Bollywood star visits to the Team t2 office may be on hold at the moment because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get to the stars! That’s exactly what we did earlier this week, with a part of Team t2 logging in for an online chat with Team Toofaan. Over a long, freewheeling adda with actors Farhan Akhtar, Mrunal Thakur and director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, we chatted about the film (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video), sport as a metaphor for how the globe has coped over the last one year, and the ‘toofaani’ characters in their lives. A t2oS exclusive…

Priyanka Roy: What are the emotions like having a film coming out in these trying times?

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra: We were ready with the film a couple of months ago and were keen to come out with it then. But then the second (Covid-19) wave hit us, and at that moment, we felt very strongly that we don’t want to celebrate a moment like this. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel… we are getting vaccinated… there is more hope…. The Olympics are happening, the Euro (2020) championship happened, we had Wimbledon….

In a very limited way, people are breathing slightly easier. And Toofaan is about hope. It’s intrinsically a story about struggle and strife and about the idea that life will knock you down, but before the count of 10, you will have to get up and take on life again. That is the metaphor between boxing and the story as such.

We aren’t so clever that we can say this is the right time to release the film, but it’s feeling absolutely right at the moment. It’s feeling absolutely right that the film is out on Amazon Prime Video and is reaching out to 200 countries and over 240 categories. We have dubbed the film in English — in the voices of our artistes — for the countries that don’t generally read subtitles. US is a country that doesn’t read, it hears… and they would rather watch a dubbed film in Korean or Japanese… and now they have a Hindi film in Toofaan.

There are so many wounded souls today, and if Toofaan — in a very, very small way — can be the soothing balm on those wounds, then it’s great. It’s a film about hope, love, choices,

respecting your relationships. And boxing is a sport both violent and beautiful… you will also see woman power at its strongest in the film. Mrunal (Thakur) has an author-backed role. Like everything else, we all revolve around her.

Mrunal Thakur: As an artiste, I feel blessed that a film of mine is coming out in these times. I wouldn’t want anyone to risk going to the theatres… we aren’t completely safe yet. It’s my debut on an OTT platform. We dubbed in English, and it was a different experience altogether. This is the first time I dubbed a film in English and I am so happy that all my friends in Europe and America will be able to watch it. We are getting a wider audience not limited to India… what more can an artiste ask for? It’s a slice-of-life film, like Rakeysh sir’s films always are. When he makes a movie, you feel it’s about everyone out there…the people on the street. Toofaan is like that.

Saionee Chakraborty: What’s been the coping mechanism for you for the ‘toofaan’ that’s engulfed the world in the last 15-odd months?

Farhan Akhtar: Like any analogy from sport, the belief has been that we will find a way through. Everything is going to be a challenge, like it is in sport. One may be born with great natural ability, but champions aren’t just people who have natural ability… you have to have serious perseverance and serious determination to better yourself every single day. That warrior mentality, as it is called, is what is going to see us through this pandemic. It’s a great learning for us, that given all our petty differences, there is something out there that puts all of us on the same playing field. It doesn’t matter which part of the world you are from, what God you follow, what you eat, what you wear… this virus doesn’t care! I really hope that this serves as a reminder as to the fragility of life and at the same time, to the resilience of life. It gives me the belief that if we dig in our heels, we can get through anything in life.

Saionee: Farhan, how have you dealt with it personally?

Farhan: Fortunately, no one within my immediate family or friends have suffered the consequences of this virus. The closest that I have come to losing someone I love is Milkhaji (Milkha Singh, who Farhan portrayed in the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, directed by Rakeysh Mehra) and his wife Nirmal aunty, and that was very painful. The last 18 months have given me the opportunity to spend time with people I didn’t have the chance to, read things I didn’t ever think I would have the time to…. And as a responsible citizen, I have been there to help whoever needed my help, in whatever capacity I could. Now, we are in a state where we can still look at releasing a film and filling people’s minds with positivity.

Pramita Ghosh: Mrunal, like the rest of us, did you also have a brain-freeze moment in the last few months?

Mrunal: Yes. I was so used to filming and being on set. Before the pandemic, even if I had a two-day holiday, I would be like, ‘I am really looking forward to the third day!’ (laughs) I can’t sit at home. When the pandemic struck, I went crazy on the fourth day. I had no idea what was happening! I am such a social person. I love meeting friends and I like stepping out. But later I realised that this time at home is also a blessing in disguise.

As an actor, I needed to work on my skills. During the last few months, all my teachers came up with online workshops, which I did. I learnt ballet, belly dancing….  The first lockdown was when I hugged my father for the first time in my life! That was the biggest achievement! Earlier, I couldn’t have conversations or spend enough time with my family.

I lost a couple of family and friends. It was difficult, but at the same time, I am really happy about the fact that I am alive… life is too short, so just live it to the fullest. And that is what Toofaan is for me. When I watched Toofaan, I was so motivated. People were losing hope. They were going through break-ups and losing loved ones. How do you deal with that pain? That’s when these movies inspire you. You also have to make choices in life. You cannot keep victimising yourself. Everybody goes through pain and problems, but how you deal with it and channelise that energy is what matters. I am happy that in these two years, I have come out not just as a better actor but a better human.

Shrestha Saha: Farhan, was there any point in time when landing those punches in Toofaan felt cathartic?

