Toofaan review

The world is his ring and everyone a punching bag. But when life lands its hard knocks on a ruffian turned boxer-turned-average Joe, he must make a choice between resigning to fate or rising to the challenge.

There’s always a choice, imparts his wise muse, which forms the core of Toofaan‘s emotional journey from playing for respect before the one he loves to paying respects to the one he loves. Toofaan‘s sentiment would resonate a lot better if the film wasn’t so banal in its optimism or objections.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s underdog sports drama-meet-love in the time of bigotry, a theme masterfully explored in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz, follows a formulaic approach in blending its athleticism and social conflicts.

Working on a script and screenplay by Anjum Rajabali (additional inputs by Vijay Maurya), Toofaan wants to do right by the marginalised but walks on such a tediously familiar turf, I just kept waiting for it to live up to its promise.

Instead, there’s a barrage of stereotypes evoking vintage Bollywood masalas — a scruffy thug (Farhan Akhtar) doting on fellow orphans in the tradition of Robin Hood, a sidekick (Hussain Dalal) solely existing to cheer or chide our indomitable hero, a meet cute involving a no-nonsense doctor (Mrunal Thakur) attending to his wounds, a sympathetic middle-aged nurse (Supriya Pathak), a gangster father-figure (Vijay Raaz) he’s indebted to for rescuing him from the trash and a grouchy old coach (Paresh Rawal) whose ‘no’ will inevitably change into a ‘yes’.

Dongri boy Aziz Ali aka Ajju Bhai (Akhtar) is a resident rowdy squandering the rhythmic quality of his fists to extort hafta for a local crime boss. But a dazzling trip into the world of boxing sparks something inside Aziz. He craves credibility. A kachcha limboo (rookie) possessing abundant brute force albeit little technique, Aziz jumps at the chance of reform.

Guided by Ananya, the friendly doctor he is crushing on (Thakur) and boxing coach Nana Prabhu (Rawal) and unbeknownst to him, her dogged father, Gully Ali (there’s even a rap thrown in by Dub Sharma) slips into adrenalin-pumping mode complete with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s thumping score and Jay Oza’s sleek training montages.

While glorious to behold, Aziz’s moment of triumph is unrealistically stress-free. Toofaan is keener on his obstacles outside the ring.

Aziz and Ananya may not care about their interfaith romance but her Jai Hanuman-chanting father’s thinly-veiled Islamophobia rears its ugly head as soon as he finds out about their relationship.

For all his moral high ground that his love for the game overpowers, his prejudice while engaging in a liberal versus bigot debate with his best friend (the judicious Mohan Agashe), Nana is committed to the ideology of hate. Having lost his wife in a bomb blast has seemingly strengthened his unease around a specific community.

It’s only when Toofaan glances into his ugly biases and the difficulties of cohabiting for Aziz-Ananya, prevalent since the days of Mani Ratnam’s Bombay, things get mildly interesting.

Just as Mehra is establishing the unsettling nature of the Hindu-Muslim divide on an intimate level, Toofaan gets distracted by its boxing obligations and drifts into a Sultan-like comeback mode. Mehra also appears in a few scenes at this point.

Now I am as happy as the next guy to watch more of Farhan’s rippling torso and extensive work out against master motivators Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s sweeping soundtrack. But it’s completely unnatural how Toofaan tosses in spiteful villains, ferocious opponents and scornful detractors in its third act to highlight extra thorns in his fast burgeoning martyr crown.

What’s most disappointing is the manner of reconciliation, which suggests the only way for coexistence is the minority’s allegiance towards the majority’s faith. Between its sudden bout of bhajas and a cheesy sequence of prayers asserting an Amar Akbar Anthony brand of secularism, Toofaan‘s muddled politics is all that comes to fore.

Despite all these drawbacks, I was engrossed in Toofaan and the intensity Mehra imbues it with for most part. It doesn’t break new ground in the underdog narrative and ticks all the boxes, but the commitment of its cast makes it impossible to dismiss what unfolds.

Farhan Akhtar has an engineer-like precision to his portrayals and their physicality. As Ali, he is fit, robust and all there. But he is also anxious and eager, which makes him a perennially compelling presence.

