Laal Singh Chaddha
Cast: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Mona Singh, Naga Chaitanya, Manav Vij
Direction: Advait Chandan
Showing in theaters
It was a sad day in 2015 when Aamir Khan spoke of growing intolerance in India. But it was an even sadder day last week when, during the promotions of his film, 57-year-old Khan had to insist that he loves his country di lui.
He needn’t have. If there is one thing that Laal Singh Chaddha does with great gusto, it is to burnish Aamir Khan’s patriotic credentials. The film, in fact, is not just proof of how much he loves India, all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, but also how much he loves all of humanity.
Laal Singh Chaddhawhich Aamir Khan has co-produced and acted in, is a faithful remake of the 1994 Hollywood film, Forrest Gumpdirected by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks.
Like its progenitor, Laal Singh Chaddha, too, is a big film. It has the span of an epic and the enveloping embrace of a doting grandparent. It carries in its bosom the kind of unconditional love that kindles nostalgia even when we haven’t actually experienced it.
To do that, Laal Singh Chaddha imagines a simple world of a simple man and takes residence in it. It’s a world where there are really just three things to do: Protect the people you love, keep your promises, and have some golgappas.
Aamir Khan plays Laal Singh with his archetypal screen godliness that he has honed since Taare Zameen Par (2007), plus the otherworldly twinkle of PK. That gives Laal Singh Chaddha a heart and the film touches us emotionally. But it lacks the philosophical profundity of Forrest Gump.
There was a mildly troubled soul-searching spirit to Forrest’s running and the film left us with answers and some questions.
Laal Singh runs too, but his running is not a metaphor because Khan just acts cute and doesn’t pause to give his character some interiority.
Like Forrest Gump, Laal Singh Chaddha is also bookended with a floating white feather and a lingering question about our purpose, destiny. But it leaves us feeling that there are no answers to seek, that our job is simply to bask in the goodness and great genius of Aamir Khan. And that’s why Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha will remain an also-ran to Hanks’ Forrest Gump.
The story of Laal Singh Chaddha is narrated by Laal Singh himself, except that the bus stop turns into a train compartment, and a box of chocolate becomes a box of golgappas because while in America it’s all about “You never know what you’re going to get,” in India it’s all about “pet bhale hi bhar jai, mann nahin bharta.“
In his adaptation of the original screenplay, Atul Kulkarni (fabulous Marathi actor and writer) has found momentous events in recent Indian history to contextualize the story and make it Indian.
He has also desified it, morally.
We first meet young Laal Singh in Punjab, as Indira Gandhi lifts Emergency. We are told that he is stupid but Laal Singh (played beautifully by 10-year-old Kashmiri boy Ahmad Ibn Umar) doesn’t seem stupid at all. He is just adorable and simple.
Unlike Forrest’s mummyji’s offer of “sex for school admission,” Laal Singh’s mummy, Mrs Chaddah (Mona Singh), offers a tiffin service to the school principal. Once in school, Laal strikes a friendship with Rupa D’Souza who, unlike Jenny’s sexually abusive father, has a wife-beater daddy.
With Laal Singh and his mummy, we travel to Amritsar during the Blue Star Operation, and then to Delhi as anti-Sikh riots break out.
Between 1977 and 1984, Laal Singh doesn’t age at all. But when he grows up to become Aamir Khan, he acquires a pronounced “Umm” affectation and his eyebrows di lui turn into inverted Vs over googly eyes.
Laal Singh and Rupa’s college life begins alongside LK Advani’s Rath Yatra. There’s Mandal agitation on campus, and Laal Singh, who has been taught since childhood that there’s safety in running, becomes a champion runner.
As Rupa leaves to pursue a career in Bollywood, Laal Singh joins the Army where he makes another friend – Black “Bubba” from the original becomes South Indian Bala (Naga Chaitanya), shrimp farming becomes kachcha-baniyan business and zero marks to you for guessing the brand name.
