Packing a Punch: Farhan Akhtar on Toofaan, and physical transformation for role of boxer
From gaining pounds to losing it and then piling it on again during the shooting cycle can take a toll on anyone. For a 47-year-old Farhan, these transformations have not been easy
In 1989, a film called Toofaan released and sank without a trace at the box office. Helmed by Ketan Desai, the film had Amitabh Bachchan—then a 47-year-old ageing superstar—trying desperately to hold on to his stardom and failing miserably. Over three decades on, another 47-year-old actor—Farhan Akhtar—is trying his luck with a film serendipitously titled Toofaan. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (who earlier worked with Farhan in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in 2013), the Amazon Prime Video release is a sports drama with Farhan playing the role of a national-level boxer.
Playing a pugilist when you are on the wrong side of 40 is no mean feat. From gaining pounds to losing it and then piling it on again during the shooting cycle can take a toll on anyone. For a 47-year-old, these transformations have not been easy. They have been mentally and physically taxing, says the actor. “It is not easy to go through these extreme changes. I may look good in the film, but a lot of science goes behind it and it is a gruelling task. From doing the right amount of exercise, having the right quantity of food and water, getting enough sleep and proper training… everything comes into play. And all this has to be done under supervision,” says the actor who would exercise six days a week for five hours each. What was the most difficult part of his physical transition journey? “Gaining weight!” exclaims the actor, adding, “I don’t have that body type. I have never gone beyond 74 kgs. For some scenes, I had to be 86 kgs. Even after increasing my diet, my weight stopped at 79. I was eating more than 3,000 calories of rich and heavy food.”
Toofaan has had a long wait. The film, which was meant for a theatrical release in September 2020, was postponed indefinitely due to the lockdown. Finally, when the scenario seemed to be stuck in limbo, the makers took the initiative of releasing the film on the OTT platform. “I am glad that it’s finally releasing. As Rakeysh says, the pandemic has made the small screen into the big screen. Approximately, 70 million households will get to watch the film. At the end of the day, as an actor it’s important that people see your performance—the platform does not matter,” says the filmmaker-singer-lyricist and writer, who made his acting debut with Rock On!! in 2008.
In the run-up to the release on OTT, marketing was stepped up with hoardings coming up at even Times Square in London, UK. Does the actor think taking on a sports flick—especially a niche sport like boxing—is a risk? “Every film is a risk. When I approach a film I approach it with the thought that it will become a hit. Earlier, Omung Kumar’s Mary Kom (2014) did pretty well. Ultimately it all boils down to how well the film is made. Boxing is just a backdrop of the story,” says Akhtar, adding, “I was fortunate enough to play Milkha Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Aziz Ali in Toofaan. But I don’t think I will take up another sports flick soon.”
The last time we saw him helming a project was when he directed Shah Rukh Khan in Don 2 in 2011. So will this decade-long wait to get behind the camera come to end sometime soon? “There will be a time in the near future that you will see me directing a film. For now, all plans have gone haywire, thanks to the pandemic,” says the actor, who says he used the lockdown period to reconnect with family and friends, and catch up on his reading and film-watching. “My lockdown was like everybody else’s lockdown. Or, to quote my dear friend Karan Johar’s film—Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham...,” he laughs.