Satyameva Jayate is not a desh-bhakt film, it’s pure masala, says John Abraham

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JOHN Abraham is suddenly in the thick of action. Not the Parmanu kind. Whereas the scientist Capt. Ashwat Rana in the story of Pokhran he gets his ass kicked by a Pakistani agent. Nor the Force 2 kind whereas the cop DCP Yashwardhan Singh he is on the trail of his friend’s killers in Budapest and tears apart the European city. Or the Dishoom kind where, again, as super cop Kabir Shergill on a manhunt for India’s missing top cricketer in the UAE he goes to war against goons with guns in the desert kingdom. This time, John is a kind of avenging angel or vigilante in the Milap Zaveri-directed Satyameva Jayate that releases on August 15. He prefers to think of himself as the kind of “hero of the hour” that the country needs who will defend women against molesters and punish the corrupt, dishonest and anti-national. The film’s trailer was all pulsating action. But John chooses to describe Satyameva Jayate as a “psychological thriller” in his promotions leading to the film’s release. Even as he gives interviews, Bollywood’s hunk is being asked about the Robbie Grewal-directed spy thriller RAW being made in Gujarat, Nikhil Advani’s Batla House that begins in September where he plays a cop, again, who takes on the Indian Mujahideen, and John Mathew Matthan’s sequel to Aamir Khan’s arms trafficking-busting cop film Sarfarosh of 1999. Tell him he’s playing the cop too much too suddenly and John shrugs his muscular shoulders.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q. There’s suddenly a spurt of Bollywood films bursting with national fervor. Satyameva Jayate is the latest…

A. But it’s not. This is very clearly a commercial hardcore masala film. There’s dialogue baazi, songs, an item number, action, romance and a cat-and-mouse chase. If we keep doing the same thing people will get bored. Satyameva Jayate has plenty of messages. Against molestation of women, corruption… but it’s all treated like a commercial Hindi masala film.

Q. You said action…

A. Yes, this has got a backdrop of action but it’s still a psychological thriller. It’s an emotional roller coaster. The film is laced with action. But not to the level of Force 2 or Rocky Handsome. I have always believed if the action in a film is not backed by the right kind of emotion, it’s not going to work. No matter how good the action is.

 Aamir (Khan) was very happy when I told him we got the title 'Satyameva Jayate'

Q. You are getting back to action after Force 2 in 2016…   

A. Yes, but I was primed for it. I keep fit 24/7. My lifestyle is extremely disciplined. My body is always warmed up. So even though Parmanu looked easy because there was no action from me, trust me, getting beaten up and flung over tables with a guy landing on top of me was tough. When doing action an actor has always to be mentally alert. That’s the difference between dance and action. In dance, if you do a wrong step, you look stupid. But in action, if you make the wrong move, you get hurt. I am constantly alert. I have great control over my physical self. This is why I never drink alcohol. I have this fear of losing control of myself. That works in my favour.

Q. You accepted Satyameva Jayate because…

A. Because I loved the script. It’s really nice. There’s no other way of putting it. There was nothing specific that attracted me most to the film. I just thought it was extremely emotional to the point I had tears in my eyes just listening to it. I was hoping that Manoj Bajyapee, who had yet to be approached, reacted the same way I did. I was coming from the Parmanu space, from Madras Café. Manoj from AiyaaryGangs of Wasseypur. They are different spaces. But it took Manoj exactly two seconds to say yes to the script. There’s something about the film that attracted Manoj and me to it. We enjoyed doing every minute of it.

When a woman is being molested and the law takes its time, you wish there were men like my character Vir around to crack the molester’s nuts!