Farhan: They made me feel more and more like Aziz Ali, for sure. I knew it was going to happen and that it was inevitable that when we got into the action choreography, the punches would land. We were told that as much as we choreograph stuff and as much as we feel we are ready to do it, in the heat of the moment when the camera starts rolling, the competitive, animalistic side will come out. And you should not control it, you know…. Obviously, we never wanted to hit each other hard, but one did get whacked. With each whack, it made me feel more and more like the part. At no point did I feel it was too much or that this was not a part of the plan. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Every time I got hit, I would look towards Darrell (Foster), who was choreographing the fight, at the end of the take and he knew that I had been hit. He knows boxing inside-out and he would just come up to me and say ‘In the next round, it’s your turn… so just blast him!’

Saionee: On a lighter note, did any faces crop up while landing those punches?

Farhan: You know (pauses and starts laughing), there are certain inner mechanisms that an actor should keep to himself because once you let the cat out of the bag, then the power of it is gone!

Priyanka: Rakeysh, what do you think it is about a sports film that inherently packs in drama, excitement and thrills? I know yours is not predominantly that. It is also an emotional story of an underdog rising…

Rakeysh: Hundred per cent! And I hope it’s not only about that (Toofaan being looked at a sports film). It’s something that makes me think deep down within. When we are kids, the only thing we want to do in life is play. Go out there in the colony, garden and terrace… that’s natural to a human being. Then slowly you are brainwashed and trained not to play. ‘A girl cannot do this’… ‘You cannot sit like this’… ‘Study, study, study’…. Studying is not bad, but overtly giving too much importance to something in life is not good. So, when you come back to a point in life and see people play like we have been doing… IPL, Euro 2020, Wimbledon, Copa (America). It felt like everything is getting back to normal. It only feels that these people are doing something natural. That the society and system at large has made a commerce out of it is another story altogether.

Priyanka: Farhan, what is it about your body transformation process that gets talked about so much?

Farhan: Honestly, I feel a bit embarrassed. I don’t know what to say (laughs), but thank you!

Rakeysh: Just five hours a day, six days a week, for 10 months…. 1,500 hours, broken back, broken wrist… nothing much! (Everyone laughs)

Pramita: In the film, Mrunal’s Ananya motivates Aziz Ali. In life, how important have your partners/ friends/ family been in motivating you and pushing you out of your comfort zone?

Mrunal: This is what I learned from Farhan… that you have to get out of your comfort zone. Not even a single time on set did he complain, ‘Oh my God, my hand is paining!’ Or ‘Oh my God, I can’t eat carbs’. I look up to this man! (Looks at Farhan) We used to tease him with, ‘Farhan we are eating!’ But not even once did that energy in him go down. I have learnt from him how to be focused and dedicated. I have learnt to get out of my comfort zone and I think this is going to be my motto for life, while choosing my roles and in my personal life. You do have to get out of your comfort zone because you have to surprise yourself. This is what you are capable of and you can do it. Thank you Farhan for motivating and inspiring me and last thing but not the least, I want to say that after watching this film, all the boxers who have stopped boxing for whatever reason I want them to, and I am 100 per cent sure they will, find their gloves, wear them and get into the ring.

Rakeysh: Not just boxers, but anything. Just wear the gloves of life and get on.

Mrunal: Knock that out, just todun taak!

Pramita: Who is the most ‘toofani’ person in your life?

Farhan: My daughters (Shakya and Akira)! Every time I meet them, they blow me away!

Mrunal: Actually, in my family, I am the toofaan! When I reach home, they are all like, ‘Aa gayi kya? Hum jaa ke kahin room mein kaam karte hain!’ I love to talk and ask them what’s happening no matter how tired they are… and they always beg me, ‘Aaj toh jaane de!’

Pramita: Did you have a ‘toofani’ phase in life?

Mrunal: Ya, everyone does. Professionally, I went through a toofaani phase when I had to transition from television to films and that’s where I decided not to wait for the toofaan, but to be the toofaan because we create opportunities for ourselves, you know. I made those opportunities for myself.

Saionee: Farhan, it’s almost 15 years for you as an actor and it’s been 20 years since you directed Dil Chahta Hai. What has the director learnt from the actor and vice versa?

Farhan: To have the same vision, but to stay out of each other’s way. Also, having directed before I acted has definitely helped me understand the role of a director on set. Maybe somebody who only acts could answer this better. But I wonder if you could truly, truly know what a director’s job is unless you have done it. You may have an understanding, you may have the respect since the director is the so-called captain of the ship, but it’s a very, very demanding job.

People who have straddled acting and directing in the same film, I have immense respect for them. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know what kind of confidence, vision… whatever you want to call it… they have. I don’t think that I am capable of doing that. And when I act, I have to love and trust my director and know what the director is going through. I just want to be there for him or her working on that film and that’s how I really look at it.

Shrestha: Farhan, do you and Zoya  ever fight over who is the more talented sibling?

Farhan: We agreed about 21 years ago that she was more talented. After that the case has not come up for hearing! (Laughs)

Shrestha: Does it feel different when you are directed by her?

Farhan: No, not really. I think whether it is working with her or my father (Javed Akhtar), when we get down to sit and work — no one has asked us to do it — but automatically a different kind of chemistry and professionalism comes in. If we love something, we love it, but if we don’t, we voice it in no uncertain terms. Obviously If you disagree, there has to be some logical or emotional reason behind it, which the other person has to understand…. Or else, there can be a deadlock that will carry on for a bit. But that happens in any collaboration….

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