Cool is hot
For someone who casually moved to modelling and then to films, John Abraham is unfazed by the changes in his life. BHUMIKA K. talks to the actor who's comfortable in his own skin
If acting is all about hamming, I can't do it JOHN ABRAHAM
Photos: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
TOUGH CALL John Abraham: `Being in a relationship itself takes up a lot of energy and time for anyone, not just for someone in the film industry'
He believes he shares a strong connection with his audience. And how! He can be villainous, virtuous, angst-ridden or just ooze plain charm and sex appeal. And be accepted in all these avatars. He looks scrumptious with his shirt off and holds attention with the shirt on. He speaks reverentially about the two Bs in his life that turn him into an incurable romantic bikes and Bipasha Basu. John Abraham has certainly blown the myth that models can't act, and make it big in Bollywood. It's also pretty clear that directors and audiences are not flocking to him just because he's a beefcake.
Oops! John will not like that. The term Bollywood, that is. Here you have a model-turned-actor who not just wants to crash cars and bikes and be macho and fiery on screen, but also gather his thoughts and contemplate on matters far beyond the film world. On his website he declares that the term Bollywood is subservient.
"There's a section of Bollywood that deserves to be called Bollywood. Probably I'm also party to that crime, but I don't think we need to call ourselves Bollywood. We are the Indian film industry. Why do we call ourselves Bollywood and Tollywood and so on? I would rather call it the Hindi film industry, because we are not subservient to Hollywood. We cater to an audience of a billion plus! A billion plus!! I think we have an identity of our own.
Don't keep harping about being Bollywood, Bollywood, Bollywood...," he says with his eyes narrowing a wee bit and his dimples growing more pronounced in anguish.
What makes this actor tick is the way he comes across, as genuine and warm, starting with the smile in his eyes, impeccable manners and old-world courtesy.
Even as he speaks, there are many pairs of ears soaking in every polished intonation and many pairs of eyes ogling his lean and perfect body.
Adventure in Kabul
After having coursed off on an unusual career path with erotic thrillers such as Jism, Paap and Saaya for debuts, John sincerely worked at his films and his choice of characters to do Dhoom, Water, Virrudh, Zindaa, Kaal, Garam Masala, Taxi Number 9211, and many others. Kabul Express, an adventure shot in Afghanistan (one must watch out for a humorous take on Osama, John insists) is slated for an August release.
"I've enjoyed the roles I've played. But I'm not satisfied. I'd like to do movies that are global and reach a world audience. And I would rather do it through Indian cinema and world cinema than Hollywood."
He still has fresh memories of shooting in Afghanistan for Kabul Express of beautiful mountainous cold desert where temperatures fell to minus14 degree Celsius often, triggering a bout of typhoid and bronchitis that saw him being hospitalised. But John is upbeat about the film that brings together actors from America, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
His global debut prayer was answered with Mira Nair's Water that opened at the Toronto festival. The critically acclaimed film has given him respectability, he says, which was obvious when he recently did a 40-day U.S. tour with stage shows. In "Water", he plays a Gandhian in pre-Independent India who falls in love with a widow. "I had to learn to wear the dhoti, play the flute and say shloks in Sanskrit. And I couldn't walk like John Abraham," he says in his lazy drawl. He's also quite kicked that Hollywood's badshah Steven Spielberg (John's favourite director) has seen Water and wrote about it.
Getting noticed for acting wasn't exactly easy for this Gladrags Manhunt winner. "People have started understanding that I respect my profession and appreciate the kind of roles and movies I choose. And that's what I want to be known for doing different stuff. If acting is all about hamming, I can't do it. If it's about being honest, I'll try and be as honest to my role as possible."
Why do people assume models can't act? "But that's a fact, because before I happened on the scene, most male models... failed. I don't want to speak about female models. If people do generalise they do generalise with good reason it's up to us to change that. I don't know whether I've changed it completely, but I've tried to partially. And that's important." Big on his mind now is the Soccer World Cup. Having played for his school, later for Bombay and the Maharashtra A Division, John is a total football freak and has stayed awake with his dad since the 1980s to watch the late night matches. And had he not been actor, he would have played for the country.
John claims he's choosy about his product endorsements and ensures there's no overdose of him in the media. Does he have qualms endorsing a fizzy drink? "There are two sides to every story. I could have endorsed liquor but I chose not to. I also endorse a children's channel where cola ads are banned. I only endorse Pepsi Diet which has a different target audience, not kids," says the actor who started his career in an ad agency and became an overnight sensation when he substituted for a model who didn't turn up for a photo shoot. He is in fact launching his own brand of apparel called John Abraham by Wrangler soon.
Is it difficult being in a relationship with a fellow actor? John answers, choosing his words carefully: "I think being in a relationship itself takes up a lot of energy and time for anyone, not just for someone in the film industry."
But is it doubly difficult being in films too? He sighs. "Aaaah! Everything is out in the media; everything is conspicuous. So initially it made things very difficult. But today Bipasha is a very mature person; I'm mature. Our priority is work. We are clear about what we want to do." According to him, there are only two types of women good women and very good women. (No wonder his FFF female fan following swells by the day.)
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