For all those who swear by John Abraham and his simplicity, there is a treat by the name of Madras Cafe that's awaiting you this season, which stars John and the svelte Nargis Fakhri in the lead roles. John has not just acted in the film, but has also produced the same. Satish Sundaresan of Bollywood Hungama caught up with the phenomenal actor for an exclusive interview, wherein John spoke about Madras Cafe and what went behind the making of the film.
To start with, how does it feel as your film releases today?
To tell you the fact, I am as eager as anyone else. While I say that Shoojit Sircar is a producer's director, I just hope that I am a director's producer! (Smiles) We just hope that people enjoy Madras Cafe, as there are many big films releasing this month.
The year 2013 has been really wonderful for you so far, with all of your films doing extremely well at the BO. For someone like you who has played larger than life characters in most of your films, was it a risky proposition to play a realistic character in Madras Cafe?
Let me tell you that Shoojit was very clear from the start. He said that one can't expect the same hero in you like that of Shootout At Wadala and Force. At the end of the day, Madras Cafe is a real film and not a documentary. What is shocking is that, today's audiences don't really know what had happened in the eighties. That's why we decided to present the same events in a commercial format. Even though our film is a work of fiction, we have adopted many inspirations from true life incidents in the film and we have been very honest to that.
Frankly speaking, I have been fortunate to get the right films at the right time. Secondly, there are certain interests that I had put forth in my films also happened to be the interests of this generation. If John Abraham grew his hair and rode a motorcycle, everybody did just the same. I have been fortunate and also smart in positioning myself in the minds of my audiences in a certain manner. One very big producer, who name I can't mention, told me recently, "John, your smartest choices like No Smoking, Kabul Express and Water have been the choices that have failed, because the audiences look at you doing something different." I have tried to balance failure with a difference.
When and why did you decide to produce Madras Cafe?
Shoojit had offered this film as an actor almost around six years ago. After Vicky Donor, I decided to produce this film. Even if I wasn't the producer of Madras Cafe, I would still have been the hero of this film. The reason is because Shoojit was very convinced that this is the role which John Abraham will play with ease. But the only condition that he had laid down to me was that, I had to deconstruct my body and that I just shouldn't look like 'The' John Abraham of SAW and Force!
In one of the recent press conferences, you mentioned that you won't be flaunting your abs in Madras Cafe. Were you taking digs at any actor or any film?
Absolutely not! The only person I spoke about was myself, as I had done it (flaunting abs) in my earlier films. I said so because Madras Cafe doesn't have any over the top and larger than life action as all the action is totally real and believable. But the way my statement at the press-con was modified really shocked me! I have complete respect for Salman and all the films that he has done. And not just Salman, I have complete respect even for myself and all my films. I do understand that, it is indeed a risk to do such a role (in Madras Cafe) when people want to see 'the' John Abraham of Shooutout… and Force. For such people, let me assure that they will surely see me back in action in my future films with Nishikant Kamat, Welcome Back (comedy), Dostana 2, which I am not supposed to speak about as Karan will be doing the announcement. In the same breath, let me also tell you that I am also doing Sanjay Gupta's next film which will be more larger than life and more heroic than Shootout At Wadala.
I am indeed trying to create two different identities. While one is that of John Abraham the producer, the other is that of John Abraham the actor who acts in his own production. I use my commercial cinema to drive the kind of cinema I believe in. Let me tell you that, I had to use my commercial standing to actually get Vicky Donor on the floor. When I went to London to promote Vicky Donor, they said, "You come, don't get him (Ayushmann). But I went there as a producer and I marketed Ayushmann Khurana. But didn't he (Ayushmann) validate that? He was beautifully amazing in the film. That's why I feel that it's important to use the commercial standing for cinema that I believe in, to make the difference. And I sincerely hope that Madras Cafe brings that difference.
Madras Cafe introduces many unlikely new faces like admen Piyush Pandey, Agnello Dias, quiz Master Siddhartha Basu. Whose idea was it to get them on board?
It was Shoojit's idea. All that he told me was that "John, except for you and Nargis, the rest of the cast should be raw and rank newcomers", because that lends to the realism of each character.
