Farhan Akhtar and Paresh Rawal are earnest in this underdog Hindi sports drama by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra that has many familiar beats. But, is it enough?
In a scene that’s a reflection of the times we are in, ace boxing coach Nana Prabhu or Narayana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal) is taken aback when his friend (Mohan Agashe), accuses him of being prejudiced and talking like a ‘bigot’. In his defence, Nana Prabhu points out that he has taken the former thug Aziz Ali (Farhan Akhtar), from Dongri, under his wings and trained him to be a champion.
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Yet, he cannot overlook an old wound that continues to fester after a loss caused by a terror attack. Should an entire community be eyed with suspicion for the actions of a few? Can Prabhu accept Aziz if he were to cross the line from just being a dutiful student? Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Toofaan (storm) raises these and other questions.
- Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Mrunal Thakur and Paresh Rawal
- Direction: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
- Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Toofaan is Mehra and Akhtar’s second outing together, after Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) which was inspired by the life and times of the late athlete Milkha Singh. Toofaan, however, isn’t as rousing or as effective in its emotional heft.
Since Bhaag Milkha…, Indian cinema has had a plethora of sports biopics and fictional dramas. Despite the arduous physical transformation of the lead characters and the eye for detail with which sporting action is filmed, very few films escape the feeling of deja vu. Toofaan goes through predictable arcs and also covers new ground, in its 163-minute duration.
The first hour has all the makings of an underdog masala flick, as Aziz goes about his small-time thug life, beating up people in the process of collecting debts. He’s a ‘vasooli’, working for a gangster (Vijay Raaz in a special appearance); his jumping the queue to have his bruises attended to annoys Dr Ananya (Mrunal Thakur), who declares that the hospital’s priority is to treat needy patients rather than a street fighter. A chance encounter introduces him to the world of boxing where he discovers sportsmanship and real izzat (respect) than the salaams by those who fear his brawn power in street fights.
The film is on sure footing in the stretch where Aziz has to prove that he is serious about boxing and worthy of being trained by Nana Prabhu. With the help of cinematographer Jay Oza, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack and editor Meghna Manchanda Sen, Mehra captures the metamorphosis of Aziz deftly.
Farhan Akhtar shows off his diligently transformed physique (the rigorous training programme designed by fitness expert Darrell Foster who trained Will Smith to play boxing legend Muhammad Ali in the 2001 film Ali). There’s a definite nod to Muhammad Ali here as well, as Aziz looks up his knockout videos and aspires to punch his way through that path.
Intermittently, we get a sense of the big bhai being unhappy with Aziz wanting to move away from the gangster life to sports. Had this been an outright masala film, we might have seen a clash of the bhais. But Mehra steers clear of that zone.
Instead, we get to savour the gradually developing rapport between the coach and the disciple. ‘The boxing ring is your home, don’t let anyone break in,’ Nana Prabhu tells Aziz, who has brute force but is yet to learn the technique. The film comes alive in moments like these.
The romance between Dr Ananya and Aziz happens on expected lines, as an older nurse (Supriya Pathak) watches on, but these portions pale in comparison with the sports training, where Aziz earns the moniker ‘toofaan’.
The later portions, where the underdog has to redeem himself, get predictable. There’s earnestness, but it isn’t new terrain. We’ve seen such on-screen journeys earlier, and as expected, an old rival resurfaces.
While Farhan and Paresh Rawal walk away with chunky parts, Mrunal Thakur makes an impression in her given screentime. Hussain Dalal as the friend gets a few moments under the sun. Supriya Pathak deserved better.
Had Toofaan been taut and tried to circumvent staid sports drama tropes further, it would have been worth rooting for. The only thing that sets this film apart is the social commentary (‘love jihaad’ finds a mention), reflecting how tough it can get for a couple to retain their respective names and identities and still dream of a life together.
(Toofaan streams on Amazon Prime Video)