John Abraham jokingly compared the process of releasing his new movie Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran to a nuclear test at the trailer launch. Directed by Abhishek Sharma and starring Abraham and Diana Penty, the movie revisits the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran, which signalled to the world the country’s increased nuclear capability.
Parmanu will be released on May 25 after weathering a spat between Abraham’s company, JA Entertainment, and KriArj Entertainment over stalled payments. The film’s release sealed after a Bombay High Court order ruling in Abraham’s favour. “I am just relieved that the film is finally releasing,” the actor-producer told Scroll.in.
After a successful career in marketing followed by modelling, Abraham made his screen debut with the erotic thriller Jism (2003) and his credits include Dhoom (2004), Zinda (2006), Kabul Express (2006), Dostana (2008) and Force (2011). He turned producer with Shoojit Sircar’s comedy Vicky Donor (2012).
You have often called yourself an accidental actor.
Sometimes, accidents happen for the best. I am happy that I am here, and now that I am here, I cannot think of being anywhere else. I want to create stories, make cinema, act in films. It is a fun combination of being hungry as an actor and hungry as a producer. I am happy with where I am. The home is where the heart is and this is my home.
You made your screen debut with ‘Jism’ in 2003. How has the Hindi film industry changed since then?
Thankfully in terms of acting, what was considered the loud and garish, overtly expressive acting is now a thing of the past. The subtleties that I used to bring to the screen very early on are now being appreciated. It is a case of me saying, I told you so. The case in point being Madras Cafe. Directors have told me it was one of my most mature performances.
It makes a huge difference when the audience perception changes. Because the ’80s and ’90s had the worst kind of cinema in the Hindi film industry. When that percolated down into the 2000s, I wasn’t the biggest beneficiary initially because over-expressiveness was considered to be great. Thankfully, that is over, and thankfully half of them are married by now.
Between ‘Dhoom’, ‘Dostana’ and ‘Force’, you have played villains, comic characters and action heroes. You also picked uncommon roles such as in ‘No Smoking’ and ‘Taxi No. 9211.’
I have always thought of scripts in a particular way. I like picking out something that is not normal and not typically formula-based. I still remember when a producer asked me about the kind of films I liked to do. I said, a film like Memento. He laughed at me, saying no one was going to see that film. And then Aamir Khan did Ghajini three years later.
I could have easily gone down the path of being a plain hardcore hero. But that never excited me. I have to connect to the story personally. I am a very innocent and honest viewer. I love Golmaal 3, Housefull 2, No Entry and Rowdy Rathore. They are typically commercial films, but I connected with them somewhere and they worked.
For me, Zinda worked in my head¸ and Taxi No. 9211 worked instinctively. Taxi No. 9211 is my favourite. The films that did not work for me were the films I was not convinced about. It is as simple as that.
I feel empowered to do something differently now that I am a producer. I now have the courage to pick up a script and say, I can pull this off.
What drew you towards ‘Parmanu’?
Parmanu is based on a true story. The character names have been changed, but the only fictional character is mine, just like it was in Madras Cafe. Because you need to tell a story through someone’s eyes. About 15 to 20 per cent of the film is fictional. What you see is what actually happened, and you will understand that when you see the postscript.
It must have been challenging to make a nuclear test look interesting on the screen.
There is so much of technical overload of information. The most difficult thing to do was taking such a complex subject where you are talking about hydrogen, fission and fusion bombs, the Taj Mahal shaft, Kumbhkaran shaft and the White House shaft.
And then, the most difficult part was getting all this information together and simplifying it in the first 20 to 25 minutes of the film. The minute you simplify it, the film rolls after that. All credit goes to Abhishek Sharma. He has done a fantastic job.
With Madras Cafe, I learnt that it is nice to do a great film, but it cannot be niche. Let every audience member see it. Let the lowest denominator see it. That is what we have done with Parmanu.
You have said that every Indian should be proud of ‘Parmanu’. Was there the fear that the film would take a jingoistic turn?
As an audience member and as a producer, I want to make an engaging, entertaining film that is also commercial. The audiences should primarily enjoy it. What is Avengers? It is a commercial film. When I am setting out to make a commercial film, I am not going to make a documentary.
So what I did was I showed my team Argo, Eye in the Sky and Zero Dark Thirty and I asked them what they had inferred from the films. They were all edge-of-the-seat thrillers. I told them that is what Parmanu should be.
When you walk out, your by-product should be the fact that you feel proud to be an Indian. But that should not be the intent with which you go into the film. There might be people who are not interested in the Pokhran tests. But still, when they watch the film, it should be nail-biting.
How did you manage to deal with the setbacks you faced as the film’s co-producer?
As a producer, I can only advise my fellow producers to choose their partners rightly. Please see where their money comes from or does not come from. That is important.
Honestly, I am thankful to the honourable Bombay High Court for passing a judgement in my favour. The court order is in the public domain, and you must see it to understand exactly what I have been saying for the longest time.
I am relieved and happy. So today, it is not even important anymore that I am supposed to have butterflies in my stomach about how the film will be received. I am just relieved that the film is releasing.
Among your upcoming films are Milap Jhaveri’s ‘Satyamev Jayate’ and Robbie Grewal’s spy thriller ‘Romeo Akbar Walter’.
For the next three months, I am in Gujarat, Nepal, Kashmir and all over India to shoot for Romeo Akbar Walter, because there are eight different looks. It is probably the most challenging movie that I will be doing, so I am a little nervous. But it will be fun.