You had earlier said that Madras Cafe is Argo of India. While Argo went onto win three out of the seven nominations at the 85th Academy Awards, what's your feel about Madras Cafe at the awards functions?
Here, I would really like to rephrase what I had earlier said about Madras Cafe and Argo. What I meant was that, with Madras Cafe, we have not tried to make a Hollywood film and ape the west. We have made a film that's of completely different structure and language. What had happened was that, when I spoke about Madras Cafe initially, the only example that I could cite was that of Argo, as it was the only film which was fresh in our minds.
Is Madras Cafe a pro ITKF and anti LTTE film? Don't you feel that the Tamils be upset with this film?
Let me tell you that, Madras Cafe is not anti-Tamil or anti-Sri Lanka film. And also, it's definitely not a pro or anti-ITKF as well. We have researched from every possible place including the Jain Commission Report to tell a story like it's meant to be told.
Are you going to dub the film in Tamil as well?
Yes, very much. There are groups who have put a ban on this film in Tamil Nadu. I want every Tamilian to see this film as it's a very well researched film. I sincerely insist that every youth of today, who doesn't know about the history of the days gone by should watch this film.
Don't you feel that a film like Madras Cafe is a difficult film to market?
Madras Cafe is not a documentary, it's a commercial film. But it is difficult to market this film as, even though there are four songs, they are all used in the background. Also, there's no item number (laughs). I know that a film like Madras Cafe is difficult film to market, but I am hoping that I am able to find my audience. My only faith is in my audience, whom I feel, will come and see what I want to tell through this film.
Is it true that Nargis' role was first offered to Freida Pinto?
Yes, we had initially approached Freida when we were just starting this film. She had expressed her interest to do this but she dropped out as she got busy with Woody Allen's film. In fact, Freida even called me and said "It's so courageous of you to make a film like this, because India needs to see a film like this."
While lots of stars try to hide and be secretive about their investments, you seem to be not minding your investment news that gets splashed in the media.
It comes out (in the media) but, I don't really speak about it. I have grown up in a middle class family and I really understand the value of my money. I always say that, "I had Rs. 550 in Bank Of Maharashtra, when I started it. I want to set an example to everyone to say that, "If John Abraham can do it, so can we". I just don't do anything that is flashy a la Page 3 people. All that I want my audience to do is to resonate with me and say that, 'Yaar! He is just one of us!' I always believe in the saying that, "I am here to be a role model and not just a mere model!" (Smiles).
Talking about investments, have you become sound in that department due to the presence of a banker (Priya Runchal) in your life?
(Smiles) She is a complete stability factor in my life. I used to invest even before I met her. But it does make a difference when you have a solid perspective. But my investments come out of being cautious about the money. For me, even today, one rupee is equal to a hundred paise.
You are releasing Madras Cafe on an international level as well in North America and Europe with Paramount Pictures. Right?
We are tying up with an international distributor to release Madras Cafe as a foreign film, in the non-traditional markets. So, it's going to get a wider release due to the nature and the texture of the film.
In a recent book released called 'Masculinity And Its Challenges In India', the writers (Rohit Dasgupta and K. Moti) said that 'Amitabh Bachchan's angry young man has been replaced by influx of hyper masculinity seen through actors like John Abraham'. What do you have to say to that?
I guess so (smiles). There are the meterosexuals and the really masculine men. I hope that I am in the masculine space. I think that the audiences and their tastes and preferences have changed. There's a completely new audience that accepts a completely new different beast. And if I am the example of that new beast, then, so be it. All that I can say is that I am flattered!
Is it true that you have bought the rights of the Telugu film Mirchi?
Yes. I saw the film in Telugu and I was so very happy with it. That's why we immediately purchased the rights.
Lastly, you have completed as many as 10 years in Bollywood. What do you see when you look back?
(Smiles) I was written off every year. My obituary is signed every year (laughs). Before Force, when three of my films (Jhootha Hi Sahi, Aashayein and Saath Khoon Maaf) flopped, everyone said John Abraham is over. There was a numerologist who said that John Abraham will be gone after Jism. But the fact is that I survived for 10 years! I don't take all this negatively and that there is no anger in me. I feel that it is nice to be written off so that you can come back stronger with a vengeance! I put my head down and do my work and let it speak for itself.