COVER STORY

JOHN ABRAHAM: ON RAW AND WAR

JOHN ABRAHAM: ON RAW AND WAR

“All I want to tell the celebrities is that, ‘Don’t say things to trend’. Talk about Disneyland or your favourite handbag that you probably know more about.”

It’s easy to look at John Abraham and dismiss him as the dumbbell-loving–beef-cake who spends most of his time pumping iron and sipping protein shakes. Vikram Thapa gets under his skin and finds that he isn’t all muscle, JA’s also one of the rare breed of superstars who are politically aware and without an agenda.
“It’s not like we timed the release of the film. We have planned it for a year. Unfortunate that these incidents happened now.”

“It’s not like we timed the release of the film. We have planned it for a year. Unfortunate that these incidents happened now.”

On 26 February 2019, hours before India woke up, the Indian Air Force struck what were claimed to be Jaish E Mohammed’s training camps in Balakot deep inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). This was in retaliation to the terrorist group’s claims that it was responsible for the suicide bombing that killed more than 40 CRPF jawans in Pulwama, 25 kilometers from Srinagar in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. Emotions were running high between the neighbours who have engaged in three wars since their independence from the British Raj in 1947. This was the first time since 1971 that India had retaliated by crossing the Line of Control. And while the two countries were heading into a war-like situation once again, John Abraham was prepping for the trailer launch of his next, RAW: Romeo, Akbar, Walter. An eerie coincidence considering RAW is the perfect anagram… for WAR. It also revolves around India’s 1971 war with Pakistan.

“There’s no creative liberty, it’s factual, it’s true and the attention to detail is absolutely fantastic.”

John has now given us films like Madras Café (a film where he first played a RAW agent), Parmanu: The Story of Pokharan and the Force franchise among others. So the obvious first question is whether all of this is by design. “It’s by default! The Kashmir issue is really close to my heart. I have read extensively on the subject, from Freedom at Midnight to others, even before I became an actor. When topics are so close to your heart, you tend to attract such subjects and when you get a good one, you want to do it,” says John. “It’s the journey of this guy and has been inspired by a true story. Actually Director Robbie Garewal’s father was in the military intelligence. He was part of the skiing intelligence unit that was stationed in Gulmarg. I actually got a chance to see that unit. It was over a drink that Robbie and his father came up with the idea and it took Robbie five years to develop this script. So it’s no figment of imagination, there’s no creative liberty, it’s factual, it’s true and the attention to detail is absolutely fantastic.”

“There’s no creative liberty, it’s factual, it’s true and the attention to detail is absolutely fantastic.”
“What kind of a person are you if you can’t deal with pressure. There’s pressure in everything.”

“What kind of a person are you if you can’t deal with pressure. There’s pressure in everything.”

John claims that RAW is a film that has been made with a lot of attention to detail. With the recent developments in the country and the subject of the film it is even more important that the film has been made responsibly. During the current stand-off though ‘being responsible’ was last on some people’s mind as far as social media wars go. John had a word of caution for all, especially the celebrities. “If I have to give the celebrities the benefit of the doubt then I would say that they were emotional and therefore made the statements but I believe that as a celebrity you have a responsibility. The responsibility to stay quiet when you aren’t armed with enough facts. It’s a very scary space to be in because on one hand you are influencing people and on the other hand you are also polarizing them,” said John. He was obviously pointing at the many politicians and film personalities who preferred jingoism over sensible social media posts. But does he think the celeb today is under a lot of pressure to be visible? “Don’t bow down to it, no! What kind of person are you if you give in to pressure? There’s pressure in everything. You can’t look for a quick fix.

“26th February, where do I start from? See, elections are round the corner. Let me start from there.”

“For actors there’s a lot of pressure to look good so they out and get their faces done. The point that I am trying to make is that I can understand that the digital team has told you that you need to trend today and you need to go out and tweet. You don’t even know what the tweet stands for when you don’t have enough facts. Talk about Disneyland or your favourite handbag that you probably know more about but here you are talking about the weight on two countries, religion and people… so respect that,” says John. Clearly, Abraham had a very strong opinion on the situation so we asked him what he went through on the morning of February 26th when news of India retaliating to Pulwama broke. “Where do I start from? See, elections are around the corner. Let me start from there. Let me start from the areas that were bombed. Ok, let me put all of that aside and talk about collateral damage that is done on both sides.” He almost spoke his mind again but refrained from making a political statement that could stir controversy.

“26<sup>th</sup> February, where do I start from? See, elections are round the corner. Let me start from there.”
“I don’t know if innocent lives were lost, if this was a knee jerk reaction but there’s a part of you that feels, ‘yes, we gave it back’.”

“I don’t know if innocent lives were lost, if this was a knee jerk reaction but there’s a part of you that feels, ‘yes, we gave it back’.”

“We must deal with terror but it’s a double-edged sword. I can go out there and thump my chest and say, ‘yes we went out there and attacked’ great, jingoism. But I don’t know if that was probably the best-calculated move. We are looking at everything from the Indian perspective but if you look at it from a neutral perspective then one could raise questions and ask if it was the right thing to do.” John has made some legit political thrillers in Madras Café and Parmanu, films that praised both the current and the previous party in power. But he still has questions about India’s retaliation to Pulwama. “I think the right thing to do is dealing with terror. Maybe there were camps there, maybe we knocked them out… fantastic… but we need to be sure about what we’re going out there and doing and I am sure our government knows what they are doing. It’s a new India and people are taking notice and thinking that they can’t mess with India the way they could before but I still think we need to be careful.”

“Any molester in JA Entertainment has to get past me first.”

We move the conversation to John Abraham the producer and his work as a producer is rather commendable. From Vicky Donor to Madras Café to Parmanu, John has made sure that a majority of films under his banner are content driven and are made in a budget that doesn’t work against a film’s prospects at the box office. “If you see the films that I did before I became a producer and the ones I did after, there’s a quantum leap in the kind of actor I was then and now. Now I am very convinced about the stories that I am doing. I don’t say that they are in my comfort zone as an actor but I am very convinced about the story now. This is also something that I tell actors working in a JA Entertainment that they are safe because the story is well researched,” he said. But can he say the same about the women working in his production as well? “Oh! Totally. Any man has to get past me first. I work in a place where I work only with women. I think the sense of safety that they bring to the environment is fantastic. I am glad that you brought it up because it’s probably the safest place for women to work.”

“Any molester in JA Entertainment has to get past me first.”
“Because I am one of the outsiders I made sure that Ayushmann came in when we did Vicky Donor.”

“Because I am one of the outsiders I made sure that Ayushmann came in when we did Vicky Donor.”

John Abraham has clearly come a long way from where he has started years ago. Must not have been easy considering his ‘outsider’ status. What then does he have to say about the raging debate over nepotism in the film industry considering he is the one responsible for giving us a star like Ayushmann Khurrana? “The truth is that nepotism exists. And because I am one of the outsiders I made sure that Ayushmann came in when we did Vicky Donor. When I see Ayushmann today I feel so happy because not only is he a talented boy, he’s also a wonderful boy. But I won’t take anything away from the Industry kids. They too have to work hard though they may get more chances. You will have to spend more money on some before they get knocked out but some of them stay. I am an outsider and I am proud to be an outsider and I will make sure that I give more outsiders the chance to showcase their talent.” Non-industry kids, are you listening?

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