If Farhan is Toofaan, Mrunal is like the breeze. Playful and pleasant, all her scenes are my favourite part of the movie, which magically elevates in her spirited air. Although there’s nearly a two-decade age difference between Farhan and her, the poise and strength she exudes makes it easy to believe she is capable of causing life changes in anyone.

And there’s Paresh Rawal sounding shockingly authentic mouthing lines closer to his personal political beliefs. He says the most profound things about boxing and deplorable things about people showing a man at his best and worst. He finds a balance between his art and his politics.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Celebrating Dilip Kumar in 20 unforgettable frames

When an actor achieves as much resonance and distinction as Dilip Kumar did in his artistic journey, he becomes more than an icon, he becomes an institution.

An overwhelming combination of restraint and feeling, Dilip Kumar honed his craft in ways that broke shackles and inspired subsequent generations of actors to studiedly or spontaneously or, sometimes even subconsciously, emulate him.

Even though I was amongst his youngest audience, I sensed the value of his meticulous methods and towering aura while watching him on big screen in films like Shakti, Mashaal and Saudagar.

By then he had graduated to playing author-backed sexagenarian roles free from the obligations of romance and horseplay. But the power he held over a hall full of people was extraordinary. A rapt audience savoured every bit of Dilip Kumar’s grand presence. His dialogues hit like arrows and his silence pierced through the screen.

As a teenager, I sought out movies from his heydays and found myself enamoured by his devastating intensity as well as the thairav in his performances.

When he romanced Madhubala in Tarana, my cheeks turned red at the authenticity of their affection. When he was dying in Devdas, I felt I am having a near-death experience. When he slapped Dr Dang in Karma, I heard its goonj all the way to Goregaon.

Not just actors, his gravitas was inspiring to regular folks in real life too. Don’t open your mouth unless you have something of substance to say, was the underlying message of his greatness.

As he passes away in the ages, I feel a deep gratitude for the enormous legacy he’s left behind. So I celebrate the legend’s cinematic journey through 20 unforgettable frames that captured my imagination and his versatility.

Devdas
Kaun kambakth hai jo bardasht karne ke liye peeta hai. Main toh peeta hoon ke bas saans le sakoon.’

Devdas‘s pathetic decline from doomed lover to rueful drunkard finds its most sympathy-evoking expression in Dilip Kumar’s milestone performance. This unforgettable line, the sheer bitterness of it marks the beginning of an end.

I watched Bimal Roy’s Devdas at an age where romanticised ideas of romance and death entice the anxious mind. As foolish I find Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s hero now, I can never get over Dilip Kumar’s interpretation of him. His final moments in the film are etched in my memory.

Reproducing a para from my Super Filmi Week column: ‘A fiercely swaying lamp producing a stunning show of light and shadows, a wistful flute playing in the background, a cascade of memories of love lost and never forgotten, a bumpy bullock cart ride from the railway station to Paro’s house and a devastated, dying passenger restless to reach his destination.’

I often revisit this scene from Bimal Roy’s Devdas for the sheer craft of its film-maker and Dilip Kumar’s tempered intensity as the doomed hero of a tragic romance.

My blood pressure dips every single time I witness his severely exhausted body language and sorrow-filled eyes underlining the exasperation of his inquiries — ‘Arre bhai, kya yeh raasta kabhi khatam nahi hoga?

So simple yet so profound.

Actors are an insecure lot. They’ll devise ingenious ways for the focus to stay on them and take great care to know which camera angle suits them best. But even with his back facing to the camera Dilip Kumar could convey a world of emotion.

Paigham

Here’s another serene moment from Paigham, where he plays a trade union leader to prove my point.

Musafir
Still another, this one’s from Hrishikesh Mukerji’s directorial debut Musafir. His character here is an extension of Devdas only this time he makes sure he doesn’t die at his beloved’s doorstep.

The hope and heart he imbues in the final segment of Mukerji’s three-part anthology chronicling the circle of life deserves a lot more attention.

