Toofaan is the kind of film you would make after someone forces you to sit through a hundred popular Hindi films, and asks you to crunch them up and regurgitate the result. It does not seem like a passion project, but a film school assignment.
Watch the trailer here
Perhaps my disappointment stems from the comparison I have inadvertently made with director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's earlier works. A single frame in Rang De Basanti carried more life and passion than the dull two hours 40 minutes of Toofaan. Hell, even Bhaag Milkha Bhaag took some risks. Too bad, the reunion of Rakeysh and Farhan Akhtar is nothing but a by-the-numbers sports film.
It's eight years later and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has convinced Farhan Akhtar to hit the gym again. The love affair with abs, sweat, and training montages continues in Toofaan. It may seem like a close cousin to Salman Khan's Sultan -- another film about an athlete who was driven away from his passion at the peak of his career only to grow a paunch -- but they are not the same movie.
Don't let the neutral palettes or Farhan's unwillingness to spin on dance floor fool you, Toofaan is almost as filmy and melodramatic as any top tier Bhai production. Every thought is spelled out; characters have verbal conversations with dead people in photo frames, and break into choreographed dance sequences. There are scummy villains with a fake eye, disapproving dads, and a kind Christian lady. There is also a Circuit-kind who would eat glass for his 'bhai' and a track un-ironically inspired by Sooryavansham that I still cannot get over. But, worst of all is the most shameless case of 'fridging' in recent memory. It's the year of our Lord 2021; can filmmakers stop killing women to develop male characters?
Farhan is Ajju Bhai from Dongri, the street goon with a talent for punching people. He lands in the world of boxing one day and decides to live a life of 'izzat'. Ajju has a heart of gold, and Farhan's not-very thuggish, polished aura does not help sell the orphaned ruffian vibe either. However, as Aziz Ali the boxer, Farhan manages to look at more ease.
The transition happens when a nice woman named Ananya, played by Mrunal Thakur, tells him to live that life of 'izzat'. But the doorway to that life is manned by her dad, boxing coach Nana Prabhu, the Mr Miyagi to our Ajju, played by Paresh Rawal. There is one problem though. He is a bigot.
After Manto, this is yet another surprising move by Paresh. In Toofaan, he plays a Muslim-hater who drops terms like 'Love Jihad', and is ready to cut all ties with his daughter because she's fallen for Ajju. He is one of the film's better performers, standing tall over Farhan as the no-nonsense coach, and in a moment of rage, hurling the filthiest abuses at him for tupping his white ewe.
Toofaan was supposed to be a moving underdog story. It was perhaps designed to replicate the success of another Farhan production, the perfect Gully Boy. At least the sepia-style, murky frames (shot by Gully Boy DP Jay Oza) would have you believe so. However, it's an uninspired and uninspiring concoction of dramatic lines that carry little emotional weight, plot lines seen a thousand times before, and characters that do not strike a chord. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra captured what it feels like to be young in an unfair world with films such as Rang De Basanti, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Delhi-6. Hope he finds that distinct style and voice again.