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“Now, people see me as more than just a pretty face”

Delivering a successful film always gives you a high but when you and your co-producers are laughing all the way to the bank and are heaped with praise from the critics, it’s an experience to treasure. That’s what John Abraham feels about his first production, Vicky Donor. Here’s the proud producer in conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta

Let’s begin with the obvious question: Vicky Donor is a huge success. Did you expect the film to get such a positive response?

Yes, absolutely, I am elated. More than that, the success of the film has reinstated my faith in it, the team I worked with, the script and the actors that I cast. It has all been a very rewarding experience. Shoojit (Sircar) and I put everything into this film and we made sure we had to come up with a good product. I knew exactly what I was in for. I had read the script before we even started casting for the film.

Did you ever think it might be a risk to work with Shoojit Sircar, who had not directed a film for a long time, especially with a subject like sperm donation?

Shoojit is a great director and a great man. From the day I met him, I got a very good gut feeling about him. In fact, he and I were in touch for two years on our dream project. We were in the midst of working on Jaffna when we chanced upon the story of Vicky Donor. So we decided to focus all our attention on this film first. For Vicky Donor, we were clear about casting newcomers from the very start, to give it a fresh perspective. I had decided that I would not cast myself in the film and I was also sure that I would only remain true to the job of producing it.

What was your involvement with the film? Usually, when an actor turns producer, there is interference. 

I was involved with the film from its inception. I had read the first draft and looked into the changes in the draft as well. At that time, Shoojit had Ayushmann Khurrana in mind for the lead role. The moment we met Ayushmann, we could see the sincerity on his face. We felt he was a genuine guy who would be apt for the role. So we decided to cast him. I also didn’t keep loitering around on the sets. I visited the sets maybe twice or three times but I was updated on all that was happening.

Also, Shoojit and I were very clear that we would not make any announcements about the film till it was complete. Since it was my debut venture as a producer, I wanted to let our work speak for itself and we only brought the film into focus when it was complete. Thereafter, I was involved with the marketing, post-production, media planning and all the intricate details of film production. So my involvement as a producer was very hands-on.

There are four producers for this film…

Ok, let me explain this. Eros is a studio and my production house JA Entertainment has a 50:50 IPR share partnership. Along with JA, Shoojit’s company Rising Sun Films was also a partner. Ram Mirchandani wanted to launch his banner and was very keen on doing this with us. There was never any interference or any clash of ideas and so all the partnerships worked out really well.

Both Rising Sun and JA Entertainment were always on the same page and on every idea that was conceptualised. We were very organised and had decided on all the aspects of the film even before shooting began. We did our homework so that we were prepared for the shoot. And we were bang on target on all our decisions.

At the risk of sounding a little narcissistic, we have never seen any production venture with such results right from the first film that came out of a new company.This ease in our work relationship has triggered three other films that we will be producing under our banner.

Which are these films?

First up is Jaffna, which will have me in the lead. It is a mega-project that will make India proud. It will wow the audience not just in our country but also internationally.

Then we have Hamara Bajaj. This film will see Shoojit, me and Ayushmann’s second innings. The third film under my banner will be Kala Ghoda. It has a very interesting concept and will be directed by Aditya Bhattacharya, who directed Aamir Khan in his first film Raakh. It is a dark comedy with a hilarious script and is a story about two cops and what happens with them one night. The script is written by Akshat Verma, the guy who wrote Delhi Belly.

With Vicky Donor and the other films, would you say that you have a knack for turning a non-commercial subject into a commercial success?

Absolutely! Not just with Vicky Donor but with all my films, I will try to marry content with commerce. A film which has a unique concept will meet its true fate only if it is commercially successful. I am very clear that the USP of any of my films will be its subject. The real hero will be nothing but the content.

Now that you have turned producer, have you started keeping tabs on numbers and the collections of a film? The net and gross business…

(Cuts in) I have always kept tabs on the numbers of all the films in which I have acted in. I have been a media planner and number crunching has always appealed to me. I was always interested in the economics of films right from cash flow circles, profit circles, various revenue models, the best possible revenue centres for any film, the apt cost centres for a film… you know, the whole deal. I strongly believe that you should cut your coat according to your cloth and so I tried to translate that into my film by cutting my costs according to its length. My films have always been larger-than-life and I have given them all their due. I have had a very good working relationship with Eros, and Kishore Lulla had told me that whenever I would like to produce my own film, they would be there to back me. So when I decided to make films, I called up Kishore and told him about my decision. Before I could say anything else, Kishore said he would love to support me.

Do you feel you have finally got your due?                 

Some of my films have done well in the past, and some of them have failed. But with Shootout At Wadala and Race 2 (I don’t know which one will release first), I am sure they will set the record straight for the kind of films I have chosen in the past. As a producer also, with Vicky Donor, I seem to have proved my critics wrong. People now look at me as a thinking actor with brains rather than just a pretty face out to show off my brawn. It was a conscious decision to keep my mouth shut and let my work do all the talking. I lay low for a while and made sure that people took my work seriously. And that has paid off.

Your upcoming films, Shootout At Wadala and Race 2, have an ensemble cast, while Jaffna will see you as the solo lead carrying the entire film on your shoulders…

(Cuts in) Shootout… is a surprise package. Whether it has an ensemble cast or not, you have to wait and watch the film to see that. It is a powerful role and I know I have done justice to Manya Surve’s character. People will sit up and take note of the character. It’s one of the greatest roles I have portrayed. I am excited about all my films, whether Race 2, Dostana 2, Kala Ghoda or Hamara Bajaj.

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