Don't get attached to heroines who smile too much
DIRECTOR – RAKEYSH OMPRAKASH MEHRA
CAST- FARHAN AKHTAR, PARESH RAWAL,MOHAN AGASHE, MRUNAL THAKUR AND OTHERS
Its a sports epic that comes from one of India’s best modern working directors- Rakeysh Mehra. It has music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (who are not composing music as frequently as their talents merits). It has Farhan Akhtar as struggling youth from a troubled background who finds direction and purpose in sports. It isn’t Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. It feels like wishes it was.
Toofan is a completely fictional tale of Aziz Ali – a vasooli bhai types – who finds real purpose and discipline through boxing. He is encouraged and supported in his endevaour by local Dr. Ananya Prabhu (Mrunal Thakur speaking impeccable Marathi) who happens to be the daughter of renowned Boxing coach Nana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal giving a powerhouse performance once again). While in itself that's not a new premise at all, the movie is also a love (jihad) story and has elements of religious discrimination as well.
Here’s the thing- the movie is well made, technically sound, the humor works well, there is decent music and the sports sequences are well shot (Mehra shoots the boxing scenes with his characteristic style). However, what mars the movie is the sometimes uneven and predictable flow. Now if you have seen enough Hindi movies, you know when the actress starts smiling a lot and dances with orphans AND senior citizens both, she is gonna die soon. This is not even a spoiler. According to every working Indian script writer, the only way to ensure that the death of a female character hits hard is to make her Jesus or something close to him. But what you expect doesn't really happen when you expect it, but yes it does happen later on and for the flimsiest reason imaginable. In keeping with the communal discrimination themes of the movie- there could have been 10 different ways for the characters death to mean something however its quite random.
Speaking of the religious discrimination parts, well I honestly don’t think mainstream Bollywood has developed the kind of sensibility and intelligence required to handle such a sensitive topic. Though the issues faced by Aziz and later on by him and his Hindu wife are very very real. There is still a very conventional way this is treated in the movie. If it was any other director, I may have forgiven it. But I honestly expected better from the guy who directed Bhaag Milkha and Rang De Basanti.
There are just so many cliche’s in what could have been a more sensible take. So of course there is a old matronly nurse (played expertly well by Supriya Pathak)who is obviously christian and who speaks in “Tumko Jasti karne ko kaun bola” type Hindi. She is the only one willing to help the newly wed Muslim-Hindu couple. The Hindu girl’s father is of course communally biased spouting some really insensitive lines about Muslims despite his best student being Muslim (?). Now he is shown to have good reason for being so too. But that part is not given the weight it should have. It could have been a really insightful take on violence, redemption, things that divide or unit us.
But the movie then veers again into sports territory with rivalries, hastily introduced fierce young opponent who we are TOLD (not shown) but just TOLD is very deadly. It almost feels like 2 different movies and while battling personal demons and sporting rivals is a common theme especially to boxing movies- it just doesn't mesh as well together as it should. There is a point where our hero is going to make a return to the ring after a long hiatus, yet his first steps in the ring are just edited over and shown to us via a news paper montage. There are scenes you would expect to be cut short which drag and vice versa. The felt like it knew how to box didn't know where to land its punches (oh yeah...puns are back).
Yet the movie is brilliantly acted by Farhan Akhtar who not only emotes with his face but his physique as well (ladies, go watch it for that reason specifically). Paresh Rawal is the real powerhouse here and Mrunal Thakur has a charming presence on screen but requires some improvement in the acting department.
Also, my one big problem with Indian sports movies is that there is not enough sports in it (Fuck you Dhoni a Untold Story. Fuck you for not giving me an insight into one of Indian crickets most brilliant minds) . Like we get it, its about the drama behind the sport etc etc. But how about showing us how that plays into their sport as well. How about making a sports movie like you would make a war movie- clearly making us understand the strategies not just through words but visually as well. Wouldn't it be awesome instead of rising music and slow motion telling us that the character is bringing out a special move or trying a different strategy why not SHOW us that on screen? Why not let the characters very movements inside the ring/ground, their strategies be front and center rather the drama behind it? Rocky movies have been doing this so well. Rocky has a well defined style in the movies, which changes over the years, it is challenged and Rocky has to adapt to those challenges. Look at any martial arts movies, the fighters have different styles which is an expression of their personality. Their movements often convey...anyways rant over. Might make a separate post about that later.
The music is average – with the title track being a straight rip-off of Zinda from Bhaag Milkha. There is one song called ‘Begaani Shaadi mein’ which sounds like its from the late 90’s or early 2000’s for no reason at all since the movie isn't exactly a period piece. Shankar Ehsaan Loy can and definitely need to do better. So does Rakeysh Mehra. You guys are all better than this. The story was conceived by Farhan Akhtar and developed by Anjum Rajabali (who has written good movies like Pukar, Ghulam, Rajneeti etc). But it kinda felt like Akhtar got his best buddies who had made a great sports epic before just to put his ideas on screen...which doesn't work as well.
So to summarize, although Toofan is cliche’ in parts and engrossing in others. While the COVID era has changed my ratings system in that I cant say this is better watched on TV – because that's the only way to watch it. But well, if you have a Saturday afternoon to spend while eating Biryani/Kofta, it is a good one time watch.
My rating is – Worth Watching Once (if you have the time).
Toofan is streaming on Amazon Prime.
PS - If you really wanna watch good Hindi cinema content- Go watch Ray on Netflix.