Apart from highlighting his singing skills, Dilipsaab‘s stickler for perfection is evident in the manner he plays the violin, which is hardly a surprise considering the troubles he took to learn the sitar for a sequence in Kohinoor.

Kohinoor

Speaking of Kohinoor, who can forget his hilarious mirror face off with Jeevan? Years later, Amitabh Bachchan and Prem Chopra followed suit in Mard.

Although its origins go all the way back to 1939’s Duck Soup featuring the famous mirror scene between The Marx brothers, its priceless to watch Dilipsaab at his humorous best.

Aan
Mehboob Khan’s desi Taming of the Shrew is a lavish, technicolour adventure high on Dilip Kumar’s rakish charms and Nadira’s fierce sensuality. And our leading man stands tall through every minute of cinematographer Faredoon Irani’s magnificently envisioned imagery.

Amar

Mehboob Khan’s Amar is a messy morality tale that cannot quite decide between denouncing and exonerating Dilip Kumar’s sexual offender.

Even when the film tries otherwise, the actor doesn’t make any attempts to make his crime look pardonable, which is skilfully shot through a play of lights and shadows in the ace Faredoon Irani’s camera.

Andaz
The father of all love triangles — Andaz stars Dilip Kumar as the young man who comes between Raj Kapoor and Nargis, a development that’s perfectly summarised in this telling frame.

Madhumati
The eerie ambience enveloping Madhumati’s reincarnation theme, haunted mansions and perplexing flashbacks comes alive in Dilip Kumar’s carefully built curiosity.

Mughal-E-Azam
Taqdeerein badal jaati hain. Zamana badal jaata hai. Mulqon ki tareekh badal jaati hai. Shahenshah badal jaate hain. Par is badalti hui duniya mein mohabbat jis insaan ka daaman thaam leti hai woh insan nahi badalta.’

‘Nuff said.

Gunga Jumna
One he acted, penned, produced and, some say, ghost-directed, Dilip Kumar is at the top of his game as the wronged man turned outlaw in Gunga Jumna, which later formed the inspiration for Yash Chopra’s sparring brothers in Deewar.

I just love the entire terrain hunt sequence and how this frame dramatically conveys that unfair, cornered feeling.

Ram Aur Shyam
What’s better than one Dilip Kumar? Two Dilip Kumars. For more, read my gushing retrospective review.

Guddi
At the beginning of Hrishikesh Mukerji’s Guddi, Jaya Bachchan pooh-poohs at the idea of catching a show of Dilip Kumar’s Aadmi.

‘He’s great but his movies are too slow.’

Few reels later, a meta moment follows and she’s watching Dilip Kumar at a shoot co-starring Biswajeet and Mala Sinha for a movie called Anokha Pyaar, which happens to be the title of the 1948 love triangle starring the thespian alongside Nargis and Nalini Jaywant.

Kranti
A blockbuster of its time, Kranti is now stuff of so bad, it’s good. Most fun is the entirety with which Dilip Kumar submits to ardent admirer Manoj Kumar’s kitschy vision while spearheading a revolution against the British in the 1800s.

Be it the costumes, the torture, the dialogues, the actor has a blast around Bharat Kumar’s sensibilities.

Shakti
As I mentioned in my piece, my earliest movie memory is ‘the sound of Dilip Kumar’s warning and the visual of him chasing Amitabh Bachchan at the airport tarmac leading to Shakti‘s heart-breaking climax.’

All through Ramesh Sippy’s classic, a duty-bound father and his resentful son are at constant loggerheads.

But the agony of Dilip Kumar’s misunderstood father is finally understood when he shoots his only son in the line of duty.

Holding a dying AB in his arms, Dilipsaab acknowledges his love and takes off his policeman hat to become a father. Only a father.

Mashaal
When the second wave of coronavirus hit India and turned the nation into a desperate cry for oxygen and beds, Dilip Kumar’s hysterical pleas to find help for his ailing wife lying on the street hard ceased to feel overstated any more.

Karma
Be it the ‘zanetedaar thappad‘ towards ‘zaalim‘ in Ram Aur Shyam or the goonj-packed whack to tame the violent Dr Dang, Dilip Kumar’s brand of action hero was effective even in the absence of guns and ammo.

