MUMBAI— He made his debut 16 years ago with “Jism.” For a good while, despite doing good films and chalking up neat performances in films like “Taxi No. 9-2-1-1,” “Dostana” and “New York,” he was wrongly called a wooden actor.

In 2012, he began to make and act in the cinema he wanted to do, starting out with “Vicky Donor,” featuring a new entrant, Ayushmann Khurrana. Next came “Madras Café,” which was a flop but confirmed that Abraham was a good actor who was set for a long haul.

Last year was terrific for the actor, with his home production “Parmanu” having a long run of over 75 days, and “Satyameva Jayate,” which was a big hit. Abraham now confidently stars in “RAW (Romeo Abkar Walter)” and is now doing yet another patriotic film, “Batla House” and the comedy “Pagalpanti.”

Yes, comedy is also a space in which he has been doing great work – besides “Dostana,” there have also been “Housefull 2” and “Welcome Back.” But what is clear now is that Abraham is a dependable actor who wants to make sure that every film counts and that every production from his banner J.A. Entertainment is automatically looked upon as an entertainer that also says something uncommon.

The man has returned to India on the night of Mar. 31, and after finishing his frenetic promotional activities, is set to return there. We met the actor in a hurry; the PR team hassled and telling us to finish fast. There would have been many more questions, but for that, Abraham’s schedules have to be better managed. After all, few stars are as simple, open, honest and lovable as this Bangalore strongman.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: You say there’s a difference between John Abraham before and after “Vicky Donor.”

A: I was modeling after my MBA and knew a lot about marketing and selling something based on its USP. In this case, I was the product, so I used my physicality as my USP. Yes, I got a few good films, but you will notice that my level of performances became different after I turned producer because that’s when I decided that now I am going to do what I really wanted to do in cinema. I was therefore convinced about whatever I was doing, whether it was a “Vicky Donor,” a “Madras Café” or a “Parmanu.”

I cast Ayushmann in the first film and myself in “Madras Café.” The right casting is important as well. You can see the maturity in the performances.

Q: Has it been a conscious decision to do patriotic films?

A: My heart feels very strongly for our country. I am a great India lover. But none of these films have been conscious choices. They have not come by design but by default. Maybe I gravitate towards such films; maybe they gravitate towards me, I do not know. The subject of “RAW” blew my mind, “Batla House” blew my mind. But I am a great fan of Anees Bazmee-sir, and I enjoy his space, so I am doing “Paglapanti” as well. This film is a rollercoaster where you will laugh every second. So were we in-between our shots! So it is about whatever appeals to me.

Q: Aren’t we as audience also gravitating towards different, real as well as patriotic stories?

A: If you want a clichéd answer, yes, we are. We do want to see real stories. Fact is stranger than fiction, and fact is also easier to present rather than concocting a story. There is also the credibility that this real story has happened.

Q: The promos of “RAW” showed that you had many looks, but there are only three characters in the title. Were they just designed to have the acronym for India’s intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing?

A: I gave credit for this to producer Bunty Valia. The main characters are Romeo aka Rahimatullah Ali, Akbar Malik and Walter Khan. We have made a story that joins three real sagas of three real characters. By a coincidence, the three words added up to RAW. Director and writer Robbie Grewal has written a fantastic script and because his father has been a part of Military Intelligence, we have taken a lot of real stories and amalgamated them.

Q: Shoojit Sircar, Abhishek Sharma, Milap Zaveri and now very probably Robbie Grewal. You have worked with flop directors to make successful films.

A: I would call them good films rather than hits.

Q: We barely hear about you in-between films, like on social media. Your private life also is not open. How do you manage to do that today?

A: I do not compete with anyone; I am comfortable and operate in my own world, and rule in my own space. If I had to conform to style and culture, I would have to cultivate every camp and attend every party, which is something I do not know or do not understand!

I never go to director give me a film, and today people that if it is a film from J.A. Entertainment, something about it will be different. It may not be the best in the world, may not necessarily do 100 or 200 crore, but will entertain. In fact, if everyone is following a trend, I would do the reverse!

Like today, if you say we are after patriotic films, the last two films I have taken up are a comedy and a film on bikes. I am also not into the business of having 40 bare-bodied pictures of me on Instagram! I can do that so easily, but why should someone know what I am doing all the time? Why should it be of interest about when, where and how much I eat, or what I do in the toilet! Social media stars are so many but what they have done in cinema? If you ask whether it is anything significant, the answer is probably ‘No.’ I let my work do the talking. So here I am giving you interviews because after that I will disappear until my next film!

Q: How true is the plot of “RAW?”

A: As I said, we have mixed three characters’ stories. Everything in it, other than me is fact. This was also the case with “Madras Café” and “Parmanu.” Robbie’s father gave us intimate details about the lie detectors and decoding machines of 1971 and other details. Robbie is the real hero of this film. The climax is really special, and you will come out with a sense of patriotism. It’s a special film, and I don’t say that about so many films. If I know it is a bad film; I am quite capable of saying my film is not a great one!

Also, we had to follow protocol, and a lot of depictions needed special permissions. This is also the reason why stories on a lot of such heroes are not being told, as they have to remain anonymous.

Q: But don’t you think something should be done about such people, maybe after their deaths in action?

A: Yes, and we are trying to do that. Only yesterday, I met the families of some of the Pulwama victims. I know we all get angry when we read about such things in newspapers, but when you meet their families, and they still show that fierce sense of pride at being Indian, your HEART cries! Their sacrifice is at another level, and here we complain about relative trivia like the heat, water, roads…!

Q: What is your take on awards?

A: Seriously, I disrespect all awards, except possibly the National, and it is a joke that we all know what happens in then and how actors have to pose in front of pan masala hoardings. And when you have awards like ‘Best Social Media Internet Star’ what can I say! So they too know my views, and my films and I are not even nominated. Can you imagine a film like “Parmanu” not even being nominated? I guess we have made it a lifestyle choice to attend them or to dance at weddings, but I cannot be a part of all that.

Q: You recently suffered very inclement weather shooting for “Pagalpanti’ in England.

A: Yes, we still tried to shoot, except when it was very bad, and the winds had a speed of 100 kilometers an hour! But Anees-sir and all of us braved it all because we were laughing all the time even if we were shivering. Hats off to the unit and the cast – Anil Kapoor – who would admire his own work while feeling the cold! – Arshad Warsi, Kriti Kharbanda, Ileana D’Cruz, Pulkit Samrat, Arshad Warsi, Saurabh Shukla – everyone.

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