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My first salary was Rs 11,800: John Abraham

High on the success of his latest film, John Abraham visited the MiD DAY office yesterday. John has managed to earn newfound respect for him as a producer who dares to choose a rather tricky subject for his movies. In a frank chat, the diehard Liverpool fan spills the beans on the challenges of making ‘different’ movies and getting hooked on to power games.

John Abraham
Pic/Rane Ashish

What was the biggest obstacle you faced while producing Madras Cafe?
The idea behind this film sprouted long before we (Shoojit Sircar and I) got down to work on Vicky Donor. Whenever we pitched the storyline to someone, the usual response was “Hmmm” or “Yeah, yeah” because there are certain stories we are afraid of touching thanks to their sensitive nature. It’s like walking a dangerously thin line. However, once we decided to make the film, there was no looking back. Besides, the trade was expecting us to make Vicky Donor 2, not Madras Cafe.

Did the protests against your film bother you?
Though South is not really a huge market for Hindi films, the demonstrations were more baffling than disturbing. How can it hurt Tamilian sentiments when the film is so pro-Tamil? The answer is simple: people assumed even before watching the film and the political parties hijacked the events as usual.

You’re known to be politically aware but do you see yourself supporting a political party?
I don’t think it’d be right to influence public opinion. The reason why I’m politically aware is the whole power game is intriguing. In fact, JFK, Syriana, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down are the kind of films which I love watching. It’s no coincidence that all of them have a strong political backdrop. They are also the reason why I thought it’s high time a film like Madras Cafe got made.

Can we expect more off-the-beaten-track films from you in the future?
As a producer, yes. Having said that, I don’t wish to eat my own words tomorrow if I happen to produce a masala film. Moreover, producers like Firoz Nadiadwala are more well-equipped than I am to produce a massy film. My trick is to experiment with a sensible form of cinema. It doesn’t necessarily have to be artsy. We can always take the commercial angle into consideration. As an actor, I enjoy working in slapstick comedies. It’s fun. I can’t be condescending towards a Housefull or a Welcome Back just because I made a Vicky Donor or a Madras Cafe. There’s more than enough space for all genres of cinema and different audience caters different films.

Are you in a relatively comfortable space vis-à-vis the industry today?
As an actor-producer, the idea is to be accepted by everyone from the trade to the critics to general public but it doesn’t work that way. When you least expect is usually when you get more accepted. I’m not on a mission to change the face of Bollywood but at the same time, I think supporting content-based films and going back to the basics is important. All films don’t have to be big. If the product is good enough, it will eventually find its audience.

What equation do you share with Shoojit Sircar?
We connect more in terms of co-producers than as actor and director. We both share similar ideas when it comes to movies on topics that are unconventional. He appreciated my work in No Smoking, Water and Kabul Express. Of course none of these films were a commercial success but it’s nice to have someone who knows you very well and shares the same taste in filmmaking. We’re collaborating on a number of upcoming projects. We complement each other except when we’re on a football field. He can run for the whole 90 minutes whereas I can’t. (Laughs)

There were reports of you planning something in the football space as well.
Yes, Shoojit and I are keen on a football-based script. It’s in the writing stage and we’re moving in that direction. I’m also teaming up with Baichung Bhutia to build a football academy in Sikkim which got delayed because of the earthquake.

What role does your middle class upbringing play in the person that you are today?
I come from a family that was far removed from opulence. My mother still travels in a BEST bus. Even I take a rickshaw every now and then. The advantage of a middle class upbringing is you value money and save for the future. And it’s not about money as much as it’s about everyday values. My first salary was Rs 11,800 and I still maintain that account in Bank of Maharastra. It helps to stay rooted in this industry.

Will direction be the next step for you?
It’s inevitable. What’s little known about me is I produce a lot of ad films. For instance, the recent Nikon ad featuring Priyanka Chopra was produced by me. So if at all I decide to take a plunge into direction, I’ll first direct an ad film. We’ll see what happens next (smiles). 

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