Toofaan movie cast: Farhan Akhtar, Paresh Rawal, Mrunal Thakur, Hussain Dalal, Mohan Agashe, Vijay Raaz, Supriya Pathak, Darshan Kumar
Toofaan movie director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Toofaan movie rating: 3.5 stars
‘Toofaan’ is your underprivileged-underdog-to-boxing-champion tale whose arc is utterly predictable, but what makes this film such an enjoyable watch is the way it has been written and performed. You know exactly where it will go, but the journey pops with smart feints and jabs, and ends with a satisfying punch.
Given the utter banality of recent Bollywood outings, I’d given up hope of meeting a well-done mainstream film where each familiar element is marinated just so. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra doesn’t pull back from genre elements, but dresses them up with enough confidence and freshness for us to root for Aziz Ali aka Ajju Bhai, played with great brio by Farhan Akhtar.
Our Dongri-ka-small-time-vasooli-bhai goes about doing ‘phoda-phodi’ (in regular Hindi, it would be ‘maar-peet’; basically, it amounts to beating up people unable to pay their rent or ‘hafta’, along with his loyal pal-cum-roommate (Hussain Dalal, very good, giving an edge to the standard BFF role). Akhtar starts with a little extra swagger and mumble, but soon settles into it, tight pants-belt-tee to the fore.
From here on, you can see what’s coming up a mile off. A meet-cute with pretty local doctor Ananya (Mrunal Thakur, perky, likeable) will lead to, yes, a flutter of hearts. An encounter with tough, irascible coach Nana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal) will lead to Aziz being put through his paces, and reaching the ring, the hallowed place for all aspiring boxers.
This is where writers Anjum Rajabali and Vijay Maurya (props to the latter for the dialogues, especially the rat-a-tat ‘tapori’ lines) begin inserting twists. Prabhu is a proud Hindu who is convinced that there’s no difference between ‘Dongri and Dubai’. Calling his uber-talented Musalmaan pupil an unstoppable ‘toofan’ is one thing; embracing him as a person is unthinkable. The show-me-how-hard-you-can-work-and-then-we’ll-talk grouchy coach is such a tired trope, from ‘Rocky’ to ‘Million Dollar Baby’ to our own ‘Saala Khadoos’, but Paresh Rawal effortlessly freshens it and makes it his own. Mohan Agashe, as his constant companion and old friend who gently steers him towards another way of thinking, is a nice touch. The veteran actor can be a little underlined, but here he doesn’t put a foot wrong. A little girl shows up, and she is, thank the lord, not cutesy.
There are a few things that stick in your craw. Here comes Aziz, beginning to learn the ropes, and here comes a primer: ‘boxing ek nasha hai; boxing mein six punches hotey hain’ etc and anon. Please, no. And then there are the songs. Too many songs, stuffed too close in the second half. Also, giving a character too much time to spew bigotry before he sees the light is a tricky business; actually, using the term ‘love jihad’ for Aziz and Ananya could well be the only thing true bigots may take away. And while it’s great to have leading men playing Muslim characters, I’m waiting for a brave Bollywood film that will break away from the poor-but-talented slumboy (Ranveer Singh in ‘Gully Boy’) type. Still, an Aziz-and-Ananya is a job well begun.
It is Farhan as ‘Toofan-the-new-Muhammad-Ali’ who is completely convincing, both as a novice who is a fast learner, and the dejected warhorse who comes up trumps. He’s worked with Mehra before, in ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, and while he looked every inch a runner, a few false notes were bound to creep in when you are trying to dramatize the life of a beloved sports icon (I still haven’t forgotten my dropped jaw at Farhan’s Milkha cavorting with an Australian blonde).
As Toofan, Farhan’s footwork is bang on, whether it is in the stroppy romance with a girl far removed from his station, the impressive glistening-muscles-straining-in-training scenes, the skilful jousting, complete with the spray of blood, rattled teeth and swollen eye, during the bouts. It is his game, and he is on top.