Q. You both have acted together…

A. We did Shootout at Wadala in 2013. We had very few scenes. And in one scene I kill him! But we got on well. In Satyameva Jayate we have many scenes. I really enjoy working with him. We became good friends and had many intense discussions on life and other things. Manoj is a lovely person. Always laughing, smiling. On record I want to say he’s one of the finest actors India has. Working with him, the level of my own performance went up. I learned a lot. I am also a big fan of Manoj’s. And when you are a big fan of someone who is such a good actor and delivers dialogues so powerfully, you enjoy watching him. When I was young I saw him in Satya. And Manoj’s Shool is one of my favourite films. To see him in those films and then delivering dialogues in my face, was wow!

Q. What kind of hero are you in Satyameva Jayate?

A. When a woman is being molested and the law takes its time, you wish there were men like my character Vir around to crack the molester’s nuts! You know what I’m saying? In the real world this is not possible. That’s why I say that Satyameva Jayate is that aspirational film which, if a woman sees it, she says, “Yaar, mere life mein… if I had this guy na…” You need this hero in your life. And you’re getting that hero in Satyameva Jayate

Q. But… won’t it give people the wrong idea? India is already being referred to as “Lynchistan” because hatred and bigotry are leading to mob lynchings in as many as nine states where there were 27 killings by murderous mobs in a year…

A. The film doesn’t preach… it doesn’t give that kind of idea at all. It’s a very honest film laced in a commercial backdrop. So it’s different and doesn’t give the people the idea to bash and lynch. But think of the woman who gets disrobed by a man without her clothes being taken off. Don’t you think she wishes she had someone next to her who could hammer that guy? That someone is your hero. Satyameva Jayateonly just takes you to the point where you teach these people a lesson. It doesn’t encourage a mob mentality from all these fringe groups that polarize the country.

Q. There was talk that the film was inspired by Aamir Khan’s TV talk showSatyameva Jayate…”

A. Not at all. In fact, Aamir was very happy when I told him we got the title. The title was in public domain and we were excited when Bhushan Kumar, our producer, gave it to us. The title is ideal for the film. “Satyameva Jayate” is written on every policeman’s badge. It means that truth will always prevail. This was not an opportunistic decision after we got the title to release on August 15. We wanted to release on a public holiday. That holiday could have been Eid, Diwali or Christmas too. That holiday happens to be Independence Day for us.

Today, if there is a hero who can lift cars and bikes, break down walls, and throw the villains around… then it’s me. At 6’1 and 95 kilos, I have the physicality for it.

Q. Nikhil Advani, who will direct you in Batla House, is one of the producers of Satyameva Jayate. Were you trapped in situational arguments between director Milap Zaveri and him?

A. They are from contrasting backgrounds. And they are like husband and wife. Keep arguing all the time. But love one another to death. Nikhil is the most unadulterated, honest guy around. He’s straight and in your face if you look into his eyes. He says what he means and means what he says. If you have a problem with that then Nikhil is not your man. But if you’re a straight and honest person yourself, then Nikhil is your man. We plan to co-produce a lot of films. And I am very excited about our relationship. We’re doing Batla House together. There is an element of faith and trust here. Milap, on the other hand, is a dialogue ka dukan. The dialogues in the trailer of Satyameva Jayatehe delivered on the spot. They are mind blowing. People here take hours and much head pounding to get one dialogue out, Milap does it just like that. He’s a very talented boy. I think Milap is also the last man standing in terms of talent in this industry that thinks from the heart. He’s a good man. He cares more about family and friends than making money. Milap chose to do a different genre of films in between. That was his decision. I hope he finds his calling in Satyameva Jayate.

Q. You enjoy doing action?

A. Yes, I’m enjoying it. Today, if there is a hero who can lift cars and bikes, rip apart tyres, break down walls, and throw the villains around… then it’s me. At 6’1 and 95 kilos, I have the physicality for it. This is a visual medium and if my body lends to the character, why not?

Q. What’s your message in Satyameva Jayate beyond truth always prevails?

A. The film centers on this guy trying to correct immoral behavior. It talks about being honest and non-corrupt. Not to molest, not to hurt. But I want to entertain the audience. I want them to go to the theatres for paisa vasool entertainment. Not to go thinking this is a desh-bhaktfilm and get bored.

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