John Abraham discusses third Force film, denies being part of Kabir Khan’s web series, says he’ll be back in December with his next production
Roshmila Bhattacharya (MUMBAI MIRROR; April 27, 2017)

Ten minutes to go for our 11 am appointment but the ever punctual John Abraham is already in his office. So is Bailey, who refuses to be kept on the other side of the glass door. She barks her way in, wagging her tail excitedly, sniffing around in circles, before settling at John’s feet. That’s puppy love!

Looking at his ‘baby’ fondly, he informs that she’s a rescue dog. Priya Agarwal who heads the shelter YODA (Youths Organization in Defence of Animals) got in touch with his wife Priya (Runchal) and requested they be her foster parents for three days. “One day, I saw this three-month pup getting out of an ambulance. Three days later, she left for her new home and I broke down. Within two days I’d brought her back. Today, she rules my life. I’m flustered if she’s unwell, which is scary,” he says with heart-warming candour.

More confessions when we move to his other love — his four bikes and a new sports car. “I’m half Parsi-Irani so I hardly ride them, I only polish them. If anyone wants to buy a car or a bike they can contact me. My rides are better than those in any showroom and have run no more than 100 kms each,” he informs. Realising that John’s not going anywhere, Bailey pads out.

His last release, Force 2, arrived on November 18, 2016, a week after demonetisation came into effect, and suffered its after-effects. He reveals that they’d toyed with the idea of shifting the release but the studio didn’t want to lose money. But the Force is still with him. Part 3 will kick off by the year-end with the actor bringing back the original, raw ACP Yashvardhan. “Force is all about body, action and plot, we’ll keep that intact. We already have a plot which is close to my heart. It’s one of the best true stories to come out of India,” John reveals.

Before Force 3 with Vipul Shah and director Abhinay Deo, he’s lined up another production which opens on December 8. He’s set the date because it offers him a clear two-week window and won’t entertain any calls on the subject. “I’ve moved enough for people, this time let them move their dates. January 26 would have been the ideal release date but two other films are already coming on Republic Day, including my friend Akshay Kumar’s 2.0 and he’d bash me up,” John chuckles.

The yet-untitled production is inspired by India’s successful nuclear test in Pokhran in 1998. After Force 2, he took an introspective break and decided only to make films that were special to him. He met Tere Bin Laden director Abhishek Sharma, who’d been working on this subject for over two years. “We took the idea from him and have been developing it in-house at JA Entertainment for the last 10 months. It’s not an arty, preachy film but more commercial than any mainstream film. It tells young people that if you think India is cool, then this is the reason why it’s cool,” he asserts.

John remembers being woken up, as a young boy, by a drop of water falling on his face. Looking up, he saw his mother crying as she drew the curtains. She told him India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had been killed and he wondered why the death of a stranger should impact their lives. “Later, when I started reading up on his assassination I understood why she’d been sad and I promised myself that I’d make a film on it. Shoojit (Sircar) shared my vision. Madras Café would have been our first production had we not been thrown out of every studio under 30 seconds. It was only after the hit Vicky Donor came out, that we were able to make it,” he reminisces.

The Pokhran tests triggers a memory too from his MBA days. He recalls reading about a villager there, who when asked how he felt about his house being broken, quipped, “Ghar toota to kya hua, Hindustan to ban gaya.” The words made John feel proud to be an Indian. “Since then I’ve wanted to make a film on the subject for myself and the country, tell the millennial generation that if India is a super power today, a part of BRICS, it’s because of these tests and such patriots,” he says, recalling how Aditya Chopra once told him that while his best films — Water, No Smoking and Kabul Express — may not have worked big commercially they define the actor he is. He agrees, pointing out that Kabir Khan’s Kabul Express took him to beleaguered Afghanistan. “Today, I’d wish for a film that would take me to Syria,” he muses.

Kabir has reportedly inculcated him into his upcoming web series, The Forgotten Army. John admits they did meet and talk but he’s not a part of the show. “Kabir is a fantastic director and human being and this is a dream project. It’ll make him an international name. I’m waiting to work with him again,” he smiles.

The smile disappears when you bring up the subject of the romantic thriller, Chor Nikal Ke Bhaaga, with him as a cop. He says it could be a part of KriArj Entertainment (they are co-producing the Pokhran test film with him) slate but not his. “Raj Kumar Gupta didn’t turn up for a few meetings so I don’t know where the film stands,” he shrugs.

Over the last three years, while other actors-producers were making films or buying foreign remake rights, John was developing original, in-house content, giving a story and a structure to an idea so an actor would buy it and the audience, consume it. “Today, I have two interesting ideas for web series which we’d like to play out in an episodic manner. It’s great that big players are entering the digital market because it offers me another window after theatrical. We’re still five years away from films being premiered directly on a digital platform because our top stars still want to see themselves on the big screen first. But I’m open to entering this space as an actor. If my team believes I’m right for a role, I’m game. If there are five other names before mine, I’ll go after them, even if they are A-listers,” he promises.

Unlike many of his actor-producer colleagues, John is more pragmatic about the digital revolution and foresees many of these players being dumped with bad content for which they’ve paid humongous prices, unless they are careful about what they pick. “I’ve faced the brunt of studio heads making bad choices, then questioning my content. Right now they’re mostly being sold stars, ideas and projects. I’m one of the few who has a story to sell and can take them through the visual flow chart. If they like it, great, if not, I’d have tried. I know there will be a sweet space for me in the future,” he asserts, pointing out that the thread that binds the industry is insecurity. “If someone is paid an ‘X’ amount, the other moves to another platform and demands more. It’s time to smell the coffee. If it’s only your face you have to offer, it’s not enough.”

He’s also realises that he doesn’t have a past library to offer them. “I have produced just four films and one-two in the future. My company’s still a boutique house. We’re not in a rat race to sell a slate. We are here to create original content,” he asserts.

The down-to-earth attitude is evident as the conversation moves to Abhay Deol and his Facebook post criticising actors who have endorsed fairness creams. “Abhay has a point, he has every right to say what he wants. But in our campaign, we don’t talk about fairness anymore, our focus is on results, like how to make blemishes lighter. We don’t play on the emotional quotient to sell our product. I stand by my brand. At the same time I’m thinking of approaching Abhay, whom I respect, for a film,” John signs off with a smile.