Going Beyond Oomph
Think John Abraham and the term ‘hot bod’ spontaneously springs to mind – with images of the sexy actor displaying his taut physique in a pair of bright yellow shorts in Dostana or swinging from a pole in his toy boy avatar in Desi Boyz. For a long time John, who burned the screen with his physical appeal, was known more for his looks than for his sensitive acting, even though he had come up trumps in movies like Baabul, Viruddh, Kabul Express and much more recently, Madras Café.
Quietly, in his own way, a short while ago, John decided to reinvent himself and morphed into a producer – his first production, Vicky Donor, wooed the masses and critics alike; while his second one, released a few weeks ago, Madras Café, not only stood out for its gripping plot, but showcased the actor in a powerful role.
For John, his life has much to offer at the moment. Personally, he is now in a relationship with Priya Runchal, an NRI financial analyst and investment banker and talks of an impending marriage are doing the rounds. Professionally, the 40-year-old star is content. For, finally he is being accepted as an actor and a producer and not just as eye candy to be feasted on.
I catch up with him a few days before the release of Madras Café in a suite at the Taj Lands End, Mumbai, to find him in a supremely relaxed mood. He strolls around the rooms with his characteristic unstarry simplicity – and yet, is the cynosure of all eyes, whether dressed in his casual cargoes or in the more formal suit that he slips into. He is equally comfortable striking the classic pose, an elbow on the table, or flopping down in the midst of countless film CDS and DVDS.
Having met him a few weeks earlier in his Bandra home, today it is time to carry that conversation ahead. In chatty mode, John unwinds about his dreams and passions – going beyond the six-pack physique and the powerful bikes that he is most known for.
JOHN ABRAHAM, UNPLUGGED, IN HIS OWN WORDS:
MY GOOD LOOKS RESTRICTED THE ROLES I GOT.
My image deters many directors from giving me roles that I want to do. I have no issues with that because every director has to create the team that he needs. As far as I am concerned, Sanjay Gupta and I are a team. Kabir Khan got a great performance out of me in New York. Milan Luthria did it in Taxi No 9211. Some directors still do not come to me because they say we will approach him if we need someone with a great body. But, I think, Shootout At Wadala has changed that mindset and I can see that in some of the roles I am being offered now.
I WANTED TO TURN PRODUCER.
I have always done films that I believe in, but they have usually not translated into commercial successes. The best example is Water, which got nominated for the Academy Awards as the best foreign film but didn’t run in this country. As a producer, I wanted to marry commerce with content – I wanted to make a film that I believed in but one that was not so smart that it would not be palatable for the general movie-going audience. So, I sprung Vicky Donor.
MADRAS CAFÉ CHANGED THE WAY PEOPLE LOOK AT ME.
I am not at all apologetic about having a great body, but I think it is high time that people took me seriously. I feel very happy today that I am being accepted as a producer, an actor and not just as a sex symbol.
INITIALLY, ALL I WANTED TO BE WAS THE TOP MODEL IN THE COUNTRY.
Even though modelling happened purely by chance, I wanted to bag all the biggest contracts. For me, unlike other models, modelling was not a route to get into films. But then Vikram Bhatt, Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt called me. They wanted to cast me in Aetbaar. Later Bhattsaab told me that there was a film his daughter (Pooja) was doing. He felt that I had the body of a man, but there was some vulnerability in my face, which would enable me to carry off the role of Kabir Lal. That’s how I did Jism.
THE WORD ‘STAR’ IS NARCISSISTIC.
It is not all about looking good and being on a roll. I still feel a little odd when people say, “Hey, you are a star!” Stardom is very transitory. It is here today, gone tomorrow. I don’t want to believe that I am in that space. The idea is to keep your mental compartment in a space where you believe that you are still the John Abraham or the person you started off from.
I WAS EMBARRASSED WHEN GIRLS CALLED ME HANDSOME.
