Gone are the days when John Abraham was used to beautify a film with his ridiculously hot bod and tiny yellow swimming trunks.
Once labelled a sex symbol with little to no acting talent, the man has come a long way and earned critical acclaim with critical and commercial hits like ‘Force’ and ‘Shootout at Wadala’.
Today, he is not just an intelligent actor but also an extremely successful and astute producer, backing films as diverse as the sperm donor drama ‘Vicky Donor’ and the war flick ‘Madras Cafe’.
Ahead of his next release ‘Rocky Handsome’, Abraham spoke to Divya Rao about the film and the effort that went into making it.
Divya Rao: What I take away from the trailer so far is that you play this mean killing machine. Tell me a little about this film.
John Abraham: Rocky Handsome has always been a film that I’ve wanted to do because of the quirk and the action but I always believe and stand by the fact that any amount of action is useless without the right emotion backing it. Then I saw a Korean film called ‘The Man From Nowhere’ and fell completely in love with it and thought this was the perfect mix of emotion and action. We got the official remake rights for it. As you must know, Korean films are dark. We made sure we took out the darkness from this film and gave this film a lot more emotion. I approached Nishikant Kamath, my director, with this film and was fortunate that he said yes, and we decided to make it. Emotions aside, I believe that the action in this film is something that India has never seen before or probably very few places or films have you seen this kind of action. We’ve really worked hard for it. But most importantly, Rocky Handsome is this film about this relationship between this man and a little six and a half year old girl who comes into his life, who breaks this man down.
DR: Talk to me about this man….
JA: Well, my character is this man who runs a pawnshop and my neighbour is this little girl who is often neglected by her mother. She keeps calling me handsome. She keeps telling me, “You know you look like a criminal but you look really handsome.” So, she keeps poking me, pulling my leg, she keeps having fun and I ignore her all the time. Somewhere in the film you realize that something happens to this little girl and then I lose it. That’s when you realize that this guy has a name, which is ‘Rocky’, and that’s why he’s called ‘Rocky Handsome’.
DR: I’m intrigued by this never seen before action that you talked about. How did you prepare for it?
JA: It was crazy! You know when I saw the action in the original film, I actually got nervous and thought that if I can get even fifty percent of this, it will be something that India hasn’t seen before. I later thought why are we attempting fifty, lets attempt all hundred percent! I went to Thailand, trained for a month and I trained for fourteen hours a day, everyday, just to get movements right. I had to make sure these action sequences look like poetry in motion. I trained with blunt knifes. Every time I’d go into the shower in the evening after training, my body would burn because of all the cuts. There were times I thought “Why am I doing this? Why am I going through this pain?” I realized that I signed up for action and it’s all worth it. My biggest validation came when I showed the rehearsals to my director when I came back, and his first comment was “It looks like you’ve been doing martial arts since the age of four”. He spoke about how I wasn’t the John Abraham he had directed in Force but another beast! When you see the action in the film, you’ll realize the effort that has gone into every little detail of that action. It’s a very special film for me, with extremely specialized action sequences and I’ve been inspired by Silat and Wing Chun; they’re forms of martial arts. They’re beautiful. It makes you look graceful and there’s a lot of Tai Chi in the film, for the element of stillness that this character has. We’ve had a lot of fun with it but we’ve also trained really hard.
DR: Speaking of action, what I find really interesting is that all three of your releases this year are action films. Was that a conscious decision or was it just a happy coincidence?
JA: Contrary to what it may seem, it actually wasn’t a conscious decision because I just go purely by content. If the content excites me, I’ll do the film. For me, all my three films this year had amazing content. Rocky Handsome, Dishoom and Force 2 – all have great content. ‘Force 2’ is absolutely unbelievable! Fortunately for me, all of the films are action films. I really enjoy action and action comes as second nature to me. If you look at all the Hollywood stars that are big action heroes, they really don’t do as much action. It’s about their attitude, be it Bruce Willis in Die Hard, where he says, “Go ahead, make my day”; or where you have Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “I’ll be back”; or Dwayne Johnson in Furious Five. It’s not about the action or the body, as much as it is about the attitude. I believe action is your chin upwards than your chin below. I think you must have the attitude of an action star knowing that you’re going to bust them all because you’re the king of the world.
DR: You’ve previously worked with Nishikant Kamath as a director. This time he dons the hat of director and actor. What was that experience like?
JA: It was a fantastic experience! Because we’re friends and we’ve worked together on various projects in the past, our relationship is beautiful. The process was seamless. He came on screen and he just performed the shots and he did it effortlessly. Even though he plays this horribly sinister character, he giggled through it all! We share that kind of chemistry. He then later told me that he’s never going to direct and act in the same film because it’s extremely tough. He’d tell me that while acting, he’d be concentrating on the trolley movement instead and looking at all the cameras. It was a learning process for him but let me assure you, and I can only compare this to our last film Force where the antagonist had a body, but this one has a brain. Nishikant Kamat has gone to a completely different level and has taken the role of a villain to the next level because when a villain thinks, he’s more dangerous than when a villain hits. Where the action is concerned, the action is ten notches higher than Force. We’re talking about a completely different beast and Rocky Handsome is probably Force squared! It’s so intense in terms of its action but in this we’ve made sure that the action is very palatable to the women audience. Usually action is associated with gall and blood. This action is very cool and sexy, smart and urban.
DR: It’s interesting that you mention that because the audience today is changing. Do you think that women today are more receptive to action-packed films?
JA: That’s actually a fantastic question because I was shocked when we did this test screening. We showed our film to young girls and boys. Of course the boys loved it but the most shocking thing for me was that the girls came out raving out it! We asked them what they liked – the emotions or the action? They said the emotions were really beautiful but we loved the action. I was taken aback when they said the action was sexy! It took me by surprise that there’s a young population of girls out there for whom action is really cool, and they’re more than willing to watch it.
DR: Apart from being an actor, you’re also a producer. Does that in any way impact the kind of choices you make today? Has that changed your perspective?
JA: I’ll tell you why I became a producer in the first place. It’s because I couldn’t do the films that I really wanted to do and I said when I gain some amount of commercial standing in the industry, I’ll decide to make that switch. If you notice, I made that switch far earlier than a lot of the other actors. It then became a trend for other actors to do so but I made that switch making sure that I don’t star in my first production venture, so that people can understand that I really mean business. For me, it was very important to become a producer, to make my voice heard. I think it has impacted me as an actor in terms of the roles I select, simply because when I work under JA Entertainment, which is my own banner, I feel safer. I know the content is taken care of, I know the quality of the film is taken care of. Then when I get out, I get worried as to who’s going to provide me with what. So, there’s a strange sense of self-assurance coming from the same physical being.
DR: Lastly, I’d like to know how you feel about the Indian Censor Board? Did it bother you that your film was awarded an ‘A’ rating?
JA: Well, Nishikant and me, both respect their decision. They have their own reasons, so that’s fine. But we know that there’s absolutely nothing that is adult about our film. It is absolutely universal, it’s got no expletives, no exposure, no double meaning. It’s got nothing except for the fact that the girl gets kidnapped, and for them, that was adult in its nature. I was scratching my head when I heard of this and couldn’t quite understand why. But, we’ll live with this decision for now and we’ll fight another day. For now, I hope the audience enjoys our film.
‘Rocky Handsome’ is in cinemas 25 March.