Men envy and women go weak in their knees when they see John Abraham; thanks to his good looks and toned physique. The handsome hunk who initially started off as a sex symbol in the industry, recently made some daring choices that proved that he is not just a quintessential Bollywood hero dancing around the trees.
When the actor ventured into production, he made some content-driven films like 'Vicky Donor' and 'Madras Cafe' which the audience received with open arms. This week another film from his stable- 'Rocky Handsome' hits the theatrical screens.
In a candid chat in his office, John reveals how 'Rocky Handsome' was conceived, why he feels that it's his safest bet, how he bounced back in action when people wrote him off, why he doesn't believe in celebrating Holi and many such revelations.
Excerpts from the conversation-
Q. What drew you to 'Rocky Handsome'?
A. I always wanted to make an action film that has a lot of emotions in it. I was a big fan of this film called 'Taken' and my co-producer said, John why don't you see this Korean film called 'The Man From Nowhere'. When I saw it I totally fell in love with it. I had tears in my eyes. I said that this is really emotional and then I decided to go to Nishikant because I have worked with him in 'Force'. I am a big fan of his and also his friend. I loved his two films especially 'Dombivali Fast' and 'Mumbai Meri Jaan'. I knew that this man could handle emotions really beautifully. So I went to him and told him that Nishi, will you do this and he said I would love to do it. And then we saw the action in the film and I was like I will really have to train myself hard for this. I was in Thailand for little more than a month where I trained everyday for 14-15 hours. In the process, I hurt myself a lot. I did a lot of martial art forms like 'Tai Chi' and knife-fighting. Of course those knifes were blunt but then you keep getting jabbed. So in the evening when I used to go for a shower, there was no skin, only black and blue marks. I recorded the whole action sequences and showed it to Nishi. The biggest compliment for me was he said that it looks like you have been doing martial arts since childhood. That was the biggest compliment I have got. The title 'Rocky Handsome' is of course his baby. He initially titled it as 'Johnny Handsome'. But then Johnny Handsome is a patent character in the US. So we couldn't get the rights. Then we settled on 'Rocky Handsome'. I was very happy because I love Sylvester Stallone and his 'Rocky' series.
Q. So is 'Rocky Handsome' a tribute to Stallone's 'Rocky'?
A. No. Actually 'Rocky Handsome' is not a tribute to Sylvester Stallone's 'Rocky'. 'Rocky Handsome' is a completely different beast, a different film. But I am happy that Rocky is used there because it's my homage to Stallone. I got into films because of Stallone. I was young when I saw 'Rocky IV' and I was like 'Men, how can a guy look like this!' I then decided to workout and get into shape. He made a difference in my life. Now I want to make a difference in lot of people's lives positively. I owe a lot to him in that way. For me even if he sees the film or knows that it exists is big. I like that guy. I felt sad when he didn't win the Oscars for 'Creed'.
Q. John, you said that you are very much confident about your film. So what's your secret to that confidence?
A. I am very confident that it's a good film. I do not know about numbers. If I knew about numbers then I would make only hit films. But I am confident that we made a good film and my banner JA Entertainment only wants to make quality films. With 'Rocky Handsome' we have gone very safe with the films that we want to make. It's commercially the safest film of mine. Our first film was about sperm donation while the second one dealt with the killing of the ex Prime Minister. I am commercially very safe with this film. But in the space of being safe commercially I wanted to make a film with two things- great content and a great director. I think I have got those two right. My content is fantastic and my director is outstanding. Now what remains to be seen is we want the world to know that 'Rocky Handsome' is releasing on the 24th of March. Then it's their choice whether they want to see or not.
Q. 'Force' was highly appreciated when it released and people still watch it even today. So when you and Nishikant Kamat came together for this film, was there any conscious effort to make sure that you reinvent yourself despite bringing together similar sensibilities and yet push the benchmark ahead?
A. We didn't realize there was any pressure until we started doing the interviews. Once Nishi finished the film we were very clear that the villain in 'Rocky Handsome' should have not just the body but also the brains. For example once when the reporters interviewed Stephen Hawking and asked him what's your dream? He said that my dream is to play a bad guy in a James Bond film. And trust me that there can be nothing more dangerous than that man because of his mind and brains. The brain is the most attractive quality and also the most dangerous. You can vouch for it. I and Nishi felt that the villain has to be very strong and far more intelligent. I think that we have outdone 'Force' in that department. Our villain is fantastic and is played by Nishi himself. As far as the action was concerned it is 'Force' to the power of ten. Because this time when I did the action and I came back, Nishi said that, man, this is not John Abraham in 'Force'..this is somebody else. In 'Force' I had a massive body but it had a very different kind of action which was very brutal. Here the action what we have is very sexy, urban and cool. It should appeal with the women audience as well. So it's not cutting and blood flying out. At the same time we want to make the action very palatable to the families as well. You can do the best action in the world but if your film-maker, screenplay, content and emotions are not right then your film is not going to work. Action only looks beautiful if it's backed by emotions. The best point I can tell you is Salman Khan tearing off his shirt in 'Dabangg'. It's unbelievable but it worked because the emotions were right. Emotions have to be right then people overlook whatever you do.
Q. How did you strike a balance between being this really tough guy and bringing in that sort of vulnerability at the same time?
A. When I did 'Jism' Bhatt Saab called me and said that I want a guy who looks tough and has the vulnerability of a child. He said that the last time I saw someone like that was Sanjay Dutt. He said that you have that in you and you should be in films. I was a model then and didn't wanted to be in films. I did 'Jism' and it became a hit. That time I really didn't know what a hit was until my next few films flopped. I think that there is a certain quality that every actor gets to the screen. In my case, in my heart I am a very soft and emotional person. I can cry very easily. But at the same time I know that there is a tough exterior. No one would believe me if I told them that I haven't even touch a fly. I haven't harmed any body. I have not fought in school or college. No one has hit me. So there is a certain quality that I bring in. I am non-confrontational and don't prove a point with strength. That's what the character 'Rocky Handsome' needed. He is a guy who didn't really cared about anything until this little girl comes and breaks him down completely. That's the beauty of a child. Only child can do that.
