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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Expresso Season 2, Episode 5: Life is like a game of chess, says John Abraham

Actor-producer John Abraham on leaving little to chance, why he and wife Priya prefer to keep a low-profile and why the mirror on the wall is not his favourite.

Written by Priyanka Sinha Jha | Mumbai | Updated: June 23, 2018 8:45:13 am

Actor-producer John Abraham turned up at his office in trademark jeans and tee with an air of self-assured authority. The confidence is fitting as his recent film Parmanu: The Story of Pokharan has tasted unexpected success, despite a tussle with the producers of the film – KriArj Entertainment. Abraham, who played the lead in the film besides producing it, is having the last laugh.

When I ask him the one thing that’s really worked for him in his 15-year career, he replies, “One is (my) conviction and the other is choices. I have always convinced myself that I am worth it and can do it. And I have always made choices not being afraid of failure.” The veracity of Abraham’s claims is true. He has carefully shaped an impressive career with an unexpected choice of films like Water, Madras Café and now Parmanu among others.

Abraham takes pride in his education. Coming from a very modest background, the actor says that a combination of education and confidence helped him navigate the treacherous waters of show business. Being an actor from the generation represented by Hrithik Roshan and one that formed the bridge between the Khan triumvirate and the younger crop comprising Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor and Varun Dhawan, the model-actor has his work cut out. He credits his success to choices and ability. It helps that he thinks and plans his moves carefully.

“Dustin Hoffman once told Robert Redford that no matter what you do, you will always wear that albatross around your neck,” reminisces the actor. And Abraham has carried his own – of being dismissed most often as a good-looking guy, not so much for his acting chops. But he’s stuck to his gun and proved his mettle, time and again.

“My favourite sport has always been chess and I always think, ‘If this doesn’t happen, then what next? I guess life is like a game of chess and it depends on what your next move is,” says Abraham who has also wears the producer’s hat.

“I think it’s better to be an actor-producer because as an actor, I didn’t see or do the kind of films I wanted to be a part of which is why I became a producer. And being a producer, I was very clear that I didn’t want to power my production house by my presence unlike what most actors do. For me having a production house wasn’t vanity project. As an actor I feel safe now that there is JA entertainment because the stories are curated, they go through immense research and everything here is very special.”

He credits his wife Priya for setting his business in order and calls her a powerhouse with exposure to UCLA, Goldman Sachs, World Bank, who above all, has his best interests at heart. “She has added a lot of value to my life.”

About the two of them working together as business partners, he says cheekily, “It’s better than walking the red carpet. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think it’s sometimes good to be dignified and stay away from that.”

The actor, however, emphasises that he is a very close part of the industry and has several friends and allies like Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra both people he admires. “They are very forgiving of the way I operate so they don’t invite me anywhere because they know I won’t land up.”

His virtue also lies in the fact that he brings a lot of work ethics and honesty to the table.

Among Hollywood stars, he admires George Clooney because he is an intelligent actor and makes intelligence choices besides the fact that he has aged gracefully, both features that Abraham follows in real life too.

“I think men should age gracefully. We try and turn back the time in our industry and try really hard and our lifestyle doesn’t support that so when you age, you have greys, and lines, let them be. I have lines and still get pimples unfortunately and I went to a doc and said, ‘Doc I got to shoot and I got pimples.’ And she said, “but you’ve got these lines, do you want to…? I said don’t even take the B word because these lines show my experience. This is what John Abraham is about and I want these lines because they are important to my life, so I don’t want any invasion. I like the way I am.”

Sure enough, his lifestyle is an antithesis to a film star’s life. For instance, he is not a big fan of looking in the mirror.

“I don’t like looking into the mirror because you get stuck in your image. We are all actors. We are anyway stuck in a space where vanity could consume us. I think imperfection is cool.” And there’s more – Abraham’s general lifestyle is very frugal too. He does not wear fancy watches or carry a wallet and there are no bodyguards following him around. “People ask me—you don’t have an entourage and I say that one day in life I won’t have an entourage and I want to feel comfortable (without one). This is all unnecessary. It makes you feel important but it’s all unnecessary.”

Instead of the trappings, he has chosen to focus on expanding his business, working non-stop. “I work on Sundays. I work around the clock. I don’t understand why people want an off or keep their phones off on Sundays but that’s because I am self-employed. I have taken one holiday in 15 years.” His enterprising streak has been evident in the multiple business projects that he has created, launching brands like ECKO Unltd, owning a sports club– North East United FC and more.

“I have, through films and interviews, positioned myself in minds of my audience as someone who loves outdoor stuff who loves getting his hands dirty,” explains Abraham. In a contradiction of sorts, in the same breath, the actor tags himself as anti-rich!

“There is a lot of Mallu (Malyali) in me where the socialist angle comes in. I have read up Karl Marx and my father was a union leader in J.J. School of architecture so I am very fiery about certain things. I have a problem with people who misuse wealth. I like people who are philanthropists.”

Meanwhile his zest for wealth creation through his business, continues. “As time has passed I have become a lot more driven. There’s a lot more I want to do today than I have ever wanted. I want to be a force to reckon with.”

An enriching thought indeed.

Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior journalist, author, and digital-media specialist

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