Saudagar
A completely sloshed Dilip Kumar scoffing at friend turned foe Raaj Kumar on the other side of the hills in his thick Harvyani accent is stuff of gold. For all his method actor reputation, it could not feel more extempore.

Duniya
Inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo, it’s only recently I watched Ramesh Talwar’s Duniya. Though nothing out of the ordinary, it’s super entertaining to watch Dilip Kumar’s delicious disdain and inimitable composure as he slips into vendetta mode taking on a battery of villains — Pran, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri and Kulbhushan Kharbanda.

This article was first published on rediff.com.

 

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Haseen Dillruba review

To its voracious consumers, pulp fiction novels provide an exciting escape from mundane life in titillating accounts and sensational ideas. Director Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dillruba revolves around someone so taken in by its racy flight of fancy, she allows her reality to be dictated by her expectations to alarming effect.

Drawn to the universe of kitschy covers and cheap print, Rani Kashyap’s (Taapsee Pannu) book shelves are inundated by fictional author Dinesh Pandit’s pulpy bestsellers. But the adventures they’ve conditioned her for rarely bear fruit in arranged marriage.

On the wrong side of 20s, a flurry of ex-boyfriends, bleak horoscope, dislike for household work and “time pass” of a career as a beautician doesn’t bode well for her future prospects, her aunt warns. She *must* choose between bald and boring.

Rishu, (Vikrant Massey) the homeopathy-pills popping engineer of a sleepy small town she agrees to marry, is too feeble a match for a firecracker like her. And the gaze of Jayakrishna Gummadi’s camera captures this discrimination in tempting detail and visual innuendoes.

What starts out as a shy boy-meets-sassy girl resulting in jhatpat marriage and breezy episodes on domestic lessons and compatibility take a dark turn following the arrival of Rishu’s hunky, brawny cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane).

Extramarital affairs, jealous lovers, one dead guy — it’s a classic scenario of protagonists giving into their reckless impulses that’s fuelled many juicy crime novels devoured by Rani, among which Kasauli Ka Qahar finds recurring mention. Haseen Dillruba is an anticipation of these sinister events and revels in pushing Rani and Rishu to unpleasant extremes in the name of passion.

Amar prem wohi hai jispe khoon ke halke halke se cheetheh ho taaki usse buri nazar na lage,” explains Rani to the cop (Aditya Shrivastava) keenly investigating the murder she’s suspected of. More than her innocence or guilt, it’s her reversal of roles from rapt reader of trashy paperbacks to embodying its bold, brash heroine that forms the core of Haseen Dillruba.

Things appear increasingly twisted and warped in her unreliable narrator, but writer Kanika Dhillon’s disapproving eye is fixed on prejudiced cops and absolves Rishu and Rani of unruly behaviour and unnatural compliance.

Haseen Dillruba‘s romanticising of toxic relationships and dangerous view of seeing cruelty as a form of caring wanders off from its dirty book context to sudden profundity.

The only reason it doesn’t feel as absurd as it really is because Taapsee and Vikrant are in complete sync with Rani and Rishu’s staggeringly volatile personality. The actors make sense even when their actions do not.

Other members of the cast do their fair bit. Harshvardhan is suitably seductive while Aditya Shrivastava’s hawkish scepticism hits all the right notes. Yamini Das and Daya Shankar Pandey hilariously convey one’s chai-kachori hopes from the new bahu and other’s enthusiasm to play parlour-parlour. But their rom-com appropriate charms are, ultimately, an odd fit in Haseen Dillruba‘s deadly schemes.

Though always intriguing, the Mathew-Dhillon collaboration isn’t half as clever. The big reveal is too easy to figure as it leaves off a trail of loopholes and slipups. In trying to be both a crime drama and gender war, it fails to be a total sum of anything.

A messy love story, a tale of infidelity, a jab on sexism, a whodunit — Haseen Dillruba wildly oscillates between diabolical provocations and unrealistic sentiment.

Haseen Dillruba streams on Netflix.

Review was first published on rediff.com.

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