Action looks beautiful when backed by emotions – John Abraham
From a model to an actor, John Abraham has come a long way and carved a space for himself in the Hindi film industry. From mainstream films to unconventional cinema, the actor has been associated with some interesting projects. He also took a step further and ventured into film production with Vicky Donor, which went on to become a huge hit.
John, who is known for his high-octane action skills will soon be seen in Nishikant Kamat’s action thriller, Rocky Handsome, which he has also produced. We caught up with the dynamic actor to know more about his upcoming film, his journey since Jism and his drive for action-oriented stories.
How did you’ll decide to make Rocky Handsome?
I always wanted to make an action film that has a lot of emotion in it. I’m a big fan of movies like Taken. When my co-producer asked me to see the Korean film The Man from Nowhere, I thought that the story was really emotional and totally fell in love with it. And I said that I want to do this. I then went to Nishikant (Kamat, Director) because I’ve worked with him on Force. We are friends and I’m a big fan of his work too. I love his films, specially Dombivali Fast and Mumbai Meri Jaan. I knew that this man could handle emotions really beautifully. So I went to him and asked him if he’d like to do this (film) and he said that he would love to do it.
We saw the action in the film and realized that I would have to train well for it. So I went to Thailand for a little more than a month and trained everyday for 14-15 hours a day. We did a lot of art forms like Tai Chi and knife fights. The knives were blunt but when you practice you keep getting hurt. Every evening when I used to go for a shower, my skin would be all black and blue. It was very painful and some of the cuts were open. We recorded all the action sequences and showed them to Nishikant and he told me that it appears as though I’ve been doing martial arts since childhood, which was a big compliment. That’s how we decided to make Rocky Handsome. The title is Nishikant’s baby. He wanted ‘Johnny Handsome’ but that’s already a character is the US and has been patented, so we couldn’t get the rights. So we went ahead with ‘Rocky Handsome’ as the title.
You can have the best action in the world but if your screenplay and content is not right, your film is not going to work.
Force was highly appreciated and people talk about the film even today. So when Nishikant and you decided to come together for this film, was there a conscious effort to make sure that you re-invent yourself and push the benchmark?
We didn’t realize that there was pressure until we started doing these interviews (laughs). The one thing that we were very clear about was that the villain in Rocky Handsome has to not just have a body, but have brains too. I remember watching one of Stephen Hawking’s interviews where they asked him what his dream was? And he said, ‘My dream is to play the bad guy in a James Bond film’. And there would’ve been nothing more dangerous than that man playing the bad guy because brains are the most attractive quality and mouths are the most dangerous. So Nishi (Nishikant) and I both felt that our villain has to be very strong minded. If he’s intelligent, it makes him all the more dangerous. And I think that we’ve outdone Force in that part. Our villain is fantastic and it’s played by Nishi himself. The action in Force was very different, very brutal. But here the action is sexy, urban and cool. We wanted it to appeal to our women audiences as well. You can have the best action in the world but if your screenplay and content is not right, your film is not going to work. Action only looks beautiful if it’s backed by emotion.
The trailer looks amazing and we see your character having a soft side to it as well. What are you more comfortable with, playing the tough guy or the soft one?
I love the emotional side of me. That’s one thing that pulls me into a film because that comes to me naturally. It’s because we draw from our past experiences. If you sit alone and you’re put in a closed room and I tell you to cry, you’ll break down after a point. And I accelerate that breaking down process in my films. It comes very easily to me. The toughest thing to do is to make people laugh.
How do you balance between being the tough guy and bringing that vulnerability into your role, which was visible even in Force?
That’s how I am. For Jism, Bhatt (Mahesh Bhatt, Filmmaker) sahab called me and said that he wanted a guy who’s really tough but has the vulnerability of a child. He told me that I had it in me and that I should be in films. I was a model at that time. So I did Jism and it became a hit. I didn’t even know what a hit was until my next film flopped. In my heart, I’m a very soft and emotional person. I can cry very easily. At the same time I know that due to my tough exterior, no one will believe me if I told them that I’ve never touched even a fly in my life. I’ve never fought in school or college. I’m non-confrontational. I think that’s what the character of Rocky Handsome needed. He’s a guy who doesn’t really care about anything in life. But this little girl comes and breaks it all. That’s the beauty of a child.
Tell us about the martial arts used in the film.
The one form that we primarily used was Aikido. We wanted the action in the film to look beautiful and wanted an aspirational element to it. Hence we chose this form.
Working with kids is often considered to be difficult. How was your experience of working with Diya?
It is indeed hard work. But Diya is a fantastic girl in terms of temperament and maturity. She’s always smiling and is always positive. She’s also a gymnast and would show me new tricks everyday. And our relation off screen actually helped the film a lot. She’s a darling who has changed my way of looking at children.
For Jism, Bhatt sahab wanted a guy who’s really tough but has the vulnerability of a child.
Looking back, how would you define your journey from your debut in Jism to Rocky Handsome?
In 2010 I had 3-4 flops and then I did films like Force, Shootout at Wadala etc. The only thing that will get you through tough times is self-conviction. And that’s the only thing that has brought me back. I always tell myself that I can do it. Self-conviction is the best energy that you can radiate to the world.
When did you decide to venture into production? And how do you choose a film that you would like to back?
As an actor I initially didn’t get the opportunity to work in the kind of films that I’m making. Which is why I decided to produce. However, when I got into production I realized that there are certain films that I don’t fit into. That’s why I cast Ayushmann (Khurrana, Actor) for Vicky Donor. You want a certain kind of cinema to be seen by the audience. But it took me time because people have to have faith and you need to build that credible base. The minute I got the opportunity I made Vicky Donor. I want people to understand that what I’m saying does make sense. I’m here to make good cinema. But I’m also here to marry commerce with content. If you see Madras Cafe, it was a first-of-its-kind film. So I think that it’s important that someone makes a change. And I like being that person. I also get beaten for it (laughs). But it’s an enjoyable process. I still think that my best film is No Smoking.
As an actor I initially didn’t get the opportunity to work in the kind of films that I’m making.
You seem to be very confident about the film. Is there a success formula behind it?
I’m confident that it’s a good film. But I don’t not know about numbers. If I knew about numbers I would make only hit films. But I’m confident because at my banner, JA Entertainment, we want to make quality films. Rocky Handsome is commercially safe. So in the space of making commercially safe films, I wanted to ensure two things – great content and a great director and I got both.
What’s the one message that you’d like to give the audience ahead of the release of Rocky Handsome?
It’s an emotional film. If you want to go through the journey of seeing something beautiful, if you’re a child or a parent/guardian, then this is the film for you because you’ll really understand the emotions.
-Transcribed by Kiran Dave