar
He has beautifully moved into the zone of being a sensible, creative producer and a thinking actor apart from being such a heartthrob. He is as casual as one could be – whether it’s an interview or just how he looks. Donning a simple tee-shirt, jeans and chappals, John Abraham settles down at his office while we get chatting about his latest release ‘Parmanu’. We discuss the film and more in this candid chat…
You’ve mentioned in an earlier interview that, you love doing things that people don’t expect you to do. What was it about ‘Parmanu’ that stuck with you?
I just think it’s important to tell a good story and as a producer I want to tell stories that impact me and the audience. So when I hear a good idea, I develop it in-house and I probably just throw it in the bin if it’s not working but if it works for me, I make it happen. ‘Parmanu’ worked at every level for me, so I decided to go ahead and do it. Abhishek narrated a 10-page idea to me and my creative head, in-house, is this girl called Sanyukta Chawla who wrote Neerja. She wrote Parmanu with her screenplay writer Saiwyn Quadras. So they wrote ‘Parmanu’ and what came out was okay till we went to a particular studio and narrated it. The studio head called me and said, this is the best script we’ve heard in ten years. And I’m speaking with you in the capacity of my father being a BARC scientist. Finally, we made the film happen.
What did you have to work on for your character in the film?
I had to work on deconstructing myself. My character’s name is Ashwat Raina, who is a junior bureaucrat in the prime minister’s office. So my director said, even a layman will know if John Abraham is walking on screen, because of your physique. You just have to look regular, think regular and that’s what I did. And what worked for me was, I’m an India fan. I love my country though I must say, this film is not a patriotic jingoistic film. It’s a thriller. If you see hardcore thrillers like ‘Argo’, it’s got that feel. Patriotism is a by-product of this film, but when you walk out, you feel proud to be an Indian. It just happens naturally.
As an audience, while one definitely remembers you for ‘Garam Masala’ or ‘Dostana’, they also do remember you for ‘New York’ or ‘Madras Café’. Do you feel satisfied to be able to connect to the audience at these varied levels?
I feel good because the audience has now started understanding the nuances of the roles I’m playing. They are now appreciating that. Earlier it was about my physicality and the way I looked. Not that I’m saying I’m good looking, but it’s just about the way you are and your physicality. Now the audience has started understanding that this guy’s mindspace is as much ‘Madras Café’ or ‘Parmanu’ as it is ‘Housefull2’ or ‘Welcome Back’ but does that mean as an actor I only enjoy doing ‘Madras Café’ or ‘Parmanu’? No. I love ‘Welcome Back’. I feel happy and when I see my audience happy, it blows my mind. I enjoy it. I feel gratified that not just the audience but even my trade and the industry, especially directors come and tell me that ‘something like a ‘Madras Café’ is one of the most nuanced performances by an actor in a long time.’ People tell me that what they considered good acting was being over-expressive. Now people will understand that subtlety works. I think the times have changed, audience has changed. When you see films from ten years back, you consider that over-acting
“I don’t want to power my production house with my stardom, I want to power it with content”
When you have your looks and physicality playing such a big role for you, as far as your popularity goes, has it been a struggle to make people see beyond just looks? And well, you have managed that!
I didn’t look at it as a struggle, that’s the beauty of it. I’m a marketing person. If it’s about my body and face, I’d sell that first and then sell my brains. It’s very simple. If people like John Abraham in ‘Shootout at Wadala’, or John Abraham in ‘Force’ or ‘Dostana’, people will slowly start appreciating a John Abraham in ‘No Smoking’, ‘Kabul Express’, ‘Zinda’, ‘New York’, ‘Madras Café’ or ‘Parmanu’. It’s like what Dustin Hoffman told Robert Redford that whatever you do, it will always be about the way you look. So, I’m not going to shy away from that. It’s like, if Brad Pitt does ‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’, one is not going to say, he is not a beautiful man. If you have a certain physicality, live with it because there are many people who don’t. I’m happy in my space. In my space, I’m a horse with blinkers. I want to do the kind of films that excite me. I’m being very honest with you, I look in the mirror just once in the day when my make-up is done before the shoot otherwise I don’t look in the mirror. I’m not a narcissistic person by nature. I wear chappals, I don’t wear watches, I don’t drive a fancy car. Somewhere down the line, I’m a middle class human being, my parents are middle-class and I can’t take that out of me. I’m not trying to put on an act, because that’s not me. I can’t do airport looks because that’s not me. My audience should feel I’m one of them and that’s what I think connects me with them.
Is that why as a producer, maybe you have that sensibility that if something connects with you, it will connect to the audience?
Absolutely. I feel like I’m the audience. I go by my gut and instincts. My instinct is very strong, with actors, with directors, in scripts and in showing my work. Now you will see three announcements happening in the next three months and one script is radically different from the next one. And that’s the idea. In my production house, I marry content with commerce. The head of development in my production house is not a corporate person, it’s a creative person, she is a writer. She wrote ‘Neerja’, and now ‘Parmanu’. But my line producer is from one of the biggest studios in India. My head of distribution is also from one of the biggest studios so I have a full-fledged team around me. So, I’m happy because I’ve got a thinking team around me.
Do you feel happy about the fact that you’re now creating content that you always wanted to? Initially, you didn’t always get the kind of scripts you wanted to be a part of…
Very happy. Initially yes, I didn’t get those kind of scripts, that’s why I became a producer. Now it’s like, when I hear a script from outside and it’s not up to the mark, I feel, ‘you took a year for this’? I take two-three years to just work on the script. And if someone comes to me with a half-baked script, I go mental. I feel safe as an actor with JA entertainment because I know my content will be curated. Yet, I’m not particular about me. If I’m making a film tomorrow which requires Varun Dhawan or Tiger Shroff or Rajkummar Rao or anyone, I will go to that person. I don’t want to power my production house with my stardom, I want to power it with content. The hero of all my films including ‘Parmanu’ is not me, but the story.
What’s that one aim you always have as a producer?
I pay attention to content and stories. Secondly, as a producer and I say this on record that my honesty cannot be questioned. I’m very clear. I’m not here to take one rupee from anyone. So, anyone who can even think of questioning that is compromising themselves. And number three, an outside perspective to things always helps. Because then, you are not just thinking what the industry is thinking. Who would have thought of nuclear tests or sperm donation? You have to look out. You never know, the story of your life could be interesting if I do it (laughs).
Lastly, what are your expectations from ‘Parmanu’?
Firstly, I’m very thankful to the honourable high court for validating what I have gone through. More important than that, the collateral damage has been that I didn’t have time to market this film. I had only ten days to market a film that would require atleast 50-60 days, which is also fine. But it’s a good film, and it’s an India film.