For Saif Ali Khan getting conversant with the holy Quran to play the jehadi in Rensil D'Silva's film was relatively easier. But John Abraham belonging to an entirely different religion and culture, learning the tenets of the Quran from the scratch to play the NRI Muslim in Kabir Khan's New York was not easy.
Not knowing a syllable of the Quran, John had to study the holy book in translation. Says a close friend, "John researched rigorously on Islam and its various aspects. His character in New York is detained wrongly for terrorism. John based his character on three such real life Muslims taken into custody in the US for wrongs they hadn't committed. John and his director Kabir Khan amalgamated the case of three such unfortunate people to create John's character. He actually lived breathed slept and wept like someone who had been wrongly ostracized."
So traumatized was he by the experience that John went into a complete shell in Philadelphia where New York was shot. Says the friend, "He wouldn't talk to people. He was completely in his own shell. It was life-changing experience. Today, John knows what it feels to be a Muslim and a target of ceaseless suspicion and hostility in the US. He also empathizes closely 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."
John studied the Quran closely. Says John's friend, "He went very deep in the film's theme of Islamic isolation. His familiarity with Islamic terrorism started when he shot Kabul Express with Kabir Khan in Afghanistan. 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 the history of that cause. He went on the net, found legitimate and proper translations of the Quran. He learnt the proper pronunciations of words in the Quran."
When asked about the process of acclimatizing himself with the Quran, John says, "It's part of my larger determination to prepare myself completely for a part. 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."