Toofaan, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, uses the boxing ring as the arena for the personal growth and struggles of debt collector turned boxer, Aziz Ali (Farhan Akhtar). It aims to tell us just how important it is to choose the road not taken and thereafter never give up. Sadly, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra takes us on a journey not just on the road already taken but one taken many, many times. Filled with clichés and lacking any complexity whatsoever, this tale of an underdog reclaiming his respect in society via boxing fails to engage.
The plot looks at Aziz Ali aka Ajju Bhai, an orphan residing in the Dongri region of Mumbai and who works as a feisty debt collector for the local don, Jaffar Bhai (Vijay Raaz). After a retaliatory fight in one of the cafes of the area, Aziz is injured. His companion, Munna (Hussain Dalal), accompanies him to a charity hospital meant for the treatment of the poor and needy. There, Aziz’s wounds are treated by a young and outspoken doctor, Ananya Prabhu (Mrunal Thakur). She, in the due course of the film, stirs up Aziz’s spirit to find his true calling and live his life with dignity. But in order to fully pursue a career as a boxer, Ajju requires a trainer. And that happens to be Nana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal), a disciplined, strategic, and a skillful mentor. However, he is terribly bigoted towards Muslims because of a dreadful incident in his life from the past. In spite of his rigid views towards the ‘other’, he trains Aziz for the National level boxing competition and under his tutelage, Aziz wins one bout after the other and a bond develops between them. But following a stunning revelation, Nana renounces all ties with the promising sportsman. As clichéd as it may sound, what follows next is how Ajju must overcome all hurdles to finally win against all odds.
While Mehra tries to stick faithfully to his story and avoids a lot of typical gimmicks, his blueprint – the screenplay- is the big weakness in the film. The script is full of loopholes even as he tells us a repeatedly recycled tale, which is filled with stereotypical tropes we have seen far too often. What starts off well as a reasonably well-executed tale of redemption set in the boxing world eventually veers into the territory of unconvincingly blending Sultan (2016) with Gully Boy (2019). Toofaan, sadly, has the impact of none even stretching one’s credibility in places. In one of the final scenes of the film that takes place just before the final round of the boxing match, Nana, reconciled with Ajju, boosts the latter’s morale by telling him that his opponent is fighting for a medal but he is fighting for Ananya. This particular line of dialogue deflates the entire characterization of Nana because he should be guiding Aziz with boxing strategies and not succumb to such melodramatic and psychological mumbo-jumbo. That said, Mehra does try to salvage his execution through some clever and atmospheric use of real locations. He also touches briefly upon the grim reality of the repercussions of an inter-religion marriage in the maximum city.
What not only saves the film from sinking but actually lifts it a notch are the two central performances. Farhan Akhtar completely sinks his teeth into the character of Aziz Ali fleshing him out and bringing out his internal struggles beautifully. Paresh Rawal after a long, long time delivers an extremely strong performance bringing much credibility and conviction to his interpretation of the bigoted trainer. His scenes with his friend, Bala (Mohan Agashe), and their on-screen bonding are executed particularly well. Hussain Dalal, Vijay Raaz, and Supriya Pathak as Sister D’Souza should have been given more screen time to make their mark. The biggest sufferer is Mrunal Thakur, who is totally defeated by the sketchiness of her role.
Technically, cinematographer Jay Oza strikingly captures the characters most of the time in close-ups, thereby trying to probe their psychological motives. But his framings fall short in the exploration of the intricacies of the dual-spaces that exist within and outside the boxing ring. Even the final match at the end fails to bring out the potency of the emotional duel going on in the ring. Meghna Manchanda Sen’s editing, while seamless, is unable to provide the adrenaline rush that one expects from such a film, particularly in the fight sequences. The production design by Rajar Poddar gives the film much of its feel and character. But it is the aural space created by Pranav Shukla that lends another dimension to the film as the sound effects imaginatively heighten the visual impact of the film. The boxing punches, right from the first fight till the climax, give a resonating feel of discernible quality. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Tubby’s background score is a perfect complement to the film. However, the obligatory song and dance sequence, Star Hai Tu, does not add any value to the movie and, in fact, appears ridiculous.
Overall, there are just too many cracks in Toofaan that not even the glue provided by some great acting can fill. Ultimately, it is but average fare in its best moments and fails to deliver that knock-out punch.
Hindi, Drama, Sports, Color