Q. What martial art forms have you used in the film?
A. One form that we primarily used was Takido. It took me a lot of time to master that art. But when you master it then your body language speaks. It's poetry in motion. The action in the film is not gory. Women can also learn a lot out of it for sheer self-defence.
Q. So what's more comfortable, playing a tough guy or a soft one?
A. I love the emotional side of things. That's one thing that really pulls me into a film. I started that with 'Jism'. That's the thing that comes naturally to me. I know that there is a certain emotion that I bring on screen. Be it when my wife died in 'Madras Cafe' or when I was tortured in 'New York'. I love and live for that space. It's because I love pain. It's probably because we draw from our past experiences and that is what we are taught. The toughest thing to do is to make one laugh.
Q. In one of your old interviews you had said that when you started in the industry, because of your muscular body people used to call you 'Salman'. Then once you made your mark, people stopped referring you by Salman's name and you had your own identity...
A. I think it's important to build your own identity. When you are new, people will call you by other names. It's not only Salman. I could have been called anybody else because people didn't know me at that time. Once they know you, they identify you..there might be other actors who were called John. So it happens. I pay no heed to that.
Q. You have seen ups and downs in your life. People had written you off but you bounced back. How would you define your journey from 'Jism' to now 'Rocky Handsome'?
A. Every time I went down, I didn't realize that I was down until I went up again. In 2010 I had 3-4 flops in a row and then I had films like 'Force', 'Housefull 2' and other successful films. I only had good run. And suddenly when I had a good run, I thought about it. I had previously read an article that said John Abraham is over. And I totally understand where it came from. I was just failing in whatever I was doing. The only thing that will get you through such testing times is self conviction. Your parents, boyfriends or husbands will tell you anything. Nothing is going to help you until you have that self-conviction to beat this and go to the next level. If you don't have that, you are defeated there itself. So the only thing that has brought me back is self-conviction. I tell myself that I can do it. The world thinks this way, I think otherwise. The world thinks that I can walk out only in yellow trunks then no I can even produce and make sensible films. If they say that after production will you direct a film? I will do it! So unless I don't have that self conviction, no one will have that conviction in me. It's science. I radiate that energy. As people we are very sensitive. You sometimes feel a negative vibe because everybody radiates an energy and that's nothing to got with religion. So I think that self-conviction is the best energy you can radiate outside to tell and convince people that you can do it.
Q. How do you make a choice when it comes to films?
A. First of all as an actor, initially I didn't get a chance in the kind of films that I make which is why I decided to produce them. Then when I got into production I realized that there are certain films that I don't fit into which is why you cast Ayushmann (Khurrana) or someone else in my next productions that I am going to announce soon. But you want a certain kind of cinema to be seen by an audience. That's the reason why I got into doing what I could do. But it took me time because people had to have faith in me, I had to build that credible base and that base of so called 'being a star' to kind of sell your ideas. The minute I got that opportunity I sold 'Vicky Donor' and 'Madras Cafe'. I want people to understand that what I am saying does make sense. I am not here to bullshit anyone. I am here to make good cinema. But I am here also to marry commerce with content. 'Madras Cafe' was one of its first kind. Then you had 'Airlift' and 'Neerja'. It's so heartening to see that these films are working beautifully. Similarly it's important that someone has to make a change somewhere and I like being that person. I also get beaten for it but it's an enjoyable process. I really believe that one of my best films is 'No Smoking'. But did anybody see it? I think even the critics walked away. People said that Anurag and John are psycho to do such films. Despite of this, later I even told Anurag that let's make a sequel to 'No Smoking'. People make sequels of hit films, let's make a sequel of a flop film. And he was shocked. (smiles)
Q. There were reports that you have roped in Varun Dhawan for your next production..
A. No, I had said that I would love to produce a film for Varun. It's a video byte. But someone portrayed me as saying that I am producing a film for him. Varun is like my little brother and we really get along well. I have done Desi Boyz with Rohit (Dhawan) and 'Dishoom' with Varun and there will be 'Dishoom' 8, 9, 10 and so on. But I think that Varun is a lovely and a very talented boy. As a producer I am thinking of ways in which I could present him in the best possible manner. So I constructively asked him that how would he like to see himself being projected. I like to feed off what he is saying. And he was like John, in our industry no actor asks that to his counterparts. I said that I like that space. I pushed Ayushmann and I will do the same to anybody who comes because I like to see them in that space. One of my biggest advantages is my sense of security. If I am just stuck as an actor, insecure about what my colleagues is doing then I won't grow as a person. But if I think as a producer for a larger cause, we make good cinema together. So I think we must compliment people rather than competing. That's my way of looking at things.
Q. You are a good friend of Dhoni. How do you see Sushant Singh Rajput in that role?
A. Fantastic. I won't be surprise if he plays cricket as well as do films. I am sure that he has practised a lot. Sushant is the perfect cast for Dhoni. I just hope for Dhoni and Sushant that the film does fantastic and I am always there to support it.
Q. How do you plan to celebrate Holi?
A. I don't celebrate Holi. I will give you a very honest answer. I think men misuse Holi and they are very perverse. So I don't really respect how Holi is being celebrated these days. Franking I am telling you..all these festival of colours is all a garb. If you ask me I would say that there is a civil way of just putting some gulal on someone's forehead and it's fine. Also there is a waste of water and you are cutting trees and destroying nature. You are destroying everything possible in the name of religion