Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar is hoping lightning will strike the same spot twice with his new film, Toofaan, in which he plays a boxer fighting for redemption.
Akhtar, who portrayed Indian Olympian Milkha Singh in the 2013 biography Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, reunites with its director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra for Toofaan, which premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 16.
“To be standing again in the spot where lightning hit, I consider myself very fortunate,” Akhtar said at a mostly virtual event to launch the film's trailer on Wednesday. “Toofaan is a true labour of love. No matter how physically strong one is, stepping into the shoes of a boxer is a whole new ball game.”
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag told the story of Singh’s inspiring life, and required Akhtar to physically transform into the Olympic runner, who died of Covid-19 in June at the age of 91. The film was a critical and box-office success.
Akhtar and Mehra will hope to recreate their winning collaboration, this time by telling the fictional tale of Aziz Ali, whose life is upended by various circumstances and who fights to regain his honour.
Mehra described the film as combination of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and his record-breaking 2006 patriotic drama Rang De Basanti.
“It’s by far one of the most challenging films I’ve done. There is not just the physicality of the sport but also the psychology of the what the character goes through,” he said.
Toofan was first scheduled to be released in October 2020 but has faced a number of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon Prime Video announced it acquired the film in March.
Mehra said he’s happy for his film to take advantage of the streaming platform's massive reach. “The traditional model of film distribution has its limitations. With Amazon, we’re reaching 240 countries on the same day. That’s quite something,” he said.
Akhtar, who first made his name in Bollywood as a director and has gone on to star in many hit films, said he trained for nine months to prep for the character.
“Boxing is one of the most demanding sports. It’s not just the physical aspect, it’s also mental and physical. It’s like playing chess, but you’re using your body to play.”
Veteran actor Paresh Rawal, who plays a boxing coach in the film, said he jumped at the opportunity to work with Mehra and Akhtar.
“The kind of dedication they put into Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was inspiring. So I thought maybe there’s something I could learn as an actor,” he said.
"Toofaan at its core is about all the challenges one goes through and how one should never give up. It is a wholesome entertainer that is thrilling, thought-provoking and motivating. Rakeysh has created a masterpiece and Farhan brings his A-game."
Mrunal Thakur, known for her roles in films such as Super 30 and Batla House, said it was a dream come true to work with the “deadly combination” of Akhtar, Mehra and Rawal.
“I remember sending Rakeysh a Facebook message seven years back expressing my willingness to work with him and today it is happening,” she said. “I am thrilled, blessed and over the moon to be part of this exciting project at this point of my career still feels like a dream.”