Arushi Sinha - 50 weeks ago
It has taken some work for John Abraham to leave behind the baggage of being a ‘hot star’ with little acting talent. The actor, always attractive and very popular with women, has earned his stripes as a box office safe bet over 15 years.
(A still from Batla House featuring John Abraham)
It all started when John made a debut in an un-hero role with Jism (2003). Ever since, he has worked towards being taken seriously. His pivot to turning producer has changed this gradually, giving him roles that challenge his caliber and feature him in films that go beyond commercial potboilers.
Batla House, a dramatic adaptation of the controversial 2008 incident from Delhi Police case files, has become a success. John plays the role of a protagonist facing judgment and prejudice as a police officer. His heft carries off this part of a living person in an otherwise regularly crafted thriller. Prior to this, John featured in Romeo Akbar Walter as a RAW agent dedicated to his country and working on the complex Bangladesh liberation war. While this film didn’t mint money, it attempted a different kind of storytelling in the standardized formats of Hindi films. Stories of Indian super spies are rarely seen on film, and John’s production tried to set one in the subcontinent’s postmodern, conflict ridden history. This film followed on his previous productions that work to capture a slice of recent Indian lived experience. Parmanu - the Story of Pokhran was one such film as was Madras Café, despite its muddled ending and uneven storytelling. In an industry where stars turn producers for taxation and income reasons, John has worked towards carving a space for himself beyond commercial interest. He backs inherently Indian stories that can become thrillers, police procedurals or dramas.
(A still from Romeo Akbar Walter featuring Jackie Shroff and John Abraham)
Going beyond song, dance and family drama, this niche has gradually paid off for John. It draws writing and directing talent that focuses on such films, and brings him worthwhile parts worth his salt. These films don’t cost a bomb to make, but they take research, writing and patience to put together. By acting in his films, John controls the price of bringing a star on board. Supporting new writers and filmmakers who make such stories has also made him a go to man for new-age thrillers, which makes it easy to set up parallel projects in the pipeline.
When John had debuted in Jism (2003), as a man with a self-destructive streak, director Pooja Bhatt tapped into his modeling background to play up his gorgeous looks and super fit form, but also featured him in an uncommon hero part. At that time in the lifecycle of Hindi cinema, candy floss movies with insipid plots and silly stories had become the norm. John got boxed in as the good looking hottie who can draw in women. But he continued to aspire to better parts, and better films. Despite the cliché that he had become, John acted in films like Taxi No. 9211, Dhoom and Dostana, where he had to pretend gay, an unusual choice for a sex symbol at a time when experimentation was anathema for Hindi film stars. In his own way, he worked towards building sufficient clout and wealth to back his own films, the kind of stories that he loves watching.
(A behind the scene still from Parmanu featuring director Abhishek Sharma and John Abraham)
John Abraham Entertainment has now become a dependable film production company to throw up a non-typical Hindi movie. John hasn’t completely shied away from his prowess as a commercial hero. In fact, he acts in Pagalpanti, an ensemble comedy from Anees Bazmee, who has featured him in the nonsensical super hit, Welcome Back. His next production is a biker flick. There’s Mumbai Saga with Sanjay Gupta, an attempted chronicle of postmodern Mumbai’s evolution from a filmmaker with questionable credentials. The crowd puller factor remains in play for it makes him the money that he needs to make films, and keeps him relevant to the ticket buying audience.
But it’s the producer in John Abraham that will leave a sustainable niche in Hindi films. Backing films drawn from reality and keeping them realistic, engaging viewing experiences takes enough guts for no one to have made that a staple in Bollywood. That Abraham takes on this challenge sets him apart as a keen film lover beyond trappings of stardom and profit.
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