Encountering the man of the house

With real stories increasing, John Abraham feels that the industry is finally telling better stories, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

He is one of those souls with a tough exterior and a soft inside. John Abraham’s screen image, however, is largely of the hunky action man, and of late, even that image has been modified from that of a typical action hero to being the leading man of movies with solid content of a patriotic or nationalistic nature, as in Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran, Satyameva Jayate, RAW (Romeo Akbar Walterand now Batla House.

However, this year again, John’s film clashed with an Akshay Kumar biggie in Mission Mangal. Last year, among John’s Satyameva… and Akshay’s Gold, John’s movie did better. We begin our conversation on this note. “Frankly,” he smiles, “It is even more exciting than last year. The good thing is that two credible films came out on that day. There is enough business opportunity for both films. Both Akshay and I know it, and the winner is the audience, which gets to choose between two — hopefully — very good films.”

What is the challenge in playing a real character? “Look, even Manya Surve, who I played in Shootout At Wadala, was a real person, but he had passed away. Sanjeev Kumar Yadav, whose role I play here, is alive and still working for the Delhi Special Cell. So there is a kind of pressure because I will love to have him tell me, ‘Hey! You played me right!’ In fact, Nikkhil (director Advani) and I are eager for him to watch the film and put a tick in the box!”

With real stories increasing, John feels that the industry is finally telling better stories. “Be it Article 15, Super 30, URI—The Surgical Strike or even across the board in other genres, I would like to think that Batla House is one of those exceptionally good stories being told,” he smiles.

He adds the interesting point on this topical issue. “Our writer Ritesh Shah and Nikkhil fashioned a story in which it will be impossible to say where reality ends and dramatised fiction begins, and how it comes back again to something real. Even if you are not interested in the real incident that took place in 2008, you will still enjoy Batla House as an edge-of-the-seat thriller.”

John got a narration from Nikkhil when the latter was co-producing his Satyameva Jayate. He instantly gave the nod, and that is why the filmmaker feels that he has not chosen John, but it is the actor who has chosen the director! But what was the kind of homework he did for the film? Did he, for example, meet the protagonist whose role he plays? “Yes,” says the actor. “I met Sanjeev, and I asked him how exactly the encounter happened, and what actually took place. He told me that he had even suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD then, and had actually wanted to commit suicide. And do you know that on the day he left on this mission, his wife had told him that she wanted to leave him. After all, she did not want to be his second wife because he would always say he was married first to the nation. This is the sequence with which our film opens.”

He adds, “Sanjeev is a six-time winner of the Presidential Gallantry Medal. He went in thinking he would wipe out the nation’s enemy. But when he came out,
he was branded as a murderer!” John points out, “I see an encounter as an encounter. But my director told me not to look at the film as just an encounter story. He told me that it’s a love story, the way he had portrayed it. I watched the film and realised that what Nikkhil was saying was true.” This was also because John had also met Sanjeev’s real wife, Shobhna. Sanjeev, he reveals, came across as a shy man who did not speak much. And his wife told him matter-of-factly, “He does not speak for more than five minutes.” So unusual was this fact that the filmmakers decided to use this statement in the film as a line spoken by Nandita, his on-screen wife played by Mrunal Thakur. John raves about his co-star and exclaims, “What a fantastic actress. Mrunal was terrific as Nandita.”

Shobhna, he reveals, decided to later support her husband through his troubled times, though he kept pushing her away for more than two years, saying that he did not need her. Through his career controversies and PTSD, Shobhna was by his side. John, therefore, strongly rues the fact that, in India, lack of attention to psychological needs is rampant, with everyone scared of disclosing that they need psychiatric treatment, or even revealing their visits to such doctors. “Yes, we all love Singham and Simmba as entertainment, but we don’t respect cops. So my film shows the true side of a cop and his sacrifices.” 

Action-wise, John is on top of his game but are we not missing the other side of John — be it the comic or the the villainous streak? “Oh, don’t worry,” smiles the actor. “I am playing a truly bad guy in Mumbai Saga, and Pagalpanti is a laugh riot!”

 

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