While Laal is busy with the Kargil war, saving some compatriots and even a Pakistani soldier, in Rupa’s film world there’s abuse, the casting couch, Dubai, Dawood and hints of Abu Salem.
As Laal Singh Chaddha winds its way to 2008 and pauses to watch 26/11 attacks, there’s tedium in its story-telling.
Thankfully, the universe of Hindi films is simple and meteorological events always put paid to the plans of the hero and heroine. Thus, Rain + Bijli = Sex + Bachcha.
Director Advait Chandan (who directed Secret Superstar) has done a decent job of remaking Forrest Gump as Laal Singh Chaddah. His film makes us laugh, cry and, for me, instead of the feather, it is bookended by two scenes involving the Sikh pay. The first one, set in 1984, is gut-wrenching and showcases one of our very worst moments as Indians, while the other almost touches divinity with a soulful rendition of Ek Omkar, Satnaam.
Laal Singh Chaddha‘s beginning is sharp, its end is meh but emotional. Its problem is its middle that is laden with gyaan and some Pakistan-bashing. That’s where the film sags, drags and bores.
The movie is 165 minutes long and there are several bits that should have been tightened, edited out. The timeline of young Laal Singh should have been mistake-proof, Aamir should have worked more on his Punjabi diction di lui, and the CGI guys should have gone easy on enhancing Aamir’s youth.
But above all, some crimps in the story should have been left because, kuch daag achche hote hain.
Forrest Gump’s forefathers were in the Confederate Army and he was named after the KKK’s first grand wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest. That deliciously politically-incorrect background of Forrest is ironed out for Laal Singh, and except for one scene involving a starry cameo, the film doesn’t have fun with historical events like Forrest Gump did.
In fact, it’s the actors in Laal Singh Chaddha who really keep us hooked.
Kareena Kapoor is luminous and she lights up the screen. She’s also in top form here and turns a brief scene without dialogue into a scary, momentous moment.
Mona Singh, well, what to say about her except that she hits the spot every single time. Her tractor-driving Mrs Chaddha is the sort of Indian mummyji who is tough and warm in equal, insane measures.
Aamir Khan is a very fine actor and there’s little he can’t do. But for several years he has been doing the same thing over and over – playing the savior.
Since Taare, Ghajini, PK and now Laal Singhhis characters come heavily marinated in goodness and most of them seem to be born out of the belief that people who are intellectually disabled are simpler and nicer, and thinking people do bad things.
And Khan doesn’t seem to be making just movies. He treats each film he acts in like a mission, an opportunity to make the world a better place.
But by besieging us with so much virtue, piety and purpose, Khan does a great disservice to us, the ticket-buying audience – he keeps us at an arm’s length and deprives us of the joy of his acting. In Laal Singh Chaddha, we get a glimpse of Aamir the actor towards the end. It’s a very powerful scene, but it’s just that – one scene.
While watching Laal Singh Chaddha, I kept wondering why Aamir Khan decided to remake Forrest Gumpa classic American film that won six Oscars, including best film, best actor for Tom Hanks, and best director for Robert Zemeckis.
Was it a challenging role that he needed to do as an actor? But he has already done the googly-eyed tabula rasa thing before.
Was it ego, then? Does Aamir Khan think that he is better than or at least as good as Hanks?
Tom Hanks has embodied the decent, good-natured American everyman for years. But all his characters di lui have some flaws and his ego di lui as an actor is subservient to the character he is playing. With Aamir, there’s just goodness, greatness and little else.
So then, did Khan remake Forrest Gump to tell a slightly skewed story of India and insinuate himself into some momentous events?
Those momentous events in Laal Singh Chaddah are mostly religious riots, and the belief is that “Mazhab se malaria failta you have“ malaria being a euphemism.
Though the film tries to strikes secular notes with a Sikh hero, Christian Rupa D’Souza, a Pakistani Mohammad Paaji, Laal Singh Chaddha’s message is exactly what Aamir Khan had said in 2015, except that the onus for spreading mazhabi hate is now on Islam.
Perhaps, that’s why he decided to remake Forrest Gump. To reboot.