It’s been about a decade since John Abraham first faced the camera for his first film, “Jism,” released in 2003. With “Vicky Donor,” released Apr. 20, being applauded unanimously by the press and public, the actor has stepped into production territory with immense success. A film from which there were no expectations is being hailed as the best film of the season.
On a whirlwind promo tour in the city just after its release instead of before (his marketing strategy has been unusual, like the film), Abraham is in genial mood rather than in over-the-top ecstasy. “We have made about 7.5 crore all-India on opening weekend,” he told India-West at a stopover at the Express Towers in Mumbai. “That’s exactly what I thought it would make!”
The star of “Dhoom,” “Garam Masala,” “Dostana,” “New York,” “Desi Boyz,” and now “Housefull 2” shows his pedigree throughout the meeting. His gentle “Thanks, yaar!” with a broad smile when I remind him that I had told him at the premiere that the film would zoom from its opening Friday evening by word-of-mouth (which had happened) is much more sincere than the over-the-top flamboyant thanks of his more “filmi” brethren.
Q: How was “Vicky Donor” conceived, no pun intended?
A: It was an idea by our writer, Juhi Chaturvedi. Shoojit Sircar had loved the storyline and he had already decided his approach to the film when made — that though it was to do with sperm, it would not be sleazy or repulsive. At that time, Shoojit and I were making “Jaffna,” which was held up — we are now planning to restart it in September. When I read the script, I not only found it damn good but also thought that it was a terrific commercial material. So I told him that I would produce it.
I was always confident of the film from day one. The film’s need was a fresh new face as Vicky, which fitted with my ideas as I was testing the waters as a producer. So confident was I that I decided not to even talk about it till the principal shoot was over.
Sunil Lulla of Eros Entertainment had once told me that he would back any film I wanted to produce, and it took him one second to say that he was on when I told him that I was thinking of producing a film. Of course, when I told him that it was about sperm donation, it took him two seconds more! (laughs) When I watched the first cut, I knew this was going to work. I have even held back the satellite rights — a conscious gamble that has paid off, for I can really get thrice what I would have got earlier. But then, it was not a gamble in that sense, just my faith in the film and the way we made it.
Q: What was so special for you about your team?
A: Shoojit, I think, is a very clean person and what I loved about Juhi’s script was that it told a story that was woven around facts. There was a message, but there was no preaching. There was no conscious attempt to be serious, and yet everything came across. As for Ayushmann, I was his fan as a VJ and he had the natural air of Vicky Arora from Delhi in him. All the actors who have done supporting roles besides Annu Kapoor are from Delhi theatre, and including Annu-ji, all are well-versed in that idiom and culture. Only my heroine, Yami Gautam, was from Chandigarh and based in Mumbai. But she was playing a Bengali!
Q: Yami Gautam has packed a wallop. How did Shoojit and you choose her?
A: Most of these actors were chosen through auditions. We then had workshops.
Q: Now that the film is doing well in all senses of the term, do you regret not doing the title role?
A: Not at all. When I read the script I knew there was no place for me in it, and I was more than happy about it. I was a media planner before I turned actor and I was happy being free, because I planned exactly how to position my film.
Like, when “Desi Boyz” was killed because of an “Adults Only” certification that was unfair to the content of the film, I was very clear that we wanted a U/A from the Censors (the equivalent to Parental Guidance Suggested) and that makes a difference to a film’s business and its reach over the 680 prints we have released. I must say that Eros has done a great job of the marketing and the film has got them respectability in turn.
Q: “Housefull 2,” also distributed by Eros, has got you praise for your performance and crossed the 100-crore magic figure on Apr. 22, the same day that “Vicky Donor” was declared a success. How does it feel to have scored a double whammy?
A: It feels great, yeah. I loved it when someone came up and congratulated me for making a great film and I realized that he was actually talking about “Housefull 2” and when another fan said that he loved my fun film and I came to know that he meant “Vicky Donor!” I think that “Housefull 2” is a film that cannot be critically reviewed. When kids come and say that they loved me, and so do grown-ups, it’s more about rewards than great reviews for “Housefull 2”!
Q: Buzz is that “Vicky Donor” was the third or fourth title for the film.
A: Yes, our first title was “Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan.” After that we thought of “Father’s Day” and even “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!”
Q: The issue of sperm donation has been taboo in Indian society. Were you never scared of controversies or audience rejection?
A: As I said, the script and Shoojit’s concept were so wonderful that there was no scope for anything but excitedly wanting to make this film. I was to produce a film with UTV called “Film City” some years ago that never happened, so this one seemed just right to make as my first film. On a lighter note, Ayushmann one day told me that he had actually donated sperm once. And I said, “Man, then our casting was perfect!”
I think that this issue needs to be presented well to society. I had my apprehensions about our showing the vial of spermatic fluid again and again, but as I said, everything was magical in the way things worked because of our clarity of concept. And it is gratifying when doctors and sperm bank officials called to thank me after watching this film. They said that I had done it with dignity.
I would definitely love to make more of such movies that are content-driven but commerce-friendly. Shoojit, Ayushmann and I as a producer are now working on “Hamara Bajaj.” I want to be one of Mumbai’s most influential producers in the next few years. I will get there.
Q: What about directing a film?
A: Not yet, but I would love to direct a film when I am ready for it.
Q: Your music also was used in an unusual way. And you decided to dance in an item song.
A: Well, it’s my first solo item number and I probably will not do any more! I would rather be known as an item producer rather than an item boy! (laughs) But though I am principally against item numbers, especially for women, I agreed to the song “Rum Whisky” because by its very DNA it was a male-driven number, unlike the other songs in my film. “Rum Whisky” does also come in the background during the sequence where the old women are drinking.
Q: A curious point: Vicky has sired 53 kids in the film. Why 53?
A: (Laughs) I fought a lot about that with Shoojit! I mean…53! But then I read about this Danish man who had fathered 500 children and I kept quiet! (laughs) As for that particular number, I would say, why not 53?
Q: We hear that you are guiding Ayushmann on his next moves.
A: Yes, I think that’s quite important. Though I was a media planner, when I came into the industry there was nobody to guide me and help me choose the right from the wrong. It is very important today to know that at a time when Ayushmann is being flooded with offers.
Q: The “Vicky Donor” team was also never seen on reality shows.
A: Like the doctors and sperm bank officials told me, we have done everything with dignity. And again, I was very clear about it. If the film had to have credibility, it had to start from the marketing itself. Everything had to be clean and non-controversial. My team was not going to feature in serials or reality shows, and I was not going to pack them off in buses all round the country. I was perfectly willing to let the film open slowly and then pick up by word-of-mouth. “Vicky Donor” deserved the dignity it commanded.
FILMOGRAPHY – JOHN ABRAHAM
(Hits/Successes in capitals)
2003 – JISM, Saaya
2004 – Aetbaar, Paap, Lakeer, DHOOM, Madhoshi
2005 – Elaan, Karam, Viruddh, KAAL, GARAM MASALA
2006 – Zinda, TAXI NO 9 2 1 1, Baabul, Kabul Express
2007 – Salaam-e-Ishq, Water, No Smoking, Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal
2008 – DOSTANA
2009 – Little Zizou, NEW YORK
2010 – Aashayein, Jhootha Hi Sahi
2011 – Force, DESI BOYZ, 7 Khoon Maaf
2012 – VICKY DONOR (producer & cameo), HOUSEFULL 2