Sunday Herald: Back in the game

Sunday Herald: Back in the game

One man who is never deterred by low phases is John Abraham. Whether it is in the pre-Race 2-Housefull 2 phase or during the initial struggle where hits like Jism, Dhoom, Garam Masala, Taxi No. 9-2-1-1, Dostana and New York dotted a roadmap speckled with flops, John Abraham has proved himself to be as tough internally as his externally fit physique.

When he turned producer with the single-minded aim of producing good cinema rather than merely making money, he had beginner’s luck with Vicky Donor (in which he did not even act, also proving that he did not launch his banner only to give himself meaty roles).

Telling good stories

At the time of his last film, Dishoom (2016), John had said, “As a producer, I have been scrounging for good content. There are so many beautiful stories, but not many can be told beautifully. With me, it’s a strange situation. There are people just waiting and wanting to fund me, and I am saying, ‘No, I need your money to be spent well!’ There is nothing like certain success, but I want to reduce the probability of failure.”

Having made another purposeful film, Madras Cafe (which did not do well), and action dramas like Force 2 and Rocky Handsome that did not work either, it would have been reason enough for anyone to quit filmmaking (like some have done), but John trusted himself and his team and came up with the idea of backing another story that needed to be told.

And that is how Parmanu—The Story Of Pokhran took shape. Director Abhishek Sharma came to him with the idea and they developed the script in-house. Sanyukhta Chawla Shaikh, his in-house writer, is someone John raves about for her talent.

As he said to the media, a 65-year-old man from the village nearest to Pokhran, where India’s nuclear test was conducted way back in 1998, was so charged up with the nuclear test, even when the wall of his home was cracked by the explosion. The man had told John during his visit there for research, “So what if my wall is cracked, my country’s future is made.”And that was what made John decide on a mass approach while making this film.

Why did he not have any doubts about his director-co-writer Abhishek Sharma, because he had delivered two unsuccessful films in The Shaukeens and Tere Bin Laden 2? The actor candidly replies, “He also made the successful and well-appreciated Tere Bin Laden. And the amount of research Abhishek had done on this subject made me sure that he was the right person. We all have low phases and flops and that does not reflect on our talents.”

John points out to what can be considered a parallel risk when he first signed Shoojit Sircar for Vicky Donor. “At that time, he had done only Yahaan, which had not done well.”

After the release of Parmanu, John is overwhelmed by the acclaim from the critics and the love his audience has shown for the film. “The most difficult aspect of the film was keeping it simple, and making the complexities of such a vital but covert operation along with the involvement of so many agencies, the terminology involved, easy to understand. I wanted to reach out to every single Indian, not to five people who would understand a noir film. When a school principal told me, ‘This should be on the curriculum of every school!’, it vindicated my stand.”

John is indebted to all the ministries and agencies like BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) and defence organisations like DRDO who cooperated in full. “Some secrets had to be kept, like we mention something called ISA (Indian Space Agency) in place of the actual ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation),” says John. But the star was more than happy that after the release, ISRO actually mentioned his film in a mainstream daily’s article. “I am indebted to ISRO for everything,” he says.

The obvious question is: how much of the film was real and how much was dramatised? “The plot of the film is 100% factual, and the only fictional character is Ashwath, which is me in the film,” he says. “We had to do a lot of homework to create a junior bureaucrat. For an actor, it is easy to follow a real-life person, but it was difficult to create Ashwath and his background from imagination.”

Right now, John is relieved and happy at the love he and his film have received, and there is a lot of “positive pressure” on him. “As an actor, you are a beggar for appreciation, and now people expect a different film from me every time,” he declares decisively.

Evolving in the act

What does he have to say about the insinuation that his new film is tacitly in support to the cause of the ruling government because it has emphasised the BJP government’s decisive role in India becoming a nuclear power?

He laughs wryly as he asserts that he never had any political inclinations. “I remember they called Madras Cafe a Congress picture!” His tone suggests that if this conversation had not been conducted over a phone, we could have seen him shrugging his shoulders.

John, as an actor, has also evolved comfortably over the years. Those who cast aspersions on his acting talent have had to eat their words several times, like after watching his comic timing in Garam Masala, Housefull 2 and Welcome Back, his sensitive portrayal in Aashayein, the dark role he essayed in Madras Cafe or even his cop-from-the-Gulf role in Dishoom.

And that’s no mean feat for someone who merely wanted to be the best model in the country and became a hero by chance. John always describes himself as a “fighter” and is ramrod straight in his dealings, which explains his coming out clean from the legal fracas that preceded the release of his film.

Why is he then sticking to action films only in all his forthcoming films now — Batla House, RAW (Romeo Akbar Walter) and the series he is planning to produce, Attack? “The only action franchise is Attack. The rest, like Parmanu, are not action movies at all. I just want to make good films — for everyone. I have no such intent of restricting myself to any genre. In fact, I am dying to do a comedy, as it is my favourite genre, and I even love watching comedies.”