Bollywood model-turned-actor and producer John Abraham has a new sports film in the pipeline that no one knows about just yet — but that’s not what he’s interested in talking about. He’d rather speak about his weekend refereeing young women footballers in Dubai and the difference he wants to make in the world by encouraging female empowerment and sustainability through sport.
“I am making a sports film ... it’s a very interesting sports film,” Abraham said in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!. “I can’t speak more than that about it but I always divert more into sports so that’s [the film is] something that’s going to happen.”
Abraham said that while Bollywood filmmaker’s aren’t obligated to make movies about female athletes and their struggles, telling their stories would certainly help encourage young women to break through barriers.
“When I became a producer I made a film on a sperm donor [Vicky Donor], I made a film on the assassination of my ex-Prime Minister [Madras Cafe]), for example ... so I make films that have very heavy content but they’re entertaining,” Abraham said. “So I think it’s not our responsibility to make [sports] films but it’s something that we must do creatively. I think we must promote and make sure that women are actually at the forefront.”
Film’s like Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom, for instance, or the upcoming biopic on Indian badminton player and former world number one Saina Nehwal starring Shraddha Kapoor, are certainly a movement in a positive direction, he added.
Abraham was in town to play a supporting role as ambassador for the Global Goals World Cup (GGWC) UAE — the first women’s-only global football tournament in the Middle East, organised to empower gender equality in the region as part of the UAE’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
It’s not a job he takes lightly. The brawny hunk isn’t just all talk about the meaningful causes under his belt though, he insists on driving action through leading by example — and in this case getting out on the field.
“You must make a change within yourself and then practice what you preach, and [only] then expect people to follow,” Abraham said. The actor added that he champions gender equality — and believes it’s important for men to do so — because he sees women as agents of change in every home, industry and society.
“In that way I must give credit to Hollywood: Meryl Streep can be a star in her own right,” he said.
Abraham, who owns the Indian Super League football franchise North East United FC, believes that initiatives such as the GGWC will encourage women to gain equal footing with men not only in a competitive sports arena but also in society. The winning team from the UAE will compete at the final in New York, during the UN General Assembly in September 2018.
“I’m here because I think women will make a change ... so I encourage girls to get more into sport and definitely get on to equal playing ground,” he stressed. “I’m tired of this chauvinistic behaviour for so long and I think things have to change. When I walked out there officiating a match, it was only women standing all around. I was the only man standing there and it felt really special to be the minority.”
Abraham thinks “women are far more superior generally” — even when it comes to the little things, like multitasking, and bigger things when it comes to overcoming barriers that don’t exist for men. He added that young women must look for inspiration to role models like Houriya Al Tahri, the first female Emirati football coach for the UAE’s National Women’s team.
“I think women can handle so much more [than men],” the fitness icon said. “I would like for them to see Houriya, and to understand that here’s an example of a girl who has taken up sport. She’s going to make a change because she’s the first female coach.”
Meanwhile, Abraham was all praise for the tournament venue — the Sustainable City in Dubai. The actor, who is carbon-footprint conscious and even uses solar panels on his office building to save energy, said he wishes more such ‘sustainable cities’ are built across the world.
Abraham’s cause-driven focus also lead him to becoming a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2016, but the actor is modest about lending his star power and points out that the common ground across causes is that everyone deserves equal respect.
“I hope I can use my platform or whatever little following I’ve got to reach out to a larger audience,” he said.
“Be it the Rohingyas, be it the Afghanis, or anybody from any part of the world, I think they’ve got a right to live ... they’ve got the right to live with a lot of respect. When you talk about a refugee for example, you know when the conditions in his or her country get better they are going to go back. So I don’t understand why we draw borders. That concept doesn’t exist in my head.”
John’s fitness philosophy
“I know I sound fuddy-duddy when I say this but I encourage people not to drink, not to smoke, [and] I discourage youngsters from doing drugs. That’s the first lesson I share with people — to just be responsible citizens and don’t indulge in bad habits, because it’s mostly the youngsters who kind of get into this. That’s one of the reasons I don’t go to any parties because I can’t stand the smell of alcohol.”
Football or soccer?
“I call it football or soccer because you play with your feet. I play football, I like cricket but I love football. [But] My favourite game is chess.”