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John Abraham: 'We have taken no sides'

Actor and producer talks about his controversial Madras Cafe

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John Abraham in Madras Cafe

Model, actor and now two films old producer, John Abraham stars in and produced Madras Cafe, opening this weekend in the UAE. While his first production, Vicky Donor, was a comical look at the world of sperm donation, he tells fans not to expect a typical John Abraham character in this reality-based take on Sri Lanka’s civil war. “You will not see the John of Force or Shootout at Wadala here,” he told tabloid! during an interview in Chennai, while promoting the film in Tamil Nadu. Since his visit, there have been calls to ban the film due to its portrayal of Sri Lankan LTTE fighters — also known as Tamil Tigers. “As a producer, we are presenting points of view from both sides. We have taken no sides,” said Abraham. As a press conference on Monday, he was defiant. “Somebody should take a stand and take up a subject like this and project it. These bullying tactics of groups and parties... I do not accept it,” he said. “We will make such films in future as well, and I don’t see any problems with such films.”

Describing the film as gritty and realistic, Abraham also said that since the Central Board of Film Certification has granted the movie a U/A certificate, there must not be a problem. “I am allowed to exercise freedom of speech as it is a democratic country,” said the actor.

Q. The film was earlier titled Jaffna, but now changed to Madras Café. Why?

This story is not about Jaffna or Sri Lanka specific. Madras Café is an important character in the story. A lot happens in this café. Hence, the name.

Q. What is Madras Café about?

It is an issue based and a political espionage thriller, a realistic action film. The story is set in Sri Lanka in the backdrop of the eighties and nineties. I feel the young generation of today may not be aware of what happened in Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s. The film was shot in Kochi, London and few scenes in Sri Lanka. Soojit wanted real bullets so we went to Thailand and Malaysia for an authentic feel. Nargis Fakhri plays a foreign journalist. There is no glamour in her role. We are hoping that the audience will enjoy it and that it has commercial success too.

Q. What about your role?

I play Major Vikram Singh. The story revolves around his journey and his struggles as he is torn between his professional and personal worlds.

Q. There is a lot of speculation about your film portraying LTTE members in poor light. What do you have to say about this?

We have done a lot of research on the story. I am a politically conscious citizen of the country and have taken care of the story. This film is based on fiction but inspired by true incidents. We have just told a story. It is unbiased. This is an unconventional story that we seek support for. Like Schindlers List, that caught the attention of also those people who were not Jews, we hope that Madras Café will be received favourably too.

Q. What prompted you to produce the film?

The story was lying with Shoojit Sircar for seven years. He first approached me as an actor to do the film some time ago. The topic is close to his heart. After Vicky Donor we took this up. We kept our budget low. It is important for us to tell this story so we concentrated on just that.

Q. How different is John the producer from John the actor?

I like my role as a producer as it gives me an opportunity to produce films with credible content like my earlier venture, Vicky Donor that fetched a national award. I wish to make sensible cinema. Now with Madras Café, we are trying to make a film that is close to our heart.

However, as an actor I can demand anything but not as a producer because I have to pay for it.