John Abraham’s upcoming film Batla House is based on the 2008 Batla House encounter. The Nikkhil Advani directorial is set to release on August 15.
Abraham, who has previously collaborated with Advani on Satyamev Jayate, is essaying the role of DCP Sanjeev Kumar in the police drama. In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, the actor opened up about the responsibility of portraying a real-life character.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q. Is it difficult to play a real-life character?
The pressure is actually a lot more. When I played Manya Surve (Shootout at Wadala), the character didn’t exist or rather had passed away. Whereas playing a role based on Sanjeev Kumar Yadav, a real-life officer, is a big responsibility. He is still operating from Delhi Special Cell. There is an added pressure that even if no one else does, at least he should feel that I played him right.
Q. Today we have a lot of films based on real life incidents. You have been a part of such movies, and now Batla House. How do you look at this changing scenario?
I think with films like Article 15, Super 30 and Uri: The Surgical Strike, we are telling good stories now. I would like to believe that Batla House is one of those exceptionally good stories that is being told. I don’t think it is a trend. I think we must do what we believe in doing. If you want to make a film on a real-life character’s story or an incident, you make it. You want to tell a fictitious story, you make it. Everything is working today.
Q. Once counted among the poster boys of action films, you have, in the past few years, veered towards films with a patriotic undertone.
I am starting Mumbai Saga, so now I am really a bad guy! Pagalpanti is a comedy. I think you must do what makes you happy. I am doing exactly that, and not only patriotic films. But I also don’t think loving one’s country requires any effort. Playing these characters comes naturally to me as I love playing them.
Let me talk about Batla House. When I read the script for the first time, it was an edge of the seat thriller for me. So even if you don’t care about the Batla House incident, the film works for you. Nikkhil and Ritesh have put in four years of research into the film so there is some kind of credibility. This is not only an edge of the seat thriller, but also when you walk out from the theater after watching the film, you scratch your head saying, “this was true ya!”
Q. The Batla House encounter has been controversial.
I met Sanjeev Kumar Yadav. I asked him about the encounter and what actually happened after the encounter. Sanjeev told me that he had PTSD and that he wanted to commit suicide. As you see in the film’s trailer, it happened in real life too. The day he went for the Batla House encounter, his wife wanted to leave him. He was going through so much in his personal life. Then the encounter happened and PTSD followed. It became irresistible for me to play the character because it had so many shades to it.
I think more of his personal life is the real story of the film. I have seen the encounter as an encounter. However, Nikkhil had maintained from the very start that this is not just an encounter, it is a love story. The way Mrunal has played the wife Nandini is phenomenal. She is such a great actor. She is playing a journalist because in real life too Sanjeev Kumar’s wife is a journalist. It is such a great story to tell because these characters are sketched out of real life.
Q. Many men in uniform don’t get the kind of psychological health care they deserve. What do you have to say about it?
Not only the police, I think all of us need counselling at some point in our lives. We think it is a disease and we shouldn’t work on it. At times, we are too scared to talk about it.
In the case of cops, the trauma is even more because they go out not knowing if they are going to come back. They don’t have holidays. They are over worked. And, to top it all, military, navy and air force personnel are respected, but not the cops. Why? People will only be entertained by the Singhams and the Simmbas, but will still not respect the cops.
Batla House is an opportunity for us to show the true side of a policeman.