Resurrection of a street warrior

STORY: The life of Aziz Ali aka Ajju bhai (Farhan Akhtar), a street ruffian, debt collector and henchman of a criminal overlord changes overnight after he falls in love with a righteous doctor Ananya (Mrunal Thakur). She asks him to make a choice. Does he see himself as Ajju wasooli bhai or Aziz Ali, a respected boxer?REVIEW: A good hearted Parsi gym owner in the neighbourhood, introduces the legendary Muhammad Ali’s videos to Aziz. ‘Boxing Aur bhaigiri mein yahi farak hai. Boxing is a sport that needs technique, discipline and patience, not just strength,’ he clarifies. Recognising his potential and the expert training he deserves, Aziz is recommended to a widely respected boxing coach Nana Prabhu (Paresh Rawal). The Dadar veteran is wary of a Muslim guy from Dongri with notorious background but agrees to take him under his wing. He even bestows him with the title ‘Toofaan’ (unstoppable storm) but this near perfect coach-protege relationship takes an ugly turn when things get personal.

Forbidden love, casual bigotry, communal harmony, making of a boxer and redemption of a disgraced athlete… Toofaan tries to tread several paths at once. In doing so, the fictional tale loosely feels like a mishmash of several films you may have seen before… Ghulam, Sultan, Mukkabaaz. Given the fact that Toofaan sees Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra reuniting with his solid Bhaag Milkha Bhaag team — Farhan Akhtar and Shankar Ehsaan-Loy, one expects nothing less than fireworks. What you get is a run of the mill story told in an over-simplistic way. A few empty punches, a few solid blows, lot of evading the opponent and eventually tiring out the vibe, Toofaan is an odd mix of succumbing to and destroying the stereotypes. Love lies at the heart of the story but boxing drives the narrative. The juggling doesn’t seem organic and feels a lot like one interrupting the other.

You always have a choice, believes Ananya. To uproot yourself from the world you were born into and upgrade, isn’t easy. The film’s protagonist does it without batting an eye and you hope to follow his journey, inner conflict and boxing skill. The focus however, shifts to a conventional interfaith love story, societal scrutiny, parental outrage and boxing as an extended highlight.

The film’s strongest portions revolve around its modest and realistic setting, the coach-protégé relationship and confrontation on communal discourse. Strangely these scenes are cut short and emotions curbed in order to keep the story moving. The story gives an impression that it wishes to delve into issues like religious tolerance, empathy and prejudice but settles on merely scratching the surface.

After Bandra boy Ranveer Singh rapped his way into your heart through the gullies of Dharavi in Gully Boy, you have Farhan Akhtar doing some Phoda phodi in Dongri in Toofaan. While Ranveer still has a mainstream appeal, Farhan’s thinking urban persona can be overwhelming. The actor-writer-director takes his time but manages to mould himself into a character that isn’t remotely close to his sensibility. As far as his physical transformation is concerned, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has already proved his sincerity and determination to look the part. It’s everything or nothing for Farhan and he sticks to the plan this time around as well. His face off with renowned Indian boxers like Neeraj Goyat, Gaganpreet Sharma is captivating.

Paresh Rawal gives the film its finest moments by merely shooting a glance at his highly misunderstood boxer. He, along with Dr Mohan Agashe show you how good actors can elevate a standard script. Mrunal Thakur essays her role in an undramatic, earnest manner. What also stands out is characters not wallowing in self pity when in crisis or pretending to be something they are not. Aziz unabashedly admits, “Boxing mein jo foda fodi hai, Woh Kareeb hai apne.”

Overall, Toofaan may not be the cyclone you may have expected it to be but it definitely has its thundering moments.

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