It was a warm and sunny day as I entered the ground floor of the plush and tastefully furnished office of the talented Bollywood superstar, John Abraham. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was meeting a fellow action aficionado, but he is also a highly successful actor with a daredevil onscreen persona. I wondered how he would be off screen.
I was led into a conference room and was offered some beverages. Looking around his office, I realized this local Bandra boy had come a long way, a really long way from his humble beginnings and into the glittery world of stardom. It was a journey he had successfully achieved through great perseverance and commitment. While lost in thought, John entered the conference room with a friendly smile. The award-winning actor was casually dressed in a snug pullover tee and fitted denims, muscles undulated with his every movement. Clearly, he was as serious about his physique as he was about his acting prowess. I was received with a genuinely warm welcome. John led me into another room where he had thoughtfully set up the trailer of his upcoming film, Rocky Handsome for me. As we sat and watched the trailer, John was open and expressive about his views of the action genre. I was very impressed with his warm personality and his friendly nature.
Have a read of the interview below and share your feedback.
Interview with John Abraham
Nilesh Sahay: You started your career in action, with your first action film, Dhoom, how was that experience?
John Abraham: It was all new for me. I didn’t understand what it was like to be tied to cables, thrown around, but it was a great experience. I was with a very capable action director, very happy with him. Dhoom the film wasn’t exactly designed for me in mind. But I am a biker, and sitting on a motorbike is natural for me.
And the body language on the motorbike was something the audience picked up on and got really popular. It was a fantastic experience. The action sequences were great, barring one sequence of jumping between trains, I did most of the stunts. My double collapsed out of heat stroke, and I had to double for my double.
Nilesh Sahay: You are consistently working in action films, what drives you towards action genre?
John Abraham: Certain actors are just built for action, it is the physical make-up. I’m nearly 6ft 2 and weigh 94kg. I look lean, but am big built I don’t know what else I could do better than action. I have just returned from
Force 2 sets, and have had knee surgeries and was on crutches. Despite that, I went straight to Dishoom sets. Someone asked what joy do you get in hurting yourself? I say I get the same joy as actors who enjoy dancing, or comedy, or romance. I like serious action and have grown up seeing hand-to-hand combat. It’s each individual’s personal choice. And I like real action, I like hand-to-hand combat, makes me feel good. Sly stallone in Rocky 4 is my biggest influence, he’s my god, the reason I got into films.
Steven Segal was a true inspiration. Then I watched Bloodsport and Vandamme and Kickboxing. I started training in Tae Kwan Do. These were influencers in my life. So, when I decided to do films then I decided that there’s nothing better than action. You become a true hero when you are an action hero. Action hero has a fixed audience.
Nilesh Sahay: Three different action films – Rocky Handsome, Force 2 and Dishoom. How do you prep for them? For each film, do you maintain the same physique?
John Abraham : I first look at what the character is meant to be, if big then I prep to be big. More than that, I must prep for the action sequences. For Rocky Handsome I took a month off to Thailand and trained there for sixteen hours a day. I’m not a trained fighter, and everyone needs to train, and I worked really hard. I wanted to train with knives. People wonder why I do this, but despite the bruises and cuts, this pain is worth all the effort.
Nilesh Sahay: Who’s the action hero of all time?
John Abraham: Stallone definitely. When I was in Jai Hind College, I watched Rocky 4. We watched on Laser Disc, and I was totally knocked by the training montage of Rocky 4, Hearts on Fire, No Easy Way Out. I went mad thinking how can this guy Stallone look like this, and what kind of effort it takes to get there. I decided that I too need to get that kind of body, I worked really hard. Later when I worked in films, there was a scene when I was hanging out of a bus in the film ‘Shootout at Wadala’. Someone took a picture and showed it to Stallone and asked him if he knew this guy. Stallone politely said I don’t know him, but he’s more jacked than I’ve ever been. For me it was a huge complement. For me Stallone is God, and I worship his attitude, it was so refreshing. For me it’s the reason I got into films.
Nilesh Sahay: Who is your favourite action film director?
John Abraham: Michael Bays is great. He is entertaining, larger than life. But James Cameron is outstanding as director especially in what he did in ‘True Lies’. I believe that action works if you have the right emotion. Action in itself which is jumping across walls, jumping off buildings are not effective if you don’t add soul to it. All these directors bring emotions. You will notice the comic emotion like in Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon and similar makes these movies memorable. John Woo is a cult, a legend in himself. A favourite film that I still enjoy watching is called ‘A Killer’, a 1986 film, I’m still blown by it.
Nilesh Sahay: Who are the popular stunt coordinators in India?
John Abraham: Alan and Abbas Mogul are all great. Vishal Kaushik in Bajirao Mastani was brilliant and a real standout. Alan is someone I get along with, and we work well together.
Nilesh Sahay: Action films are very expensive? You’re also producer and actor in some of these films how do you keep within the action budget.
John Abraham: I am also a producer so I have to cut cloth according to length. I work with the idea that ‘John Abraham’ the actor has certain recovery potential and I plan according to those recovery parameters. So, we make sure we can work within that budget space. I prioritize action, set design and DOP. I spend the most on a good action director.
Nilesh Sahay: How different are the two characters you act in Force 2 and Rocky Handsome?
John Abraham: Force 2 has a very strong, very honest, no-nonsense character, very blunt, cut and dry. He’s always on a suicide mission. Rocky Handsome, is very different, he’s a mystery, a killing machine. Rocky is the strong and silent type.
Nilesh Sahay: How different are the action in these three films? Force 2, Dishoom, and Rocky Handsome. John Abraham: Force 2 is a combination of roof-top chases, high octane, high adrenalin car chases, gun fights, and hand-to-hand brutal fights, it has the entire spectrum. Rocky Handsome is just brutal hand-to-hand combat. The character is a very dangerous man. The action is very real, confined, it’s cold and palatable to urban tastes. When we did the test run, women loved the film for the emotional quotient and the action. The men loved it for the action as well as a beautiful emotional film. Dishoom is an action comedy, it is fun, to do that kind of action, bring out the humour in a scene, is tough. You could say Dishoom is today’s Sholay.
Nilesh Sahay: You use body double at times?
John Abraham: Yes I do. Prakash is a third degree black belt, tough guy. We have a good rapport. He warms me up before my action sequences. If there’s a sweep leg shot, he comes in. He’s extremely flexible, helps me a lot.
Nilesh Sahay: How is it working with the different directors in these recent films?
John Abraham: They are fantastic. Each one has a completely different sensibility. Each one approaches a scene very differently, and even the action is different, but the output is awesome.
Nilesh Sahay: There are many foreign stunt coordinators who have come to India. Is it killing the business for the local stunt coordinators?
John Abraham: Two reasons this happens: One is that a lot of people feel if we get foreign stunt coordinators the action will look international. But I don’t agree, the actor should be capable. Another reason is safety everyone feels the safety standards are higher by the foreign stuntmen – I agree. We have to pull up our socks, do something about it, improve safety. We lack in rigging.
Nilesh Sahay: Advice to aspiring young action heroes and stuntmen in the Indian film industry?
John Abraham: Action heroes come with fantastic skill sets. Butone important piece of advice to remember is that the strength is not in the body or moves, but in the attitude. Like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarznegger have attitude, their scenes are memorable because of their attitude more than their action. My advice is work on attitude as much as skill sets. If aspiring stuntmen, even foreigners come to India it is great, India is a land of opportunities.
Nilesh Sahay: Which Bollywood action movie which you have seen recently that you feel has path-breaking action?
John Abraham: Rocky Handsome! I just saw the rough cuts it’s really amazing.