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Saturday, December 2, 2023

John Abraham on Batla House: “We Are Trying to Narrate a Human Story”

John Abraham, Bollywood’s handsome hunk returns in his action-packed avatar with Nikkhil Advani’s Batla House.

The film’s title is based on the real encounter which took place in 2008 during which Delhi police were tipped off about a house in Jamia Nagar that was supposedly inhabited by suspects responsible for the Delhi bomb blasts.

As such, the police stormed into the address, L-18, Batla house on the morning of September 19, 2019.

Gunshots were exchanged and by the end of the heavy fire, two suspects were reported dead, two were injured while one escaped.

The apprehended suspects included Atif Amin and Mohammad Sajid, whose occupations were of students.

However, there was a controversy which followed the encounter.

As per Mashable, Delhi police faced a lot of accusations by media, politicians and newsreaders about the entire encounter being fake.

The entire encounter was pinned down to an interdepartmental rivalry.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was tasked by the High Court to get to the bottom of the matter.

However, in the aftermath, a clean chit was given to Delhi police after due investigation.

Filme Shilmy managed to catch up with John to talk about his experience of working on the film.

You last worked with Nikkhil in Salaam-E-Ishq, which is the opposite of Batla House. It must’ve been quite a nostalgic and intense experience for you?

Nikkhil and I found our space in Batla House and it was exciting when worked on Salaam-E-Ishq together but this film is a completely new Nikkhil Advani and a new John Abraham.

I think we’ve found our space with this film.

You’re playing Sanjeev Kumar Yadav who goes through PTSD whilst coming to terms with the encounter. How challenging was the research and preparation process?

I must credit Nikkhil and his team as they put in four years of research.

The only input I had was about showing the film from all perspectives, so it doesn’t become a stereotypical ‘cop becoming a hero’ film.

That’s what Nikkhil has done effectively and we all have tried to put together an impactful way.

We show it in three points of views: One from the victim/terrorist, from the special cell cop and from the perspective of the jurisdiction.

I keep repeatedly saying that a film is good when it evokes a debate. I think Batla House will probably just do that.

We want people to either agree/disagree or find an alternative perspective of the film.

You actually met Sanjeev Kumar Yadav…

Yes, I did. It was interesting because when you think of someone who is an encounter specialist, you imagine someone who is strong, fiery and ready to take on the world.

But he came across as someone who is shy, silent, soft-spoke and completely besotted by his wife… A very sweet man.

He was kind enough to let me in around his personal space because that’s why we were making this film, it was his personal journey which we discuss.

So it was about understanding the PTSD, the fact that he wanted to commit suicide and on the verge of separation.

Also, from being branded as a hero to being called a murderer, is a lonely journey for someone who is questioned by your own country, department, and system.

All in all, it was a great story and a very interesting sit-down that I had with him.

The Delhi police were given a clean chit, though several questions remain unanswered. What is the current status of the ‘Batla House’ topic and how does the film provide clarity on it?

Even though we are ending the film with a full stop, we are very clear on sharing all perspectives… Giving all interpretations of what could’ve happened in that room.

There was judgement passed but there was an appeal made after it and there is another case that is under trial.

We definitely are very clear about showing about this cop, this man’s journey and we’ve narrated the film from his point of view.

The film promises to exhibit a human interest side to Indian cops, rather than portray them as action heroes. Why do you feel it has taken a while for such representation to happen in mainstream Bollywood?

I think the Singhams, Simmbas and Dabanggs will always work because they are commercial films which are larger-than-life and very entertaining.

But I think that this is a completely different space as we talk about a real cop and a real incident, in which real human emotions have transpired.

What I’ve done with Batla House co-exists with what is happening on a very commercial scale and both are very entertaining their own respect.

I don’t think there is a shift now, it’s just that people want to make all kinds of films.

The Indian police force constantly seems to receive negative press coverage and reactions. What do you think they should do to change this perception?

Generally, I believe that perception is something that is built over a period of time.

A single film cannot break any perception… Nor are we trying to do that. We are trying to narrate a human story.

It is good and bad everywhere. So the minute you do speak about a good cause, there is going to be another story about a cop who has not done something good.

I think we are specific with one individual story… Not here to start a movement.

We are trying to show what the police force go through, especially what his wife went through given that she knew her husband couldn’t come back the next day.

He could’ve been killed in an encounter.

That is something we often forget because we often highlight the facts but forget what the cops and his family go through.

Batla House also stars Mrunal Thakur and Nora Fatehi and is in cinemas on 15th August.

It is distributed in the UK by Cinestaan Film Company.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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