Not knowing a single word of the Quran, Bollywood hero John Abraham, a Parsi, studied the holy book in a translation to prepare himself to play an NRI Muslim in Kabir Khan's New York.
"It's part of my larger determination to prepare myself completely for a part. Whether it was New York or now Abbas Tyrewala's film, I'm taking time off to prepare for the film and the character. The audience today understands an honest film. That's what I want to give," Abraham told IANS.
Earlier John learnt to play the flute, the Sanskrit language and how to wear a dhoti to give his character, Narayan, conviction in Oscar-nominated Water, a film about the plight of widows in pre-Independence India.
"I only want to do roles that take me out of my comfort zone. Through my characters and performances, I want to make people comfortable with what makes me uncomfortable as a human being and an Indian," said Abraham, who believes that an actor has to break through his own stereotypes.
He tried to break his image by doing films like Water, No Smoking and Kabul Express.
Says one of Abraham's close friends of New York: "He went very deep into the film's theme of Islamic isolation. When he shot Kabul Express with Kabir Khan in Afghanistan, John spoke to people....and began to understand the concept of jehad. He understood how dangerous it is to fight for a cause without knowing the history of that cause.
"He went on the net, found legitimate and proper translations of the Quran. He learnt the proper pronunciations of words in the Quran", the friend said.
In New York, Abraham plays a character who is wrongly detained in the US for terrorism.
"John researched rigorously on Islam and its various aspects. His character in New York is wrongly detained for terrorism. John based his character on three such real-life Muslims taken into custody in the US for wrongs they hadn't committed.
"John and Kabir Khan amalgamated the cases of three such unfortunate people to create John's character. He actually lived, breathed, slept and wept like someone who had been wrongly ostracised," said the friend.
So traumatised was the actor by the experience that he went into a complete shell in Philadelphia, where New York was shot.
"He wouldn't talk to people. He was completely in his own shell. It was a life-changing experience. Today, John knows what it feels to be a Muslim and a target of ceaseless suspicion and hostility in the US.
"He also empathises closely with the issue of Indian students being racially abused in Australia after playing an Indian abused in 'New York'. He understands the isolation of the minority. To a large extent, John has been a part of a minority from his birth," said the friend.
Releasing June 26, the film also stars Katrina Kaif, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Irrfan Khan.