BY Ayesha Babar
The journey from being a model to an actor is one that few men have been able to make successfully. John Abraham is the exception to this rule. And many other rules too. The actor of Dostana and Dhoom turned producer in 2012 with the cult favourite Vicky Donor and since then there has been no looking back as an actor or a producer. He spoke exclusively to Ayesha Babar from Asian Style Magazine about his new film, ‘Rocky Handsome’ – an action film with a big heart!
AB– The trailer looks fantastic – congratulations on that. To be honest, the title itself is quite an interesting one – ‘Rocky Handsome’ – how did you zero in on that?
JA – I give Nishikant Kamat, the director, the credit for the title because the first few days of the shooting of the film, I was wearing this black suit, and Nishikant kept telling me ‘John, you are looking really handsome’ . By day four, he turned around and said ‘why don’t we call this film Rocky Handsome’ – he actually wanted to call it ‘Johnny Handsome’ and then we thought that John, Johnny is a bit too close and it’s better to call it Rocky Handsome and that just stuck. Also, that is what the film is about as well because this little girl keeps calling this guy, who is my character, handsome. She says ‘you look like a criminal but you are quite good looking. Jaantay ho tumhein log kya boltay hain? Handsome’ . She’s very fond of this guy, poking him and all. It is a beautiful relationship that they share. Somewhere through the film you realise his name is Rocky, so overall we though that the title ‘Rocky Handsome’ was really apt for the film.
AB – Those moments with you and the little girl are extremely cute. You two clearly share an adorable chemistry. But was it difficult to work with an actor that young?
JA – You know, I think, Dia, the little girl, changed my perception that all children and animals are really difficult to work with [laughter]. She was absolutely fantastic. She is such a positive kid and she brought a lot of positivity to the set. Initially we were all nervous about working with a child but she was a dream to work with and so easy going and always smiling. She’s a gymnast so every other day she would come to my van and say ‘John, I’ve learnt a new thing’ and then she would do backflips in the van! She was just such a bundle of positive energy on the set. I am very proud of her performance and we were really lucky to have gotten such a lovely girl.
AB – Moving away slightly, you are one of the few models who have made the switch into acting so successfully and despite a long period where you were stereotyped into certain kinds of roles, you have managed to break that stereotype. Was it difficult to get rid of that image?
JA – Yeah, I think so. It was. I think it would have been even more difficult if I had made it difficult for myself, but I didn’t. I am a smart human being and what I thought was that if people knew me for my body then I positioned myself in that space, even for Dostana, etc, and I said ‘if this is what you like, then this is what you are going to get’. It was when I produced Vicky Donor and Madras Café that people realised that this guy has more to offer- there is just not an X-axis and Y-axis to this guy, there’s actually Z-axis too. And there’s a very three-dimensional approach to his thinking and the perception of John Abraham in the minds of the people has completely taken a u-turn since and there has been a complete 180 degrees shift. They are like ‘Woah – oh my god, we didn’t expect this from him.’ I think a lot of this comes out of self-conviction and while there were doubts in the minds of people – and when I say people it’s mostly our own respected trade.
I had a lot of self-conviction. I knew I could make a difference, I knew that I had a voice that needed to be heard and that confidence is only because of my audience.
AB – The films that you have produced have been very relevant and very different to the mainstream cinema of the time. Vicky Donor, on paper, is still about a topic that many would find difficult to speak about openly and still it did really well. The reception that it received from all quarters was frankly fabulous. And again Vicky Donor and Madras Café themselves were very different from each other. What factors are you looking at when approaching a film from the producer’s point of view?
JA –I just look at one thing really. My biggest, most fundamental prerequisite is content. You have to tell the right story and you have to tell the story rightly. So you look at the director and you have to make sure that they are worth it; so content and director firstly and then screenplay and how it is mounted and presented to the final audience. These are the main things. A lot of people have noticed that I do fewer films now – the only reason I take that long is that I spend a lot of my time on content creation. I work on ideas that I think are special. And most of my ideas are usually thrown out by the studios, because studios are corporates – they understand the financial side – they want a balance sheet but not much else. But I like to think I go beyond just the numbers – I like to funnel and fuel my ideas with my own finances – the finances that I have built rather than be at the mercy of the studio heads who sometimes just don’t understand what the heck is going on. But actually when my films releases, the same studio will call me up to congratulate me!
AB – You get along like a house on fire with the younger lot – whether it is launching Ayushmann Khurana in Vicky Donor or the equation that you share with Varun Dhawan that we have been seeing in a lot of stills and behind the scene images from sets of Dishoom as well as your interaction on social media. What would say about this camaraderie that you share with the younger lot?
JA – I just think that I came into the industry at the wrong time. Now finally I am spending a lot of time with like-minded people. Better late than never I say! [laughter] And I really enjoy my time with the younger lot – because I think that they come with no baggage and they are clean people – they are open, they are transparent and I say this about Ayushmann and Varun in the same breath. They are just such lovely people – not only them – you talk to an Arjun or a Sidharth – all of them actually are just really lovely guys and I really like spending time with them. As a producer I want to create content for them. I want to produce films for them.
AB – It must be tricky! Wouldn’t you say producing films for other actors is quite selfless for an actor’s point of view?
JA – Yeah but if I don’t think that way then I would kill myself like any other older actor would in terms of security. You know what I am saying? You need to be secure about your space, and I am very secure. Like I understand that my space is that of an action hero – like someone just said to me recently that you seem to be the last action hero. So it is cool when you hear something like that. In fact, I would really like to work with the younger lot. Like Varun and I genuinely have such a great time – we don’t know how quickly time passes on the set. With Sonakshi too, we have only about 15 days of the shoot left and that we have already done 45 days of the shoot!
‘Rocky Handsome’ hit screens on March 25th and we are looking forward to John packing a punch at the theatres!