Uday, Hrithik and I are classmates from school: John Abraham
John Abraham, 39, betrays none of the nerves that actors display before the release of a big film, in this case Race 2. Instead, Action Abraham takes an afternoon off to chat with TOI about his parents, his somewhat unusual schedule and the people he admires most in the film industry (it has little to do with their BO worth).
Tell us about your childhood?
My father is a Protestant and my mother, an Iranian. From the age of four, my father always told me that ‘to be a good man, you don’t need to go to a temple, church or a mosque. You just need to do good’. While I believe in the presence of a supreme being, I am agnostic. My grandparents from both my mother and father’s side had ten children each, so the original Vicky Donor is me, as the highest propensity to procreate is mine. I studied at Bombay Scottish where I was the athletics champion and the football captain. School is a great leveller where you are known not by the money you have, but by how good you are in sport, not even studies. At school, even though I travelled in trains and buses, I got all the attention being the football captain. The senior girls in school used to call me handsome and I would get embarrassed. But the myth was shattered as soon as I got out of school and realised that I was just this middle class ‘Jo’ who did not even own a car, whereas people around me were rich and owned Benz and Audis. I suddenly felt anonymous. My father had booked a Maruti Gypsy, but we couldn’t buy it. I also realised at such a young age that money corrupts. Rich kids know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. My parents made me feel that one rupee was 100 paise. Today, I have a Maruti Gypsy, made to order, that I drive. People expect me to drive some fancy car, but I feel rich sitting in a Gypsy. And, when I am at a signal and see a guy driving a Ferrari next to me, I feel richer than that person.
Are strong-looking men like you soft?
My dad is a cancer survivor. But just before he was diagnosed, he collapsed and I saw my mother holding him and saying, ‘My husband, my husband — I don’t want to lose him’ and that’s the first time I saw the fervour in my mother for my father and felt what true love is.
The way she held him impacted me. The doctor said that the chances of his survival were zero and that hit me. I am soft and broke down, but I cried alone. I don’t think it makes a man any lesser if he breaks down. Honestly, I cry pretty much like I cry on screen. I am also very shy.
Once, after Dostana, I needed to change and these two female designers were standing in the room and said, change. I said, could you please leave the room, and they started giggling. I am also conservative in my views as in I believe in looking after your family and parents. I have a mind of a 50-year-old, but a body of a 24-year-old. I am fiercely independent in my views and can be misunderstood. For instance, I will prefer to ride my motorcycle at night instead of going to a party. I like to sleep at 10.30 at night and wake up at 4.30 in the morning, so even though I am fiercely proud of being a part of the film industry, I operate in a different space.
After graduating from Jai Hind College, I did my MBA and took up a job as a media planner at Enterprise Nexus, where coincidentally my first account was for The Times Of India. My running coach always told me one thing, ‘You never win a silver, you always lose a gold’. I was always competitive and wanted to be an influencer and a leader and so, I joined advertising as I felt it was a big influencer in our lives and could make us change our choice of the products we use. For one of our accounts, Live-In Jeans, the model had not turned up, so my boss Hiren Pandit came to me and said, ‘Can you come and just wear the jeans. You don’t need to show your face’. I obviously did and a woman walked up to me and said, ‘I love the way you fill up the jeans’. I had a lot of pimples and Atul Kasbekar walked up to me and said, ‘If you clean up your face, you can be a combination of the top four super models we have (Milind Soman, Arjun Rampal, Marc Robinson and Rahul Dev)’. I thought wow. And then he called me the face of 1999 and asked me to participate in a pageant where the judges were Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Kapoor and Karan Johar. I modelled for a few years around the world and then decided to come back to India when Bhatt sahab called me to do Jism. Bhatt sahab always has his one-liners. After the movie, he told me Jism stands for ‘John is superb in the movie’. He is brilliant and I love him. If he were ever to direct a movie, I would do it for free. Bhatt sahab was my school and Adi my college.
Are there people in the industry you are close to?
I am very close to Karan Johar and he is someone I talk to. His problem is that he is the agony aunt for the entire industry. With me, he does not have to listen to the woes and the politics that goes on in the industry as he knows that I am fiercely detached from that space. For me, I look at someone from the way the person takes care of his parents and I love the way Karan takes care of his mother. One man I look up to and who I love and whose word I take is Aditya Chopra as he has always positioned me rightly, be it in Dhoom or New York. When I am in a fix, I will pick up the phone and talk to Adi. Uday, Hrithik and I are classmates from school. I am fiercely protective about Hrithik. We never talk about work and always only talk about school friends. He is hands down more good-looking than me. I have seen him graduate from what he was and it makes me immensely happy to see how he has worked on his body and diction. I am also possessive about Abhishek, who was also in my school. We were in awe of Mr Bachchan, when he used to come to our school. I remember once he came wearing a kurta and a white shawl and we were looking as if someone had come from another planet.
You have spoken about getting married to Priya Runchal. What is she like?
She is a banker and is currently studying abroad for at least another year. She is a mature 28-year-old girl, who is extremely supportive of what I do, but chooses to stay out of media, which works very well for both of us. At the same time, she has a strong sense of self that I really like.