There was a time when the Bombay Scottish, Jai Hind and MET Bandra alumnus, the topmost model of India before he ventured into films, John Abraham’s ‘jism’ was his most prized Bollywood asset.
His earlier films following the erotic thriller (Jism), essentially had the staple bare bodied, muscle display to whet the appetite of his huge, largely female fan following.
Dhoom, Zinda, New York, Force and Race 2 gave a fillip to his action star persona while Garam Masala, Taxi no 9211, Dostana, Housefull 2, Dishoom added ‘playful and fun loving’ to his star charisma.
But there was always a question mark regarding his acting talents and solo draw. He was terrific in action roles even going so far as to do most of the stunts himself — a la Akshay Kumar.
Filmmakers usually approached him with roles best suited to the action star image. So even though Baabul, Jhoota Hi Sahi, Water and Aashayein had him in sympathetic roles, the critics never really believed he had it in him to give an empathetic and well realised performance.
Shootout at Wadala in which he played Gangster Manya Surve, was one of action star John’s mega successes. But even in that film his performance was merely a series of grandstanding though gritty poses. In most of his large repertoire of films his acting talents lay largely unexplored.
So, when John Abraham the star, turned producer, the expectation was that he would do justice to his raw talent. But the very first film he produced was the super successful Vicky Donor heralding Ayushmann Khurrana.
The film even won him the prestigious National Award for Best popular film providing wholesome entertainment. Welcome Back and Force, his other productions, merely exaggerated the already obvious.
Madras Café may have marked a change in his strategy. We saw him echoing real life, as a RAW agent chasing time to unearth the plot leading to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
The film though did not capture the audience fancy. Bollywood box office and trade analyst Vinod Mirani believes, “Even though the subject was rooted in real life the public were disappointed by his character’s failure to prevent the assassination of a former PM.”
Then came Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran and his equation with the box office changed for the better. According to trade analyst Narendra Gupta, Kingstar Entertainment, “Previously John’s box office successes were multi star cast films. Parmanu was John’s first major solo release. The film gave him a bumper return at the box office and established him as a bankable actor and star.”
John was no great dancer so most of the generic masala films passed him by. Parmanu was seen to be more sensitised and nationalistic and this galvanised the audience in his favour.
But more than Parmanu it was John Abraham’s mindless and brutally furious action display in Satyameva Jayate that re-established his winning ability at the box office. Gupta credits the film with returns in the margin of Rs 90 crores and thereabouts.
Romeo Akbar Walter (RAW) was yet another film in which John Abraham showed off his acting chops and even won praise for it but the film, though appreciated by a cross-section of the audience, was not as big a hit as was expected.
Mirani opines, “Even though John Abraham continues his tryst with realistic films he lags behind Akshay Kumar in box office terms.” Akshay’s Mission Mangal which released on the same date as John’s Batla House, has done much better over the weekend.
Gupta believes, “John would do well to avoid release date clashes with films starring big stars like Akshay. If Batla House had been a solo release it would definitely have garnered Rs 100 crore and more within the first few days itself.”
Batla House, even though ideologically questionable, was a much more serious and realistic film and had all the complexities of a psychological courtroom drama while Mission Mangal was designed to be spuriously entertaining with its laughable, kitchen sink version of science.
It also had several bankable heroines (Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha) to give it a lift-off at the box-office. Though Akshay’s film will still be deemed a solo hero release by the chauvinistic industry pundits, it really isn’t one.
Patriarchal leanings notwithstanding, it remains to be seen whether John Abraham will eventually take over Akshay’s ‘populist’ crown. Mirani feels, “John Abraham should direct his career to current recallable real-life inspired, on-screen exploits instead of past ones.” According to him, nationalism is losing steam at the box office.
John Abraham is getting closer and closer to breaching the deficit vis-à-vis Akshay Kumar and he certainly has it in him to give Akshay Kumar a run for his money.
Paagalpanti and Mumbai Saga are next on the cards. And if critics’ opinions are any yardstick then John’s fastidious impersonation of troubled cop ACP Sanjay Kumar in Batla House, rates much higher than Akshay Kumar’s gimmicky portrayal of scientist Rakesh Dhawan in Mission Mangal, so there!