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How Parmanu is a nuclear test for John Abraham's box-office reputation

While his ability as producer still has some way to go, it is Abraham's key skill as leading man that might face a challenge on 25 May. 

Shriram Iyengar

Directed by Abhishek Sharma, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran revolves around the secret underground nuclear tests conducted by India in Pokhran in 1998. John Abraham plays Captain Ashwat Raina, who leads a team of scientists and army officers (Boman Irani and Diana Penty) to conduct the tests away from the spying eye of the United States of America. Set to be released on 25 May, the film boasts of an interesting story, and a talented cast, but only one with a star billing — John Abraham. 

Since his debut, Abraham has been wandering in the limbo between the zone of a star and an actor. With Parmanu, the actor seeks to straddle the two elements of commerce and gutsy, content-driven films in one project. After a spate of flops in Rocky Handsome and Force 2 (2016), the actor is at a crossroads in his career. 

Force 2 (2016) proved a flop for John Abraham 

This diversity, while admirable, is one of the reasons for his recent failures at the box-office counters. Trade analyst Atul Mohan says: "He has placed himself in the action hero zone, but he has not been very selective. It is not clear if he wants to establish himself as an action hero or as a hero who can act well. The kind of films that he has been doing, are not so great scriptwise." 

The last two years saw the actor deliver three major films at the box office in Dishoom (2016), Rocky Handsome (2016) and Force 2 (2016), of which Dishoom and Force 2 managed average collections at the box office, while Rocky Handsome flopped. In fact, the actor's last successful film was Housefull 2 (2012). It remains the actor's only film to cross the hallowed Rs100-crore mark at the box office. 

In the last five years, Abraham has starred in eight films, of which three — Force 2 (2016), Rocky Handsome (2016), I, Me Aur Main (2013) — flopped. Even Dishoom (2016) alongside the rising star Varun Dhawan proved to be an average grosser, and ranked alongside Madras Cafe (2013) and Shootout At Wadala (2013). Only Race 2 (2013) and Welcome Back (2015) proved to be semi-hits. But both these films had ensemble casts, and did not rely on Abraham as the leading face for the film. 

This production element has also proved to be quite the challenge with Parmanu. Abraham's JA Entertainment was involved in a bitter battle with KriArj Entertainment over the rights of the film, before moving court to acquire its rights. While the controversy played out big in publications and the online media, the audience might not care for it. The film's content has elements which might work at the counter. 

The key element is the angle of patriotism. The top billing at the box office currently belongs to director Meghna Gulzar's Raazi. While Raazi does boast of an A-list star in Alia Bhatt, the film's USP proved to be its sensitive handling of emotions in the time of war. Like Raazi, Parmanu deals with a crucial, but relatively unknown, event in India's 20th century history. The inspiring and hidden elements of the story might be capable of drawing in the audience. 

Alia Bhatt in Raazi (2018)

The realism of the subject, Mohan emphasizes, is key. "It is one of the plus points, the film [Parmanu[ is riding on. The generation of today, in the age bracket of 18-25, would want to know what happened," he said. Incidentally, the film is being released a week after the 20th anniversary of the underground nuclear tests conducted at Pokhran. 

The 'strategic and limited' release of the film will also ensure that there is a concerted targeting of audiences who are interested in the subject. While the cast of Boman Irani, Diana Penty does not boast of any star power, the subject paired with a couple of talented actors might spark some curiosity among the audience.  

However, the film does mark an important turning point for the actor. Abraham now faces competition from a changed audience willing to accept action heroes like Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan take on content-driven films. The actor now needs to deliver in order to find himself in a relevant space. 

Mohan says, "Even Dishoom was decent at the box office, but all the credit went to Varun Dhawan. By that measure, Parmanu is very crucial. It is a nuclear test for John Abraham."

A test which will be answered on 25 May. As he says in the teaser to the film, "Ab hum karke shaant baithenge (Now we will rest after we have accomplished it)." It might prove to be the best answer he can give. 

(Collections in India Net Gross as per Boxofficeindia.com)

Films  Year  Total earnings (approx gross)
Race 2 2013 Rs93.48 crore
I, Me Aur Main 2013 Rs8.51 crore
Shootout At Wadala 2013 Rs53.59 crore
Madras Cafe 2013 Rs43.84 crore
Welcome Back 2015 Rs95.92 crore 
Rocky Handsome 2016 Rs22 crore
Dishoom 2016 Rs68 crore 
Force 2 2016 Rs31.92 crore