VICKY DONOR was on sperm donation, MADRAS CAFE was around the Sri Lankan civil war and PARMANU: THE STORY OF POKHRAN is on India's 1998 nuclear tests. The subjects may seem fit for documentaries, but actor John Abraham — the common factor as the producer of the films — says his motive is to make commercially entertaining, engaging and non-formulaic cinema.
PARMANU, which released on Friday, tells a story around the nuclear tests conducted in 1998 at Pokhran, Rajasthan.
There's a reason why John chose the subject.
"I was very influenced by Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, and by the nuclear tests. It defined the trajectory in my life because of incidents that were associated with the sanctions that followed. I was planning to go somewhere, to a college, (but I) didn't get through. There was anger at first, then the understanding came that this (nuclear status) can make India great… I started thinking like an Indian and started feeling like a nationalist," John told IANS in an interview.
Why is there a need to tell this story to the audience today?
"I think today's youth does not know what happened 20 years ago in May 1998," John said. In his head, when he thinks of the most defining thing in India's history after Independence, he feels it's one when India had circumvented US satellites, fooled everybody and conducted nuclear tests right under their nose.
"It is the biggest case of nuclear espionage in the world, and it happened on Indian soil. I thought it was a story to be told. I asked myself, 'Is this film very difficult to pull off?' And then I smiled because I was going to do it. And because it was difficult to pull off, and was not a formula film, I decided to do it."
To answer the question straight, John said: "When I decided to do it, I knew I wanted to make an engaging thriller like 'Argo', 'Eye In The Sky', like 'Zero Dark Thirty', where it doesn't matter if the young audience cares what happened 20 years ago or not.
"But the by-product, like in any of my films – be it VICKY DONOR or MADRAS CAFE — when you walk out, you walk out feeling that 'Wow, I am proud to be an Indian… This is cool that India did this. I didn't know this'. That's what I wanted to achieve with this film.
"I didn't want to make an overtly patriotic jingoistic film… I am not here to make documentaries. I am here to make commercial films which give entertainment."
Marrying commerce with content was always his mainstay as a producer.
"To marry the two is the toughest thing, and I try to achieve it most of the times," said the 45-year-old, who has clocked 15 years in the film industry, dabbling in movies as different as WATER and DHOOM, NO SMOKING and GARAM MASALA or a TAXI NO. 9211 with DOSTANA.
Yet, he said he felt the need to become a producer because he didn't get to see or act in the kind of films he wanted. Now he feels "empowered".
"Our (banner's) content is so curated and so researched that it's very difficult to go wrong. Yes, everybody goes wrong with their choice, but the way we curate our subjects, we reduce the risk of the probability of failure."
The business parlance in John's conversation stems from the fact that he is an economics graduate and an MBA degree holder.
"In my life, I find it very important to tell the stories I want to tell. I want people to understand that I can make a difference to cinema, and being a management student, as they say, the higher the risk, the greater the profit. I will take that risk because very clearly, I am not afraid of failure. People leverage from their successes, I learn from my failures.
"I'm one of those crazy guys who really enjoy failures. I have no fear in failing, and when you don't have that, nothing can stop you," he asserted.
PARMANU has also left him wiser as a producer as he fought a legal battle for it.
"Choose your partners wisely to see where the money comes from or doesn't come from. Just be smart about it and work with trusted people in the industry who can help you deliver," he said.
This is also why John is trying to build his own "ecosystem".
"I'm creating a self-contained model in JA Entertainment where I get the best of the best to work together, hold on to each other and we create an army. But our USP will always remain the content," added John, whose kitty is already full of diverse projects as an actor.
There's SATYAMEV JAYATE, BATLA HOUSE and "RAW". He is also looking forward to create an "Attack" franchise in the "real action…very Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal space".
As for his ambitious project "1911", about Mohun Bagan's historic win against an English football club in 1911, the football fanatic says "it's something close to my heart and I won't let it go so easily".