The importance of looking good never really excited me. But one day when I was in the eighth grade, I told my father when he appeared stressed about work, “Dad, one day I’ll sell this face and make money for you.” I said it jokingly but it was very prophetic for that is what exactly happened later on. Yet, when I was in school (Bombay Scottish School) I would be very embarrassed when the senior girls called me handsome. I would run away and hide in my classroom. In school, you are popular because you are good at a sport – me and my friends were good at football.
I AM NOT OBSESSED WITH THE MIRROR.
I tell people to stop looking in the mirror all the time. I see my face in it once in the morning and when my make-up is done before a shot. The mirror is not in front of me all the time. The feeling that you are good looking is a very dangerous terrain to enter into because the minute you are there, you are very insecure. You are constantly wondering how the next guy looks. I am detached from that space. So, that enables me to compliment other men. When I see a great body or a great face, I encourage the person. That is because from the bottom of my heart I feel secure. It is something that I have grown up with.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEAN THE MOST TO ME.
The values your parents have inculcated in you should stay with you forever. For me, it is important to never lose the connection with the audience. It’s very important for me to make people feel comfortable. If I make them uncomfortable then as a star it would get murky for me. People would be a little apprehensive unless I broke the ice. My closest friends are from school. So, even when Hrithik, Aamir and I get together for work, we only talk about growing up together. There is no sense of competition at all.
I HAVE SIMPLE TASTES.
I have no issues about travelling by public transport. I get worried when I see how expensive the auto fare has become. Everyone works hard for their money. I am not an extravagant spender. One rupee is 100 paise and I work hard for what I make. I have certain beliefs that I stand for. I will not be seen at a film party just for the heck of it. But, I will be at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon or I will turn up for the Make A Wish Foundation. I’m not only a philanthropist; I know I am an entertainer. But if I do not take the responsibility of using the platform to do good, I would be a narcissistic individual.
TO MAINTAIN MY BODY, I JUST KEEP EATING.
I have about eight meals a day. When you go to the gym you break down your muscles. So, when you eat right, you build them. It is important to feed them properly. For me going to the gym is like a religion. I don’t go to a place of worship. I go to the gym and believe that that is my sanctum sanctorum. I was born to live in it. But I don’t mindlessly lift heavy weights. There is a lot of science that goes behind the way I train. I am very happy with the way things are progressing. I will touch 100 per cent very soon. Former heavyweight David Hayes and I are tying up. We are looking to train people not in boxing but specifically cardio. I am looking at setting up a huge flagship gym so that people can appreciate that this means a lot to me – and should mean a lot to them too – as a lifestyle. Fitness is not about six packs. It is about being healthy. That is it. The six-pack syndrome is for the movies.
I WAKE UP REALLY EARLY.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. My day starts at about 5 or 5.30 am. Someone just asked me today if I didn’t feel I was wasting my time by going to sleep at 10 pm. I feel that life passes you by when you wake up late. For me, getting up early is a discipline; it is all about having a clean mind. This is important because it shows the energy around you. It’s always good to have positive energies in your life. It’s important to be good. We are not models any more, we are role models. I do not believe that it’s cool to be bad. The cool factor of being bad is over and done with or has been overplayed.
I AM CASUAL IN MY DRESSING.
At home, I often just wear a pair of boxers, nothing else. And on Sunday, I have a small sweet audience that comes out and waves as I stand near the cantilevered steps in my home. They face a huge window. When I get into my sweat pants, I wear a simple T-shirt with it. I step out of the house wearing just that and flip-flops. I do not think you need to wear dark glasses or have bodyguards to be a star. And, remember, I am the star who rides a motorcycle! Where would the bodyguard sit? I would be concerned about him touching parts of my motorcycle.
I AM IMPULSIVE.
I cannot say what my plans for the future are. All I know is that when relationships end, you have to move on and let bygones be bygones. That is life. As an actor, everything is scrutinised. As actors, we learn to handle the fact that the person sitting next to you on a flight thinks he knows all about your life because he has read stuff in the paper. Today, I have someone really special in my life. Priya is the rock in my life. What I admire most about her is her sense of self. She has a strong sense of her own individuality. That is what I love about the woman of today. The day we decide (to get married), we will just tie the knot and let the world know.
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