Bollywood star John Abraham on Rocky Handsome: ‘I trained hard ... and enjoyed every bit of it’

Knives and a brutal fitness regimen were key to John Abraham's new drama Rocky Handsome.

After six adrenalin-packed weeks in Abu Dhabi spent hanging out of helicopters and racing sports cars for his upcoming film Dishoom, John Abraham was back in the UAE on Sunday to promote his new film Rocky Handsome.

A cheesy title, yes, but the Bollywood hunk carries it well – he is, after all, one of the Hindi film industry's most bankable stars and has two successful home productions – Vicky Donor (2012) and Madras Cafe (2013) – under his belt.

His third production venture, Rocky Handsome, is an adaptation of the 2010 Korean film The Man From Nowhere. Directed by Nishikant Kamat, the action drama has Abraham in the titular role, portraying a man who goes after the drug mafia after they kidnap an 8-year-old boy. In an interview with The National, the fitness fanatic reveals why the training regimen, which included hours of practising various martial arts, was the most torturous he has ever experienced.

How different is Rocky Handsome from Madras Café and Vicky Donor?

If you see Madras Cafe and Vicky Donor, then they are far riskier projects. I mean, if I had told you I am making a film on a sperm donor, or on the assassination of a former prime minister, then you would have probably told me that it's not going to happen. With Rocky Handsome, on the contrary, we have reduced the risk.

Not only have we got a director of the calibre of Nishikant Kamat, but we have made sure that film is very, very commercial. It is far larger than Vicky Donor or Madras Cafe, not just in scale, but also in the ideas and ­execution.

It must take a lot of multitasking to be the lead actor and the producer of a film.

I find it very easy to multitask. My job as a producer is to – before the shooting starts – look at the script, the casting and all of those things. Then, after the shooting is done, to look at marketing and promotions. But between those points, during the shoot of the film, I was purely John Abraham the actor.

There is some pretty intense action in Rocky Handsome. Tell us a bit about it.

It was definitely intense. I trained hard. Fourteen hours a day for nearly a month and enjoyed every bit of it. I learnt different art forms – Kung Fu, Karate, Krav Maga … even a Malay martial art featuring knives: Silat. After training, I rehearsed, and then we shot the rehearsals the way we were planning to shoot the film. A lot of hard work went into it. After a whole day of training and rehearsal, when I used to have a shower in the evening, I used to literally wince because of the burning and the pain. Even though you practise Silat with blunt knives, your body is still sore and black and blue ­afterwards.

Were there ever times when you questioned why you were doing it?

Of course there were times when I would ask why am I doing this? Why am I hurting myself so much? Is this worth it?

Then my director told me – after he saw the rehearsal shots – that it seems like I have been doing martial arts from the age of four. For me, that is the biggest validation: when your director tell you that it looks convincing. When you see the film, you will appreciate how effortless we have made it look. We’ve made it look like a part of my body language, like poetry in motion.

What is the one thing you have learnt from starring in action films?

That you can have the best action in the world, but if your emotions are not right, then you will fail. People don’t come to just see action. When you watch Rocky Handsome, you will find both action and emotion.

Rocky Handsome is out in cinemas on Thursday, March 24