This is your 15th year in Bollywood. You’ve always said that you got into this profession by accident. Do you remember the moment you fell in love with the movies and decided to stick it out?
Honestly, it happened as soon as I joined the movies but I fell out of love as soon I fell in love, because I did a bad film. That’s why I decided to become a producer and if I had the option, I would have probably become one much in advance. Of course, I was too young and raw at the time. Now I feel empowered being a producer. At that point of time I wasn’t happy with some of the films I did and it kind of manifests.
Like Parmanu, and the other films that you’ve produced, do you feel that to be able to tell the stories you want, you need to just go ahead and develop them yourself?
I think so, unless someone comes to me with a script that’s really well-researched. Fortunately for me, I take a lot of time on research. My development head is Sanyuktha Chawla. She wrote Neerja and Parmanu. She works very closely with me. We’ve got a think tank where we sniff out scripts and spend years developing them. For any actor who comes to JA Entertainment, at least you know that the script is curated. It’s gone through so many processes.
As an actor, what’s the biggest advantage of being involved with a script from such an early stage? Do you get to tailor it to your strengths?
I have not started a production house just to power me – it’s not a vanity project. I’ve started this to tell stories. My first film had Ayushmann (Khurrana) and my next two announcements don’t have me. I believe that if a film requires another actor, I’ll go and approach him or her. Most actors are producing films that they believe in and that they want to cast themselves in, but I’m very clear that my production house will work with any actor worth his salt in the industry. That also stems from a certain sense of security that I have. I’m very relaxed. My co-actors know that this guy is only interested in bikes, he won’t care about anything else!
I am politically so aware – I can tell you what’s happening in Mexico, Syria, the ISIS issue, in Indonesia. I wipe out Time, Newsweek and the Economist. And I also know what’s happening in my own country. So I like talking about world matters and I want to be a voice.
What’s your larger vision? What stories do you want to tell?
Stories that makes an impact, make you think, but are also very commercial. The important thing for me as a producer is to make commercial films so that everyone in the distribution chain makes money. But at the same time my stories have to be engaging. Being a management student I’ve always said that the higher the risk, the greater the profit. I’m not afraid of failure. Aditya Chopra once told me – your most intelligent choices are the ones that have failed or are offbeat.
What’s the last film you saw that made you wish you had produced it?
I loved Lion. I cried a lot! And it’s a true story. I’m digressing here, but Parmanu is a true story too and the only thing we’ve changed here for the sake of confidentiality is the names of people. The story is 85 % true and the only fictional character is mine.
So yes, Lion was a film I could have produced. I also wish I could direct a film like that!
You’ve always expressed your admiration for actors like Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne Johnson – action stars who have built an entire career around their persona. Have you actively learnt from them and tried modelling your career in the same way?
The world over, your biggest stars are action stars. What’s common between Stallone, The Rock, Arnold Schwarzenegger is that they can’t do great action. It’s all about the attitude. One says ‘I’ll be back’, the other says, ‘Go ahead and make my day’ and the third screams ‘This is real’. You’re a hero and so you should look like one – you need to be menacing and big. I’m 6 ft 1.5 inches tall and I weigh 98 kilos. I still think I’m underweight, but I believe that if I wanted to run through a wall, I could. So I believe that an action hero should be larger than life. I hero worship Stallone. I don’t know if I’ve modelled myself around anyone, but I’d take a page out of Stallone’s book.
I also feel there’s a dichotomy in the way I think. As a producer I want to make films like Schindlers’ List and Madras Cafe. But as an action hero I’m going to start my own action franchise very soon – it will be the mother of all action films, but will also be smart.
Did you consciously tell yourself that this is the genre I really want to own?
No, it’s just what comes from within. The other guy I’d really like to model myself around is George Clooney. He’s, of course, attractive but that’s besides the point. He does good cinema and I think he comes across as attractive not just because of the way he looks, but the way he thinks.
I watched one of his interviews where he didn’t speak about himself or the films he does, he was just talking and you were held. And I thought this is what I want to be. I am politically so aware – I can tell you what’s happening in Mexico, Syria, the ISIS issue, in Indonesia. I wipe out Time, Newsweek and the Economist. And I also know what’s happening in my own country. So I like talking about world matters and I want to be a voice. I’m tired when people only ask me about my body. Someone was watching the Parmanu trailer the other day and said ‘Yaar, John ne shirt nahi utaara’.
So are you saying there can also be a downside to your physicality?
No I don’t want to be apologetic about it. You must live with it and thank god that you have it! When you come with certain genetics into the industry, use it! You’re a marketing person, use your strengths to position yourself in the minds of the consumer. But also educate and tell them that I also have the grey cells too.
You call yourself a student of fitness. When is the last time you had a cheat day?
So when you talk about real cheating you mean those kaaju barfis, right? That was 23 years go. My director jokes that eating with John is so bland, and that I don’t have taste buds. But I’ve conditioned myself into living like this. I’m very regimented. I don’t smoke or drink, except onscreen. I probably have a two sips of champagne once a year. I’ve never done drugs. So what is it that excites me? Outdoor activities, cleaning my motorcycle, getting my hands dirty. I’m very happy in this. If you take me out at night and keep me awake till 3 AM, I’ll fall sick. I get high fever. So I sleep by 9.30 -10 PM everyday. During night shoots I fall sick because my body clock has been reversed.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve got in the last 15 years?
Nothing that I remember off-hand. But I think if there’s one person I owe everything to, it’s Mahesh Bhatt. He was responsible for what I am. I respect him to no end. He’s what a director should be. He can convince you to do anything. During Jism he said ‘Son, after this film there’s no stopping you’. And I remember him saying J I S M – John is superb in the movie. I wouldn’t say his words were prophetic but it made me stay on!