Even after a few months of its release, actor Farhan Akhtar has been still getting immense praise for his last OTT release ‘Toofaan’. The film was supposed to have a theatrical release, but due to the pandemic, it ended up having a release online. Now, the film is all set to have a world television premiere this Sunday on Zee Cinema.
In a heartfelt chat with Outlook, Akhtar reveals how he had the germ of the idea of the film first, how he didn’t let his age catch up to him while building up his body for the role of a boxer, how he was completely against using prosthetics for the potbellied look, and how he learnt a lot about the digital medium because of ‘Toofaan’s release on OTT. Excerpts from the chat:
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra said in our interview that you brought the story idea for ‘Toofaan’. What was the germ behind the idea? From where did it all originate?
Wow. It's very difficult to honestly like put a pinpoint on something like this that this is when that moment happened. It was something that was brewing in my mind for a while. I was trying to find, a parallel of telling a story about love, acceptance, and understanding through a sports film. Of course, the more I thought about it, boxing seem to emerge as that sport because it is a violent sport. And so to kind of set a story about love in a sport that is so violent, it felt cinematic and it felt like it had the right drama. Also, boxing is a very visual sport, a very cinematic sport. So, it's easy to understand. And then, of course, I met with Anjum Rajabali who is the writer of the film. I shared with him whatever was there in my mind about the story that I had in place. And then he, of course, took off and did his magic with it.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of bodybuilding for the character as it would be very boring, but tell me a bit about how you got yourself pumped up to once again build up a body for ‘Toofaan’?
Firstly, I want to thank you for not asking for the details on the bodybuilding thing (Laughs) because you're absolutely right, it's very boring. Bodybuilding is more a mindset than anything else. Honestly, if you put your mind to it, you can do it. And, and for that to happen one has to be really really inspired by the story. And then it just flows. So, yeah, absolutely it's monotonous. It has its own set of like challenges, and everything attached to it but, it all feels worth it because you know, the reason you're doing it for. So, just getting into shape, putting on weight and getting out of shape - all of that was important to the journey of this film and the journey of Ajju (Farhan's character). A part of me just felt that it was important to kind of be as honest about it as possible and not take any kind of shortcuts, whether it was prosthetics or anything. I just kind of wanted to really, really live that life and experience it. And that's what you see onscreen.
You didn’t use prosthetics and gained weight naturally for the potbellied look. Did you enjoy that phase where you had no restrictions on what to eat?
I wanted to avoid prosthetics at all costs. I enjoyed it (eating so much) probably for the first week. That was it because it's not about eating whatever you want. That's what I thought it would be. And like you just mentioned, that's what anyone would think. But the thing is that having to put on 10-12 kgs in a very short period of time, you know, so you have to actually eat more than, what makes you happy. You have to eat more than when you're full. It's actually really, really loading on calories in, in the kind of way that after a time it becomes a little bit uncomfortable. So for a week, it was fun. But then after that, every time, like my meal was given to me and I saw the amount of food that had to be consumed 4, 5, 6 times a day, it starts getting very exhausting. So, it wasn't fun after a while.
If I am not wrong that part of the shoot was the last before the lockdown happened. So did you have to live with that potbellied look for a much longer time than you thought of?
It was an absolute nightmare (laughs). To be left at the end of that whole film in that shape and size, was very unfortunate of me. And you're right, all the gyms had shut. Not only gyms you couldn't even go out of your building for a walk. The police would send you back. So whatever I could do (I did). Like, I just tried keeping myself a little bit active. I could only do (workout) like in the compound of the area that I live in and on the terrace. But obviously, that's not good enough because you need to like burn, a lot of calories, when you need to lose that kind of weight. So, it did feel like time stood still for a long time (laughs). I was actually left abandoned in that shape of Ajju.
You did ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ about 7-8 years back, and now with ‘Toofaan’, you had to once again get into the physicality of a sports person. Getting into that physical shape does it now take longer than it used to be before? Is age catching up?
At no point, did I feel like this is too much! At no point did I feel tired about what I'm doing. Because I was really, really charged up with, with the, with the character and I was really excited about the film. And, I think anybody who goes to the gym to train will tell you that if your mind's not in the right place, it's very, very difficult to train. So as long as you got that kind of motivation, you find the strength and you find the energy to do stuff. You have to motivate yourself and at times other people motivate you. All that is part of the process, but the end goal is what's important. And for me, the end goal was very important and was very exciting. So at no point did I feel like, oh, this is seven years later from 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'. You know, my joints feel rusty or my muscles are not responding or reacting the way they need to. Everything was absolutely fine.
‘Toofaan’ took over a year and a half to shoot. What keeps you going for such a long period of time to stay in the mental state of the character that you’re playing? Do you take the character back home with you or you can just switch off from that character the moment you’re off the set?
There are phases in the making of the film where you do bring your work home with you. Also, the thing is that I was training either every morning or every evening because that part of the process had to keep going. And it wasn't just about going to the gym and lifting a few weights, so you look buffed the next day. It was about working on the skill constantly. So that actually did help me stay in the mind space off of Aziz Ali. It did help me with that. And then of course I was talking to Rakeysh (Omprakash Mehra) all the time. Even on the breaks that we had in between one body type getting over and we took like a month off or whatever for the next, we were constantly in touch, we were constantly reading the scenes that we were going to be shooting. So at all points through the making of this film, I felt connected to Aziz Ali and I felt connected to 'Toofaan'.
‘Toofaan’ ended up releasing on OTT. Were you a tad bit upset that it couldn’t have a theatrical release?
I can't say, I felt upset. That's too strong a word. I think what Amazon did with the release of the film was, was pretty special. So I am very very grateful to them because they went hammer and tongs in promoting the film. They've taken the film to audiences where our films normally don't even release. So, a lot of good has come out of it. We are kids who've grown up in a theatre world. We wanted to watch a film, we went to a theatre. So our understanding is a bit limited when it comes to, how else can you enjoy it (laughs)? It's a bit limited. There's an entire world and an entire generation out there that's consuming films and content very differently from us. So, also I have to understand that, appreciate that and respect that. So for me, of course, you lose certain things, but you also gain a lot of things.