Synopsis – The story of fictional boxer who rises above all odds.
My Take – Despite being known for creating path breaking films like Rang De Basanti (2006) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), over the years Rakesh Omprakash Mehra has grown on to become one of the most peculiar filmmakers in the Hindi film industry.
Marking his feature directorial debut with the bizarre Aks (2001), Rakesh Omprakash Mehra has gone on to also helm perplexing films like Delhi-6 (2009) and Mirzya (2016), and even taken on producing lackluster comedy fare in the form of Teen They Bhai (2011) and Fanney Khan (2018), with the under-watched Mere Pyare Prime Minister (2019) being his preceding film.
While his re-teaming with Farhan Akhtar after eight years for another sports based story seemed like a great idea to bounce back, considering how the real-to-reel story of ‘The Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh was a massive critical and commercial success, unfortunately anyone hoping to see the duo surpass themselves are bound to be left disappointed.
Sure, the end result is something that is definitely watchable and vastly better than most of his films which deserve to sit at the extreme end of the spectrum, and contains another engaging Akhtar performance who once again transforms himself to leave us dumbfounded, but only if the director Mehra‘s most commercial film wasn’t so clichés galore.
Traversing the predictable terrain of almost every film in the genre, it just doesn’t offer anything new, especially to justify its extraordinary 161-minute running length.
The story follows Aziz Ali (Farhan Akhtar), a Muslim orphan, who along with his best bud Munna (Hussain Dalal) act as enforcers for Jaffer (Vijay Raaz), a gangster. When one of his violent squabbles lands him in front of Dr. Ananya Prabhu (Mrunal Thakur), he is instantly smitten, despite her treating him poorly for his chosen profession. However, Aziz finds a new meaning in life when he discovers boxing during a visit to a local gym and immediately gets hooked on to legendary boxer Muhammad Ali’s videos.
With a new found determination to live a straight life with Ananya, Aziz manages to convince Nana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal), a renowned boxing coach, to train him, under whose guidance, he quickly climbs the ladder and reaches the nationals. But unbeknownst to him, Nana is Ananya’s father, who dislikes Muslims due to a personal tragedy, and becomes irate when he finds out about their relationship, driving a wedge between the father-daughter and ending his coaching with Aziz. Yet, desperate to make a life for himself and Ananya, Aziz makes a decision that alters his rising career forever.
The film is treated like any other biopic with loads of drama at every step dominating. Regrettably, after starting with a promise, it soon turns formulaic with romance, melodrama, friendship, and songs thrown in, the film ends up being a mishmash of too many ingredients in the almost three hour long film. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it adds unnecessary controversial tracks of love-jihad into the mix.
Yes, taken purely as a boxing film, the film is technically sound. Each fight is carefully choreographed, and includes the classic slow-mo shots of someone getting their face whacked with blood flying in every direction. But when compared to a rags to riches story like Rocky, here, director Mehra spends much less time on Aziz’s rags part of life, with the first act moving too quickly in introducing us to the central duo of Aziz and Ananya, establishing their initial butting of heads, and then jumping into their relationship.
The film’s biggest problem is that everything goes as predicted, and falls very short when compared to a film like Mukkabaaz (2017), in which director Anurag Kashyap pulled no punches in telling the story of the strife and struggle of an aspiring boxer whose rise to the top is maimed by both corruption and class divide. While this film, by the end of the third act, loses every little originality and promise it had shown in its first hour.
Nevertheless, the track ‘Star Hai Tu’ deserves a mention, as it is filmed beautifully on a street that’s filled to the brim with background actors. With the colorful costumes, fun choreography, and upbeat, catchy beat, it’s hard to keep yourself from dancing in your seat.
Thankfully what rescues the film are the performances, especially the one from Farhan Akhtar. From nailing the boxing sequences to being vulnerable during emotional scenes, Akhtar stands firm through the entire film. With an astonishing body transformation process, he bring the right mix of vulnerability and grit to the part of a man struggling against all odds to redeem himself. The actor is a beast in the ring, and looks effortless on the screen as a boxer.
Mrunal Thakur has an endearing screen presence, and it is not your usual bubbly heroine character. She balances both aspects of that character neatly. Paresh Rawal is his usual solid self, swinging between benevolent coach and antagonist father. In supporting roles, Hussain Dalal, Supriya Pathak, Darshan Kumar, Vijay Raaz, and Mohan Agashe are excellent. On the whole, ‘Toofaan’ is a middling sports drama uplifted by Farhan Akhtar’s effortless performance.
Directed – Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 161 minutes