Watch: Farhan Akhtar says 'Toofaan' stresses on love and forgiveness
Bollywood actor-filmmaker talks about upcoming OTT release
He is not your typical Bollywood hero, in the conventional sense of the word. But over the years Farhan Akhtar has showcased a knack for taking on roles that remain etched in your mind long after the movie is over.
Be it Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Karthik Calling Karthik, Rock On, The Sky is Pink or Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Farhan has played each character with gusto — as the quirky friend in a male bonding saga or the angst-ridden hero in a musical drama — that one is assured of an immersive experience with each of his movies.
Today, Farhan Akhtar occupies an enviable position as a multi-faceted personality with his hands in many pies — be it acting, directing, producing, writing or singing.
When we catch up with him over Zoom on a day when Bollywood was mourning the passing away of Dilip Kumar, it was but natural for the conversation to veer towards matters of legacy. But even as he admits the industry feels orphaned by the death of the veteran star, he is quick to dismiss any talk of his own legacy.
“Hopefully our work creates an impact and we will be remembered for that if we need to be. The minute one starts believing his own myth or his legend, that’s the first sign of trouble — that something has gone desperately wrong,” he explains on a sombre note.
“My intention every single time that I act, direct, produce or co-write a film is just to try and give the audience an experience that they may not have had before or give them something new to mull over; to tickle the creative neutrons in people.”
In Toofaan, his upcoming sports drama, directed by Rakeysh Mehra, that drops on Amazon Prime Video on July 16, Farhan plays a local goon Ajju Bhai who rises above his circumstances to become a professional boxer, Aziz Ali.
Touted as a tale of hope, faith and inner strength fuelled by passion and perseverance, the movie also stars Mrunal Thakur, Darshan Kumaar, Paresh Rawal, Supriya Pathak Kapur, Hussain Dalal, Dr. Mohan Agashe and Vijay Raaz.
What made you say yes to Toofaan considering you are in a privileged position today to pick and choose the projects you want to be a part of?
What’s the film trying to say behind all the glam and the glitz of the boxing world? What is the story about? What’s the journey of this character? What’s the message hidden in the subtext of this film — that really spoke to me. Toofaan is a film that stresses on the importance of love, of forgiveness — of others and yourself. It stresses on understanding or accepting the other regardless of differences. There are many aspects to this story that really worked for me. And also given the times we are in, further aggravated by the pandemic, when there’s so much negativity surrounding us, Toofaan is a film about love in these wounded times.
You did the sports biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and now in Toofaan you play a boxer. Was that hard?
Before I started training for this film, I’ve never ever boxed in my life. So I got to learn not only about the sport, about how to be an active participant and hold my own but also the history of it. Apart from the scientific side and the craft, there is an art to it — this spiritual thing where one part of you is fighting the opponent in the ring with you and there is one part that is battling itself. You test yourself as a person every single time you go into that ring. You test your character every single time you go into that ring. Boxing is an incredible sport. It teaches you a lot of things about life and it teaches you a lot of things about yourself.
Sports as we all know is more a case of mind over body. Has this philosophy seen you through the ups and downs of the industry?
Absolutely. On some level you have to develop a strong mind especially when you are in a field where your work is for public consumption. How your career will further itself and the freedom that you will be allowed or the courage that you will be able to display is so dependent on how people respond to your work. We are what the audiences make us. You can be a phenomenal talent — we’ve seen over time there are some people who have been incredibly talented and unfortunately somehow the audiences have not taken to them and their careers went in a very different direction. So it is a combination of knowing your strengths, developing further strengths, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone every single time you are asked to do something, yet at the same time you have to maintain a healthy respect for your viewer because they are the people who give you the strength to carry on. I try my best to find that balance every time I do a film.
You are a director, producer, co-writer and actor. How do you decide which project to helm and which to act in?
I haven’t come to a place just yet where I’m comfortable enough to act in something that I will direct because for me the demands of both those roles are very varied, so I find it tough. When this story (Toofaan) was developed I knew for a fact that Aziz Ali was the character I did want to play because from an early stage the idea germinated inside of me, of what this story should be about and who it should be about. The next best thing that could happen was to find Anjum Rajabali who took the story and crafted it into an incredible screenplay and then Rakeysh Mehra coming on board and made this film and the story his own. I never ever considered directing this film. I always thought of myself as Aziz Ali when working on the script.
How was it working with Rakeysh Mehra after Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?
An absolute pleasure and privilege. I have creatively been aligned with him. I feel our synergies and our collaborative strengths, all came together really well on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. I did realise through that process that here is a director who knows how to tell a story because he goes beyond the obvious. He finds subtexts in a lot of things that most people would overlook.
He is sensitive to his material, he is empathetic even to the bad characters in his films because nobody is black and white, everybody is doing something for a reason. On set in the collaborative aspect he gives you the freedom to express yourself as you see your character and not as he sees him. So it is a very interesting environment to be in as an actor; to have that kind of freedom and do scenes just the way you feel that you’d like to do them. He gives you that freedom and of course with the freedom in an unsaid way he also gives you the responsibility of it!
Do you also hope Toofaan will act as an inspiration for youngsters interested in entering the sports arena?
Different people will take different things from the film. It’s not like every single person who watched Bhaag Milkha Bhaag decided that they will become a track and field athlete. But it moved you in different ways, made you think about things in your own life, forgive certain things that may have happened, put to rest demons that may have haunted you.
People get affected in different ways with films. Of course, there will be a huge impact on the fitness side of things — people will get inspired to get fit and maybe even get inspired to learn how to box, that’s but natural for that to happen. But our hope for the film is beyond that. Our hope for the film is that you really understand that this need today for love, for acceptance and for understanding and for forgiveness is very crucial.
Toofaan is releasing on an OTT platform. Do you believe an actor like you was made for the digital space?
Eventually you would hope that your work is liked and appreciated whether it releases in a theatre or it comes on a TV screen. My job is to really put my heart and soul into a performance, make it as real and as believable and relatable as possible and then it is up to the viewer — how they will take to it and what they feel.
I also genuinely believe that the concept of the typical Bollywood hero has changed. When you see films that are made now, you have all kinds of characters, and all kinds of people who qualify as the hero of his story or her story. And that to me is very heartening. We need to move away from the formulaic description of what a Bollywood hero is and I feel people are accepting that. But like I said, my focus honestly is to create as much as I can within my power as an artist. Just as long as they appreciate it, whether they see it on a screen or on Amazon Prime, I’m happy.
Toofaan drops on Amazon Prime Video on July 16