Farhan Akhtar packs a believable wallop as petty gangster Ajjubhai of Dongri who uses his fist-power to transform into respected Aziz Ali, the toofaan of the boxing ring. Enlisting the presence of Mrunal Thakur (playing Dr Ananya Prabhu), the new-gen Renuka Shahane with a 200-watt smile that she flashes forever, the romance between a Muslim underdog and an educated Hindu girl gets a rousing endorsement. Accompanying them is Hindi cinema’s favourite party-pooper, the bigoted Hindu, which will give Toofaan a big thumbs up from certain sections of the audience.
Like the Hindu-Muslim love story of the film Kedarnath, Ananya’s father, coach Nana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal) won’t tolerate a ‘love jihad’ and Mumbai’s housing societies won’t entertain an M in their midst. On the other hand, even gang leader Jaffarbhai (Vijay Raaz) won’t play spoilsport and Ali’s community is so inclusive that he’ll chant ‘Jai Hanuman’ quite willingly. So, except for a solitary protest against Nana Prabhu’s bigotry by an ubiquitous Bala Uncle (Mohan Agashe) and a token scene where Muslim neighbours demand that Ananya must become Amina, fanaticism remains the preserve of the Hindu who unfailingly brings religion into the equation. By the end of the film, he must therefore weep for forgiveness for his bigotry.
Come to think of it, the film could well have been titled ‘The Intolerant Hindu’.
Except that we have a hangover of Rocky Balboa and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. So director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and story-screenplay writer Anjum Rajabali take a circuitous route that stretches over 2hrs and 40 mins to tell the familiar tale of a boxer. The gruelling training that’s de rigueur in every sports film (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom, Saina et al), is shown twice over as gangster Ajjubhai turns into boxer Abbas Ali, and then the overweight and beaten boxer a la Rocky Balboa, must get into shape for a comeback.
Ah, we also have a Deewaar scene where Ajjubhai with knotted shirt downs the shutters before beating the baddies to a pulp. And, like Aamir spotted Asin with kids in Ghajini, Dr Prabhu melts when the gangster with putty in his heart lavishes love on a bunch of orphans.
There’s a re-creation of the Amar Akbar Anthony brand of secularism with a Christian Aunty (Supriya Pathak), a mosque full of Muslims and a slim Hindu set-up of idols and a diya, all praying for Ali’s victory punch.
The sole reason for stressing on the reference points is to show how a team led by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Anjum Rajabali and Vijay Maurya (who wrote the dialogues of the refreshing Gully Boy) has made a film strewn with scenes taken freely from every known source. There’s not one fresh thought, one new motto or one scene never seen before from such a creative crew. As a cinema watcher and one who admired the teamwork of Bhaag Milkha…, I would’ve definitely liked this squad to veer away from playing bartenders who mix only a known set of ingredients. The cuteness of laughter clubs for instance. How many times have we seen it ever since Raju Hirani introduced it in the first Munna Bhai?
Lengthening the viewing time is a background number for every known situation – when they’re dating, when he’s training, when they’re separated, when they’re married, when they’re happy, when there’s a tragedy, when there’s a cremation, when there’s another bout of training, when he returns to the ring. Some numbers like the title track are well composed but that’s not the point.
There are also unbelievable leaps of faith asked of the viewer. Ali’s training with Prabhu stretches over many months alongside his growing closeness to Ananya. But he doesn’t have an inkling that the coach and the doctor are father and daughter though they live in the same house and share the same surname.
Women are also dispensed with the same way, through bomb blasts twice over.
One good line that separates the bhaichara of boxing from the dushmani of bhaigiri is soon forgotten as Ali’s opponents in the ring are later shown to be as vile as any roadside bhai.
Rakeysh Mehra makes a Hitchcockian appearance as a Boxing Federation official. Welcome, director.
Ultimately, when Rocky Balboa has his ‘love jihad’ moment in Dongri, what works are Farhan Akhtar’s performance which literally packs a punch and Rakeysh Mehra’s linear, straightforward story-telling.
With its length and its un-fresh content, it might have had it tough in the theatres. So it works for Toofaan that it had to go for an OTT release where the viewer has the option to pause, take a break and then move forward.