John Abraham’s film Parmanu released on May 25, and the film has come a long way given all the controversies it had to face. The actor, who is making a comeback to the big screen, in this interview with indianexpress.com talks about work and life like he has never before.
Here are some excerpts:
Coming out of all the controversies related to the film’s release to its release day finally. How would you describe this journey?
The fact that the film has released is a miracle in itself, and it almost felt like how the nuclear testing of 1998 must have felt. They worked against time to make it happen, and we worked against time to release this film. I am a relieved person. I believe, that because Parmanu is based on a true story, this story must reach out to people. Sometimes films are made for commercial reasons, and sometimes a film is made because the story needs to be told. And Parmanu is a story that needs to be told.
But can a producer, a filmmaker, afford to not think about the commerce in today’s film industry?
One has to think about commerce. I think we have cut the cloth according to the length. We have budged the film rightly. One needs to get a right partner on-board, but unfortunately, since I didn’t have a right partner, I had to face some issues. It is not only me, films like Kedarnath, Fanney Khan, Batti Gul Meter Chalu, and many others had to face these issues too. I was at the end of collateral damage of it, but I had decided to call a spade a spade. My credibility was at stake, and the honourable High Court validated exactly what I had gone through and I am thankful to them, and Judge Kathawala for awarding speedy justice to this film.
The Pokhran Nuclear Tests of 1998 is a significant chapter in Indian history. Does a dramatized version of such an event add to or take away from the essence of it all?
Good question! In terms of what you see in the film, as I keep saying that the film is based on a true event, 85% of the film is what actually happened then. Besides changing the names of the characters because of rights issues and biopic issues, we couldn’t keep Abdul Kalam’s name or Chidambaram’s name or Kakotkar’s name (all scientists from the Pokhran Test 1998). The plot is 85% true, only my character is fictitious. Just like in Madras Cafe. You need to put the camera on someone’s shoulder to tell the story from his point of view, and that’s my character.
But with the kind of platforms we have today, like how The Crown is on Netflix, couldn’t we also have an actual biopic, an official one?
It is very difficult in this country. I mean, if I was given the option I would do that. I am very capable of doing that. We changed names even in Madras Cafe, we had to. And even after that, there were protests that happened, I had cops here (at JA Entertainment office). We have to deal with a lot of things in this country, but I think it is a part and parcel of being a democracy, and I don’t have a problem with it.
All the characters in the film look too glamorous to get an idea as to how the actual scientists looked from this particular event.
John: No, I think barring Diana (Penty), when you see the film, and when you see these people, we have stuck to how the Pokhran scientists looked. I should credit our casting agent Shruti Mahajan for it, she has got characters that look real. For example, the guy who plays Chidambaram’s character, who is Ajay Subramaniam in the film, this is his first film, he suits the character properly, he even has a South Indian accent. And we used his South Indian accent in a way it should be used, we have not tampered the facts. Tiku ji, who has also played Sonam’s (Kapoor) dad in Neerja, is from DRDO, so we have stuck to the way his body language should be. So going back to Diana, her character is an amalgamation of a couple of characters, in this cast, full of male characters, we also needed a female character to add some glamour quotient. She has added a lot of value in this film, as she has de-glamourised herself to a large extent.
From being a model to an actor to a producer, how would you describe your journey?
It has been a see-saw journey, and the only thing that has got me through all of it is my self-conviction. It is me telling myself that I can do it and that I am worth it. You need to tell yourself that you are worth it, if you won’t, no one is going to tell you that.
However, the most satisfying phase was when I became a producer. As an actor, I feel safe now that I have JA Entertainment. JA is not a vanity production house, where I power my own scripts and act in all the films we produce. Any artiste can be in it, as our scripts are curated so well and so well processed that you’ll get some great scripts at this side of the planet, here. I am not being boastful about it, but we have really worked hard in the last four-five years that we have existed. We have researched well for scripts, there have been times that we have written five drafts of a script and we have thrown it out. We are very clear about our qualitative stuff.
From the sex symbol of Bollywood to taking a turn and becoming a ‘content-oriented’ actor. How did that happen, and why?
I think, and I keep saying it, just like how Dustin Hoffman told Robert Redford that whatever he does, he will always fight an albatross around his neck. So whether I do the most content-driven stuff, it is almost always about the way I look, as cinema is a visual medium. My physicality is very powerful at times, and I am not apologetic about it. But I have to tell my audience that I can give content too.
The best case in point internationally is George Clooney. If there is anybody in terms of a trajectory whose road I would go down is George Clooney. The man is attractive, but he is even more attractive by the choices he makes. So I think you can wear yellow trunks and you can have a hot body but what could be most attractive about you is your brains and your choices.