He's always been known as Bollywood's coolest hunk with a passion for fitness and fast bikes. But, of late, actor John Abraham has surprised critics not just with his performances in movies such as Shootout at Wadala and Madras Cafe, but also as a producer of thoughtful yet entertaining films.
A keen sportsperson himself, Abraham recently became the co-owner of the Delhi Waveriders, which won the Hockey India League this year. We caught up with the actor at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Delhi on the sidelines of a recent hockey game.
Excerpts from the interview:
Most Bollywood stars have picked up stakes in cricket, so how come you chose hockey?
It is important for me to back something I believe is credible. I look at our hockey players and I see true heroes. Hockey is definitely one of the best sports and I am keen to restore it to its former glory. It is a splendid sport and we have been lucky to have had some of the greatest hockey players of all time. Look at people like Major Dhyan Chand and Ajit Pal Singh. I felt it's important to back a game which is very nationalistic, Indian and one of the most energetic.
Incidentally, the game itself has undergone a huge change in recent years. I used to play hockey in school but it's amazing to see how the game is played today. These guys play on Astroturf - the drag flicks, the sweep shots - it's a completely different game today. In Sardara Singh, captain of the Indian hockey team as well as the captain of the Delhi Waveriders, we have one of the best players in the world. We also have one of the best drag flickers in the world in Rupinder Pal Singh.
How strongly do you feel about children taking up a sport?
For me, sport is like a religion. I used to play rugby, football and volleyball. I was into athletics, and discus, shot put and javelin were my specialities. I believe that every kid should pick up three things - a sport, a foreign language and a musical instrument. I learnt German for some time and have always wanted to learn to play the tabla. I still want to. Maybe I will start learning it soon. This is like the 'tripod' of life. We need to develop this habit right from childhood. I remember I met Valentino Rossi and asked him when he started racing. He said he began racing professionally late in life, at the age of 13. Rossi said the right time to begin is at nine. If I was the principal of a school or the Prime Minister, I would make sports as important as academics. Today, children are too used to being on their iPads or glued to their Xbox or TV throughout the day. They must learn to go out and play. The biggest thing that sport has taught me is to accept defeat graciously. And that has helped me tremendously in my life.
Since you are so passionate about hockey, how strongly do you feel about Major Dhyan Chand not getting the Bharat Ratna?
There are two schools of thought on this and I respect the government's decision. They may have their own reasons for taking time. I felt so proud and happy when Sachin [Tendulkar] got the award. And you would expect Major Dhyan Chand to also get his due.
Cool Runnings: Based on a Jamaican team's effort to excel at a sport like bobsledding in a country where there is no snow at all. The team recently participated at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Escape to Victory: A film on football that had a lot of professional footballers in it.
As a producer, you took big risks with Vicky Donor and Madras Cafe...
I've always believed it is important to make different kinds of cinema because the audience is evolving. People want subjects that are intelligent and engaging. They are slowly getting tired of the bluff we keep imposing on them in the form of formula cinema. I had wanted to make Madras Cafe seven years ago with Shoojit [Sircar] but the timing didn't seem right. In the meanwhile, Vicky Donor happened. And we thought that humour is the best way to get the message across. In fact, I give full credit to Shoojit for being such a brilliant director. We are doing eight or nine films together. The first one is on football called 1911, a true story that also stars Ayushmann Khurrana. There's one on wrestling, which is based on the life of Gama Pahelwan. It's called Great Gama. Then I have one on motorcycle racing, a subject close to my heart.
Do you think you're a better actor or producer?
This question works well in a show like Koffee With Karan. It's nice for Karan to ask these things from his guests.
Why did you decide to act in Madras Cafe and not Vicky Donor?
It was a conscious decision to take Ayushmann who, according to me, was perfect for the movie. He is like a complete package and the success of the movie proved that right. As for Madras Cafe, I feel I gave my 100 per cent to the role. Shoojit brought out the best in me. It was like telepathy between us. There was no preparation per se. I just had to go there and act. Madras Cafe has made me hundred times more mature actor than all my films put together.
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From HT Brunch, March 23
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