John Abraham seemed to suffer from the Dharmendra Syndrome for the longest time. Let me explain: Dharmendra was the hunkiest movie star of his time. He was not nick-named Garam Dharam for nothing (I plead guilty! I was editor of Stardust at the time and loved coining these handles). The first time I met John was at an awards function. He had won his trophy in the Best Male Model category—a cakewalk for him, given the competition. He was not particularly chatty. And did not hang around to socialise over cocktails like the rest of the high-profile winners. I figured out years later that our Johnny Boy is a far cry from Dharmendra. If Garam Dharam played up his rustic roots and charmed countless swooning females off their feet during his heyday, John remained the quintessential Bandra Boy—urban and aware. It took him time to earn his stripes in Bollywood, given that he was not playing ball with the big studios, nor sucking up to powerful producers. It was believed that he was no great thespian who would dislodge the reigning Khans, either in the acting stakes or commercially.
Something changed. John turned producer. John opted out of the dating game. John got married.
His films as actor/producer did respectable numbers in the competitive film market. And overnight, Bollywood started to take John seriously. Today, the ball game has dramatically changed. The irony of ironies being the launch of the sequel to the iconic Sarfarosh. Bagging the role of ACP Ajay Singh Rathod, originally played by Aamir Khan (India’s most cerebral actor), is no small triumph for John. His generous response to the new development was insisting that he is “deeply fond of Aamir”. The role came his way after director John Mathew Mathan decided he needed a younger actor! Oooops.
I am guessing the commercial success of John’s recent films, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran and Satyameva Jayate, has a lot to do with this casting coup. No matter, Bollywood today is saying, “John is on a roll.” Good for John. As for doing a sequel to Dostana, after the spectacular success of the original, viewers will be wondering how John will top ‘that’ scene—the canary yellow swimming trunks, butt-revealing one. If Karan Johar does revisit the story with fresh actors, he will definitely have to cast someone with as spectacular a butt as John’s.
The serious side to his life as a film producer is now firmly established. He says he would not venture into making a biopic on a known star or famous personality. His focus will remain on India’s unsung heroes—doctors, engineers and the common man. Meanwhile, the missus and he duck out for quiet dinners and outings, without any fanfare, unlike other Bollywood couples who make sure their publicists call up photographers each time the couple heads out. His attractive wife, Priya Runchal, stays under the radar, and that is the way the Abrahams prefer it.
I have known the Abraham family in quite another context. John’s brother and parents were friends of my late brother Ashok. Allen, John’s architect brother, had helped remodel my brother’s Bandra home a few years ago. Since that time, the friendship had steadily grown. It was wonderful to notice how unaffected the whole family was by John’s starry image and success. They continue to be regular Bandra professionals—well-liked by the close-knit community and respected for the quality of their work. John is a product of this solid, sensible, educated and stable environment. It shows.