It's fascinating to see the frequency in which Bollywood churns out sports films today. What was once an untouchable genre has become one that has created some of the biggest/most acclaimed releases in recent years, like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB), Sultan, and Dangal. Now, to bring the latest sports drama to India, the director-actor duo of BMB, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Farhan Akhtar, have delivered the boxing tale Toofaan (Storm). It's a film that has all the beloved tropes one expects in an underdog boxing story, and the film also has plenty of ambition to take the story in different directions. However, despite having plenty of promise and a fair share of positives, Toofaan doesn't hit as hard as Akhtar's character in the film does.
Mehra's film tells the story of Aziz Ali (Akhtar), a hard but good-hearted gangster or “extortionist,” who after meeting a stubborn local doctor named Dr. Ananya Prabhu (Mrunal Thakur), decides to go down a more respectful route of becoming a national level boxer. Aziz, a Muslim, is then trained by Narayan (Paresh Rawal), who openly expresses his dislike for Muslims. After he appears to turn his life around, Aziz, who earns the nickname Toofan through boxing, faces a storm of his own that sees him challenged in and out of the ring.
Toofaan opens with various scenes that beautifully showcase the many sides of Akhtar's Aziz. From a symbolic opening scene that shows Aziz intensely wrapping his hands preparing for a boxing match, to flashing back to his gangster days where it presents our protagonist as a more traditional, charismatic Indian hero beating up guys in a local shop before finally interacting with his eventual lady-love Ananya. In their first meeting, Ananya throws Aziz out of the hospital after discovering what he does for a living, which proves to be what ignites change in the lead character. In addition to being hooked by the different sides of Aziz, the opening scenes quickly provide you with the type of gritty, more realistic action the film delivers, as well as the compelling love story of our main characters that drives the narrative.
Although the actual boxing in this boxing film can unfortunately become an afterthought at times, the execution of Aziz's boxing matches, as well as his training for the sport is very well done. Similar to the opening street fight, each boxing fight has a grittiness and realism to it, which is especially helpful in heightening the drama of the climatic in-ring showdown, where our character is well and truly the underdog. When it comes to Toofaan's love story, it's far from original, but what drives it and makes it the endearing quality of Toofaan is the emotion and charm of Akhtar and Mrunal's performances.
The performances are what allow Mehra's latest film to keep punching, despite its clustered story. Mrunal plays the strong yet loveable Ananya very well, and unsurprisingly, seasoned performer Paresh effortlessly inserts an intensity into every scene Narayan is in. However, Toofaan rides on the incredibly muscular back of its lead actor Akhtar, whose physicality wows you in the film's impressive and well-shot training montages, particularly the inspiring “Toofaan” song. He also smoothly transitions from Aziz Ali, the extortionist, to Aziz Ali, the boxer, as well as shifting emotional gears at the drop of a dime, providing the necessary passion for rather rushed emotional scenes, such as Aziz's outburst after falling out with Narayan. It's a complete performance deserving of plaudits, but also a performance that deserves a better film to support it.
Toofaan is in many ways a conventional underdog boxing tale, yet it does have good ideas to differentiate itself from previous sports tales. Unfortunately, instead of patiently laying the foundations for various plot twists, the creative team has seemingly crammed every idea they had into the film, relying on the actors to make it work. The film becomes a little convoluted, and it attempts to take the story in a completely different direction on more than one occasion. For this reason, the actual boxing can get left behind. Elements like Aziz's quick progression as a boxer are not thought through, so after six months of training a jab, he somehow manages to become a highly-skilled boxer.
The film also incorporates the very relevant theme of Hindu-Muslim relationships, and the message that there should be peace between these two religions is a message India most certainly needs. However, once again, beyond one or two small moments, Mehra doesn't do a good job establishing this as an important part of his story early on, so when the Hindu-Muslim dynamic becomes a central theme, later on, Toofaan feels like an entirely new film.
In the end, despite their great intentions to spread love, passion, and inspiration, Mehra and Akhtar's latest sporting tale frustratingly misses the mark. The film fails to create a coherent narrative while lazily trying to swerve audiences before the inevitable conclusion, which ultimately undoes a lot of the excellent work done by the cast. Farhan Akhtar undoubtedly hits like a heavyweight, but Toofaan feels rather lightweight.
Toofaan is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Toofaan is now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.