'This movie is no ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ (by Mehra, again) and Farhan Akhtar knows that, too' Photograph:( Instagram )
Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 'Toofaan' is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The sports drama features Bollywood actors Farhan Akhtar, Mrunal Thakur, Paresh Rawal and others in pivotal roles.
A rags-to-riches story is a sure-fire tearjerker, and especially makes for a good cry when that rag-wearing gentleman is a Hindi-speaking, slum-dwelling Indian. Case in point: Eight Oscars’ winner ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, if you’re still asking.
Why only ridicule Danny Boyle for borrowing India’s sob story and presenting it to a global audience? For time immemorial, Bollywood filmmakers, too, have milked that trope—albeit a few rehashes in the underlying theme, if at all—and found their way to the hallways of several award shows: some duly deserved, others not so much.
This year, repeating that cycle of cinematic revisionism is Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, with his latest sports drama ‘Toofaan’.
The odd yet imperative conclusion one comes to about Mehra’s repertoire is that he is a storyteller always standing on the extreme ends of the film spectrum—either you get a ‘Rang De Basanti’ or a ‘Mirzya’; there’s no in-between.
Unfortunately, with ‘Toofan’, he has inclined towards the latter.
What starts off as a Dongri’s ‘gunda-mawali’ Ajju Bhai aka Aziz Ali (Farhan Akhtar) extorting money before finally realising his true calling in life is, in fact, boxing, ends up becoming a plea for communal harmony, an exposé within India’s boxing federation.
And then there’s the forced-down-your-throat romance between pro-choice Ananya Prabhu (Mrunal thakur) and ‘The Storm’ himself.
The film’s momentum dips early on, with moments of rushed revival coming in the form of an amiable Farhan’s easy-on-the-eye screen presence, only to fall flat again seconds later.
Of all things that could have—and has—gone wrong with this sports drama/ social commentary, the dialogues seem to be the worst. What were writers Vijay Maurya and Anjum Rajabali thinking when they put these dated, 90s-esque dialogues to the paper: “Naali main pada hua mila tha (I found you in a ditch)”, “tereko slap degi main (loosely translates to: I shall slap you)”, among other equally melodramatic sentences that the actors mouth.
Second to that is the (unaccredited) background score: laden with 80s Bollywood-ish melancholy in intense scenes and over-the-top glee in heroic moments.
Mrunal Thakur is an affable presence in the film—sans that put-on colloquial Mumbaiya accent—and she makes an effort to have the kind of rapport Farhan’s previous female leads had with him, Sonam Kapoor & Co., but the pair has very little chemistry going on between them and it translates on screen.
This movie is no ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ (by Mehra, again) and Farhan knows that, too. He more or less maintains a solid grip over his character and changes his approach with the ever-changing plot but the narrative of ‘Toofaan’ is beyond saving, good acting or not.
Paresh Rawal as Coach Nanu Prabhu is more for the free-ka-gyaan and less for the role he has been hired to do. Big, bombastic words do not make up for the lack of depth in his character.
At the risk of sounding hyper-analytical, we are going to say that ‘Toofaan’ is a hotchpotch of ‘Panga’, ‘Dangal’, Mehra’s own marvelous ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ and every other sports drama-cum-rags-to-riches-cum-road-to-redemption story you can think of. And that is heartbreaking because a good director fails on insipidity grounds and a good actor, remains underutilised.
How did Aziz Ali become ‘toofaan’ (splash/storm) in quick succession is anybody’s guess—a parallel character even goes on to the extent of comparing him to Muhammad Ali, twice!—but it is no Oscar-winning ‘Million Dollar Baby’. At best, we will call it the gender-reversed ‘Mary Kom’… at best!
'Toofaan' is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.