Ahead of his upcoming release, Dishoom, John Abraham talks to Soumita Sengupta about his production plans, on being typecast and why he is taking it slow.
You have done Desi Boyz with Rohit Dhawan. How and when did he tell you about his second directorial venture?
Rohit kept bouncing off ideas to me and he was talking about certain scripts that he wanted to make with other actors. We became friends after working with his father (David Dhawan) in Hook Ya Crook,then Desi Boyz happened and we got really close. After that, he kept discussing several film ideas with me.
Suddenly, he chanced upon this idea of a cop who has to find a cricketer who gets kidnapped. When he needs some help, he finds another cop, who is a rookie, and they go on this mission together. When Rohit asked me to play the cop, I asked him who the rookie cop was. He said he had a few options but I asked him why look at options when he had Varun (Dhawan). Obviously, he must have had Varun in mind and that’s how Dishoom happened. Varun and I have been friends, so the chemistry worked. We have been very close, so the transition was very simple in Dishoom.
These days, directors do a lot of prep and workshops before going on the floors as it saves a lot of trouble later. Was it the same for Dishoom?
Honestly, Rohit is a perfectionist. He sat with each one of us separately, and then with both Varun and me together. When he was sitting with us separately, he took us through each of our characters perfectly. When we sat together, he explained to us how each character behaves with the other and how this relationship gradually develops as the film progresses. You could call all those classes that Rohit took ‘workshops’ or ‘reading sessions’.
You faced some criticism when you started your career. How did you react to it?
I did not take note of the criticism but I took note of the people who criticised me. I think they all had to work on their careers after that! Those who criticised me have either fully or partly retired but I am still in the profession. That speaks for my perseverance, my work ethic and the fact that I never shied away from learning all the time.
I also learn from everyone, I learn from the cameramen, character actors and everyone present on the sets. It is important to understand that you have to keep your focus only on your work, concentrate on it and look at criticism constructively.
You are known for action and comedy but you have also done some out-of-the-box films like Water, Kabul Express and Madras Café. Was that a strategic decision?
Yes, I do give my choice of genre a lot of thought, and because of my physicality, people think action is my forte. But the films I enjoy most are films like Water, No Smoking and Kabul Express. That’s the space I really enjoy. After that, the other space I really enjoy is comedy. My record in comedy is 100 per cent, whether Garam Masala, Desi Boyz, Housefull 2, Dostana, Welcome Back… each of them was a super hit.
Aditya Chopra is someone I deeply respect and admire and he once said to me, ‘John, your best choices have been the unconventional ones. It doesn’t matter whether they worked or not, but they were the smartest choices.’ I will always do stuff that goes against the tide and does not follow the trend.
Have you ever been typecast?
Honestly, after Rocky Handsome, which didn’t really work, people have told me that it’s got the best action they have seen in Hindi cinema. And I have been approached only for action films like that, where I am like a killing machine.
I need to make people laugh now, I am not going to kill anyone! I think it’s my physicality more than the success of my films that draws in a lot of producers for me to do action roles. When you are 6 feet 1 inch tall and weigh 94-96 kg, you know you are looking at someone whose physicality doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the industry.
It’s very hard to catch such a big guy, and plus I don’t look like a body builder; I have an athletic physique. So it is a refreshing change for people to get someone like me, people who think I am the perfect action hero. I believe my attitude is that of an action hero.
You are one of the few actors whose production plans turned successful with their very first film. Vicky Donor is now a cult film. As a producer, why have you suddenly slowed down?
For me, production is few and far between. Madras Café came two and a half years after Vicky Donor, so my next film could come maybe in the next year and a half. My productions are going to be slow but they are going to be good films. No one is ever going to say that JA Entertainment makes bad films. So I need to take time.
I have the development head of Yash Raj with me, and she is helping me seed content in-house. We are looking at creating great content. It is not only me acting in those films but also approaching other actors. I want to act in a lot more films but I need to find the right scripts.
When you are offered a film to act in, how do you decide whether or not you want to be part of it?
Welcome Back obviously belongs to Feroz A Nadiadwallah, so I can’t produce that and I wouldn’t even attempt it. I co-produced Rocky Handsome because I liked the Korean film. I knew I was taking a risk as it was a really dark film and I know that dark films, as a rule, don’t work.
You need to make your film lighter and brighter but I still chose to do it because I knew there was going to be a huge takeaway from the film. And, for me, it was the action, and that worked, people praised the action in Rocky Handsome.
Force was with Fox Star Studios and I don’t think they saw much use in a sequel. But since Vipul Shah had the vision to see that Force 2 could become a bigger brand, he and I spoke and I decided to co-produce the film. Thankfully, we got Viacom18 Motion Pictures as the studio on board. So it’s content that I look for rather than anything else.
The industry has changed and a lot of newcomers are coming in. Do you view them as competition?
No, I see it as a blessing because I have always wondered why only eight people do all the work. Thankfully, there are now 15 people doing all the work. Unfortunately, there are only 15 men and two women. Don’t ask me who those two women are but there are only two or three women.
My point is that it’s great; the more, the merrier. We need more actresses and date issues will persist even if there are more men and less women. So we need to open doors and our Hindi film family has been accepting women from outside the industry. Men, not so much, as nepotism is really strong, so the new bunch will be from film fraternity itself.
In fact, the entire new bunch coming in is from the film fraternity, there are very few exceptions. I think the problem will persist but we have to introduce more and more newcomers. But you are asking the wrong person this question because if it was upto me, I would get the whole world into this industry!
How aware are you of every film you do, even if it’s not your production?
I do the math because I clearly want my films to work. Whether I produce them or not, my producers and the people who invested in me should not suffer losses. I know Rocky Handsome was a breakeven film for everyone. I know Force 2 has broken even and will break even on Day One too. I am very clear, I know the math.
Vipul and I have sat on that with Viacom. We know what the satellite sales, the music sales, the overseas sales and the digital sales are worth, and we also know our cost of production. When you equate the two, we are practically down to zero cost of production. So we only have to recover our print and advertising costs. If you spend Rs.10 crore on P&A, you recover Rs.20 crore. You have to understand the math.
I think Force 2 can easily do Rs.20 crore. I don’t see that as an issue but beyond that, you need to make a film that can entertain the audience. Setting the math aside, you also need to be creative as a producer. Math alone won’t help you or just being creative won’t help you; being both will help you and I think that has been an advantage for me.
Talking about production, do you plan to cater to the regional market?
Yes, talks are on for three or four regional films. There are some very interesting subjects and I will probably make an announcement in a month
After Force 2, have you signed anything?
After Force 2, I have signed nothing. I get offered scripts. Every day, I read two scripts or hear two ideas but nothing has excited me, so the answer is ‘no’. I am going slow and I am trying to make sure of what I do. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I am not worried. If I don’t sign a film, the world won’t come crashing down on me, it won’t. And I have strong shoulders to push it back up (if it does)!