For Saif Ali Khan, getting conversant with the Quran to play a jehadi in Rensil D'Silva's untitled film was relatively easy. But for John Abraham, learning the religious tenets of the Quran–in order to play an NRI Muslim in Kabir Khan's New York–was pretty tough.
Since he couldn’t read the Quran in its original, John had to study the holy book in translation. “It's part of my larger determination to prepare myself completely for a part,” said John. “Whether it was New York or now Abbas Tyrewala's film, I'm taking time off to prepare for the film and character. The audience today understands an honest film. That's what I want to give. I only want to do roles that take me out of my comfort zone. Through my characters and performances, I want to make people comfortable with what makes me uncomfortable as a human being and an Indian."
When John was traumatised
"John researched rigorously on Islam and its various aspects,” said a close friend. “His character in New York is detained wrongly for terrorism. John based his character on three such real-life Muslims who were taken into custody in the US for wrongs they hadn't committed. He actually lived, breathed, slept and wept like someone who had been wrongly ostracised."
So traumatised was he by the experience that John retreated into a shell while in Philadelphia shooting for New York.
"He wouldn't talk to people. He was completely in his own shell. It was a life-changing experience,” said the friend. “Today, John knows what it feels like to be a Muslim and a target of ceaseless suspicion and hostility in the US. He also empathises with the issue of Indian students being racially abused in Australia after playing an Indian abused in New York. He understands the isolation of the minority."
"He went very deep into the film's theme of Islamic isolation. His familiarity with Islamic terrorism started when he shot Kabul Express with Kabir Khan in Afghanistan,” said the friend. “John spoke to people in Taliban and began to understand the concept of jehad. He understood how dangerous it is to fight for a cause without knowing its history. So he went on the internet, found legitimate and proper translations of the Quran and learnt the proper pronunciations of the words."