Toofaan movie review: A promising – and long – tale of boxing, Islamophobia and love fizzles out in its third hour
In its third hour, Toofaan is a sadly diluted version of its earlier self that ends up diluting the overall impact of the film in its entirety.
castFarhan Akhtar, Mrunal Thakur, Paresh Rawal, Hussain Dalal, Dr Mohan Agashe, Gauri Phulka, Supriya Pathak, Vijay Raaz, Darshan Kumaar, Sonali Kulkarni, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
directorRakeysh Omprakash Mehra
He’s a street thug who chances upon boxing as an adult and falls in love with it. She’s a doctor at a charitable medical institution who abhors his waywardness and violence. He says as a poor orphan, the early choices before him had been limited. She insists there is always a choice to do better. Throw into this pond full of contrasts the fact that he is Muslim while she is Hindu, the daughter of an Islamophobic father and a mother killed in a bomb blast engineered by terrorists fighting in the name of Islam, and that pond transforms into a river in full spate.
I would hazard a guess that the chances of Dr Ananya Prabhu (Mrunal Thakur) and Aziz Ali aka Ajju Bhai (Farhan Akhtar) being matched by an algorithm on a dating site would be nil. Love has a mind of its own that no numbers can predict though. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Toofaan tells the story of how Ananya and Aziz make their way through life and how Aziz makes his way into the field of boxing.
Mehra’s spot in Hindi film history was cemented the day he made Rang De Basanti. That his heart is in the right place would be evident to anyone who has watched that truly great sample of politically pathbreaking Indian cinema. Seven years later, his 2013 feature, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, proved that he’s also a champion at combining sport and the Bollywood musical genre.
Toofaan (The Storm) tells us that that famous heart is still intact and beating, but simultaneously reminds us that a champion filmmaker needs more than good intentions to create good art.
In its first hour, Toofaan is engaging and entertaining, well complemented by Thakur’s and Akhtar’s endearing presence and acting. Aziz’s struggles in the boxing ring, his training, Ananya’s journey from cynicism about this ruffian to a realisation that there’s more to him than his initial profession suggested, the inspiration and strength he draws from her, all play out in a natural and convincing fashion.
The song 'Begaani Shaadi Mein Abdulla Deewaana' (official title: 'Star Hai Tu'), inserted into the end of this hour, is not as striking as one might expect from the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy who gave us the soundtracks of Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Bunty Aur Babli, Salaam-e-Ishq and other gems, but it is fair enough.
The second hour of Toofaan is sustained by suspense over when Ananya’s father will discover her relationship with Aziz, whether he will ever accept them and the various hurdles the couple face due to their differing religious backgrounds.
After a dramatic turn of events at the 1 hour and 50 minutes mark, however, Mehra’s film seems not to know where to go, and for some reason then goes on for almost another hour.
The story idea for Toofaan came from Farhan Akhtar, the story and screenplay are by Anjum Rajabali with “additional screenplay and dialogue” by Vijay Maurya. This is an illustrious team with an impressive track record, yet in its third hour, Toofaan is a sadly diluted version of its earlier self that ends up diluting the overall impact of the film in its entirety.
For a start, this part of the storyline requires Aziz to undergo a certain physical transformation – neither is the speed at which he achieves his goals believable, nor is his path to that point presented in an interesting manner or distinguishable from a million other sports flicks ever made. It does not help that Akhtar, who is quite fun to watch in the first half of Toofaan, becomes tonally bland here.
There was also an opportunity here to develop the characters around Aziz, but each one of those individuals remains a faint outline who is not filled out. Mrs D’souza, the nurse who was Ananya’s colleague, and Jafar Bhai, the extortionist for whom Aziz once worked, linger in the memory only and only because the actors playing them are familiar faces. It makes no sense that artistes as respected as Supriya Pathak and Vijay Raaz were cast in these roles if there was no intention to flesh them out.
Ananya and Aziz’s child (played by Gauri Phulka) is given more space than these two, but the effort to establish the couple’s secular and possibly feminist credentials through their daughter’s name and religious practices is poorly expanded, awkwardly handled, and in one particular scene in a temple, maudlin.
The script could have also done better with Aziz’s friend Munna (Hussain Dalal), but at least the actor gets to display his under-utilised talent in an emotional interaction he has with Ananya that ranks as one of the film’s best scenes.
The only somewhat well-done supporting character in Toofaan is Ananya’s bigoted father played by Paresh Rawal. This gifted actor’s own unabashed, publicly expressed bigotry in real life adds another dimension to his presence in the film, irrespective of whether the casting was intended to make a point. Rawal’s Nana Prabhu is Mumbai’s best boxing coach who, in terms of his worldview, represents the worst of that beautiful cosmopolitan city. The elaboration on his relationship with Aziz in Toofaan’s latter half is the reason why this film’s gradually dissipating final hour cannot be written off. Together Rajabali and Mehra get Nana Prabhu to say a word to Aziz that India collectively needs to say loud and clear to all its marginalised and minority communities, and in particular during this phase of history, to Indian Muslims. It’s a word you rarely hear a member of a dominant group say to someone from a traditionally subordinated group in Hindi cinema. It’s a word men almost never say to women in Hindi film stories. Aziz does not say it to Ananya for raising his hand to hit her in anger at one point – the fact that he does not strike her is no excuse, the fact that the film did not feel the need to write his contrition into the subsequent scenes reflects poorly on its understanding of the gravity and prevalence of intimate partner violence. It’s a word that you will know is not easy to say, if you have ever humbled yourself enough to say it in real life. It’s a word that has the power to heal the one who says it and the one to whom it is said.
It’s a word fitted into a wonderfully crafted scene that rescues Toofaan from being remembered solely by its fizzling finale.
Toofaan is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
Rating: 2.75 (out of 5 stars)
(Also read — The Farhan Akhtar interview: 'Glad Toofan is releasing at a time when people are finding their way back to normalcy)
(Also read — Toofan: Mrunal Thakur on playing Ananya to Ajju, and being directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra)
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