Tuesday, August 23, 2011


For previous installments, please visit the index.

This is the last 2000s hero post. (Don't worry, I'll get to all the debutants later on!) I'm positive we'll be seeing all three guys in the 2010s, too, so please don't take my grouping of these guys to mean that I think they're washed up. It's more that I think they hit their stride in this rich and complicated decade.


Of all the male models who entered Bollywood in the first decade of the 2000s,* by far the most successful has been John Abraham. From his humble beginnings as a normal Mumbai guy to his current status as a top Bollywood hero, John has fought hard for everything he’s achieved. He’s had an uphill battle against an industry steeped in nepotism, critics who dismissed him as just another pretty face, and his own modest acting abilities - factors that would have crushed a less determined man. He is often discounted or overlooked and I don't think that it's fair. John Abraham may be best known for his stunning physique but it’s his sharp mind that kept him a vital part of the industry for much of the 2000s and (hopefully) into the 2010s.
John Abraham did not plan a career in front of the camera. As the story goes, he was working as a media planner at a large firm when he was discovered Lana Turner-style while delivering some papers to a photo shoot. The model hadn’t showed up and John was asked to fill in. His journey continued from print advertisements to winning the Gladrags Manhunt competition in 1999 and finally, in 2002, to Bollywood with a film titled Jism (Body), much to the continued amusement of the English-speaking world. It was one of those ultra-sexy B-movies that was just coming into the mainstream at the time. He played an ultra-sexy alcoholic playboy who falls for a dangerous woman, played by another model-turned-actress Bipasha Basu . Their sultry chemistry immediately set the box office aflame and, perhaps uncoincidentally, they soon became a couple.**
[John with Bips, in happier days...]

After a few more B-movies, John’s next big breakthrough was playing an ultra-sexy motorbike riding villain in a very mainstream film called Dhoom. Although he was playing the villain, his role was appreciated enough to kick him up out of B-movie league and into bigger budget films with stars like Sanjay Dutt and Akshay Kumar. And it’s here where John’s career really gets interesting. Instead of working his way up as the go-to Secondary Hero/Sultry Villain, John begins branching out into artsier films. He does a socially provocative film with the highly controversial, but internationally acclaimed, director Deepa Mehta. He travels to Afghanistan to play a war journalist in the gritty Kabul Express and dips his toes into gonzo arthouse films with the truly bizarre (but highly enjoyable) No Smoking. Though the films may be miles apart in tone, one gets the sense that John is keenly aware of his limitations as an actor and rarely do we see him bite off more than he can chew in an acting role.

Although John is more often seen in artier fare these days, he does indulge the audience’s desire for beefcake, but he does it with a twist. John paired with actor Abhishek Bachchan for the 2008 hit Dostana, in which they pretended to be a gay couple in order to rent a room in an apartment owned by an attractive young woman. The film was one of the first to really bring the topic of homosexuality into the mainstream conversation and John, in his wardrobe of skimpy swimsuits, was on display for both the female and male gaze in the audience. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in one memorable scene in his 2009 hit New York, in which John plays an innocent American Muslim man who is swept up by the FBI, we see him stripped nude and tortured. Because we are so used to objectifying him, it added an extra layer of pathos to seeing him forcibly stripped.
Unfortunately, John’s instincts haven’t been as good over the last couple of years and he’s appeared in a handful of real stinkers and had a very promising film cricket-themed film stopped mid-production due to murky financial reasons. John will never be at the very top tier of actors but I wouldn’t count him out in the years ahead. He may not have tremendous range as an actor but he has a palpable charisma beyond just his good looks and when he hits the right role with the right director, you can’t take your eyes off of him. And John’s willingness to take a chance on offbeat and potentially controversial roles is always welcome in an industry that tends towards inhuman gloss.***

Here are three films to start with:

Water (2005)

This one isn't technically Bollywood but it is an Indian film set in India, so I'm including it here. Directed by Deepa Mehta, the film tells the story of a group of widows, living in an ashram, in 1938. John plays a follower of Gandhi who falls in love with one of the widows. Keep an eye out for the woman who plays the head of the ashram, she is played by the late actress Manorama who was well-loved for playing scores of evil aunties, good aunties, and all sorts of female relatives throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Taxi No. 9211 (2006)

John Abraham plays a yuppie who gets mixed up in the life of a lower-class cab driver, played by one of the best actors working in business right now, Nana Patekar. While the film isn't a typical Bollywood film, it is an enjoyable watch and was a welcome break from glossy NRI romances when it was released. Plus, it features a catchy theme song.

Dostana (2008)

I think I've recommended this for Priyanka and Abhishek, too, but it is a solid performance from John and gives viewers a really good look at his physique.

* And there were quite a few: Arjun Rampal, Dino Morea, Arjun Baweja, and Upen Patel et. al. with varying degrees of success and acting skill.

** And only recently broke up.

*** Something director Anurag Kashyap captured very well in a blog post defending John from his detractors.


womanbread said...

I loved John in 'Virrudh' and 'Zinda,' as well.

'Aetbaar' was pretty okay, as well - I actually think the best part was John's pyschopathic character portrayal.

Yes, he's definitely lovely eye candy. No question about that. But I agree with you - it's not fair to dismiss him just because of his incredible good looks. He definitely can act, and is believable enough. Especially for a beginner, and even better because there's no nepotism attached.

Have you done posts on Arjun and my 'beloved,' Emraan yet?

dagnyfan said...

Ah, my John Abraham...he's better than Michelangelo's David. I'm so glad you talked about his intelligence and courage. People I know who have either worked with him or had long-term social contact report he really is a gentleman. I confess to being afraid he'll be ripped to shreds over Force. I sure hope he gets a hit soon. I loved Jism, Salaam-e-Ishq and Paaq (I liked the twist on Witness).

Jules said...

Mmmm.. thanks for posting those pics! I've never really seen John as being a huge Bollywood actor.. but I do enjoy watching him when he's showing some buff.

Amaluu said...

I guess I'm the lone female in the world that doesn't think John Abraham is ohmahgawd-so-hot ... I actually think people don't look at his face and get rather stuck on his body. I'm one of those cheesy 'eyes are the window to the soul' people and I find his to be hopelessly blank. Everytime I imagine a convo with him, I imagine his side would be peppered with a lot of "Duhhhhh". Perhaps not fair, but it's just the look he generally has on his face. I also don't think he is a convincing actor at all, and have yet to see any movie where I find any trace of talent in him. I think people tend to give him a pass for choosing films that are interesting and out of his acting range, but rail on Deepika for doing the same exact thing. Unfortunately Deepika gets less interesting films as a woman, too.

But that's just me ... ;-)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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