Aamir Khan is a man of emotion. In his interviews, just before the release of Laal Singh Chaddha, he revealed how he enjoys film. “I laugh with it, I cry with it; I call out to a character and ask him to tell the girl how he feels.” If not the same intensity of interactivity, with his latest release, Aamir manages to plaster a smile even on the face of the most cynical. For the unsuspecting audience, Laal Singh Chaddha proves to be an evocative ride. Chuckles are followed by gleefulness which transitions into rending of the heart, all in gradual succession. The film covers all the checkpoints of a Hindi mass entertainer while keeping its integrity intact. It’s quite an achievement for cinema these days.
Laal Singh Chaddha is both a remake and an adaptation of Forrest Gump (1994). Director Advait Chandan masterfully takes bits from the original and pastes them shot by shot. The result isn’t a cheap copy but a fit that retains its original essence. Sample this epochal scene: Laal breaks out of his calipers and into a run while being chased by bullies. The beats are on point, elation rises with every step he takes and even the most ardent Gump fans can’t help but cheer. Dialogue, even after being mere Hindi translations (Bhaag, Laal, Bhaag), doesn’t sound or feel out of place. But where the film really performs is in its repackaging for the Indian viewers.
The floating feather finds Laal on a train, which is the perfect spot for over-enthusiastic storytellers looking for an audience. He begins telling his tale to an initially disinterested passenger but as the train gathers speed more listeners join in, only to realise that the story of this stupefied-looking Sardar crosses paths with the country’s history. If Forrest Gump had the Kennedy assassination, the Watergate Scandal and The Vietnam War, we have Operation Blue Star, Indira Gandhi’s killing and the battle of Kargil. In a tongue-in-cheek scene, Laal is standing in a crowd with his love-interest Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan), observing the Ram Rath Yatra of the 1990s. Rupa explains to Laal, “His name is also Laal, like you, Lal Krishna Advani.” Only one of them, however, knew what they were running for.
And yet, Aamir Khan is not the greatest thing in an Aamir Khan film. When it comes to expressions, his Laal is essentially Rancho from 3 Idiots (2009) sans his high IQ. He voices a ringing hum after every dialogue and I could only think of PK, if he took language lessons from a Punjabi sex worker. The saviour is Mona Singh as Laal’s mother. She spills an endearing and comical worry, typical to mothers, whenever she appears on screen. In a sequence, she explains to Laal not to venture out during a riot because “the country is infested with malaria”. This running gag finally hits home when Laal answers why he never prays, “My mother said, Religion leads to the spread of Malaria.”
Atul Kulkarni’s screenplay also takes innovative spins on the source material. Although it omits the complexities of political contexts, it tickles our sense of nostalgia. Laal, dancing a particular way due to his disabled legs, teaches a certain superstar his signature arms-wide step. He unknowingly renames his brief and vest brand Rupa, thinking only about his unrequited love. The character of Lieutenant Dan from the original Forrest Gump becomes Mohammad, a Pakistani terrorist, ably played by Manav Vij. After being saved by Laal at Kargil, Mohammad undergoes a change of heart and realises the futility of religious extremism. Another performance that stands out is Kareena’s Rupa. On paper, her character might lack the layering Robin Wright’s Jenny had, but she attempts to elevate the role. This is evident in a scene where Rupa beats her maid’s husband because he was hitting her wife and then breaks into a sob, remembering her father’s domestic abuse.
There are certain points where the film falters. Laal, unlike Forrest, is a mere bystander and not a catalyst to various political events. While the original serves as a satirical take on America’s culture through the eyes of a simpleton, Laal Singh marches past riots, rath yatras and rallies without even a casual glance. Unlike the western superpower, a lot is at stake while exercising freedom of speech in the country. The stage is set before the film begins. ‘Special Thanks to’ credits appear softly on the black screen. The first one lingers on ‘The Government of India’.
Directed by: Advait Chandan
Written by: Atul Kulkarni
Cast: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Mona Singh, Naga Chaitanya, Manav Vij