Synopsis – An official remake of the 1994 American film Forrest Gump
My Take – Remaking a film is hard. Other than the inevitable comparisons, it is tough to convince loyal fans to see another version of their celebrated film. Especially one as beloved as director Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 Oscar winning film ‘Forrest Gump’, starring Tom Hanks. A film which bagged numerous accolades including six academy awards.
But if someone could take up that monumental task it had to none other than Aamir Khan, who over his fascinating four decade long work in the Hindi film industry has proven to possess a keen eye for detail and flipping unique scripts, albeit with his own share of hits and misses. But could be trusted to find a way around the Eric Roth written film’s meandering, all-encompassing, nonlinear plot and profound yet simple approach to life and its purpose.
The result being a lengthy, flawed but faithful adaptation of a feel-good story set in the heart of India. Directed by Advait Chandan (Secret Superstar) and written by acclaimed actor and producer Atul Kulkarni, and inspired by filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s style, the remake is warm, approachable and works well in the context of Indian space but succeeds partially.
Mainly as it doesn’t realize the potential of adding more Indian elements, and doesn’t take the necessary creative choices that could have made the storytelling and overall experience slightly more impactful. Without a doubt, those who have watched the 1994 film will pick up the scene-by-scene adaptation and sometimes translated dialogues in this Aamir Khan starrer. Nevertheless, the film may not be as effortlessly moving or immersive as the original but it is sure worth a single watch.
Cleaving very closely to the original’s premise, the story follow Laal Singh Chaddha (Aamir Khan), a slow-witted but an eternal optimist, who on a train journey from Pathankot to Chandigarh recounts his life story in a crowded carriage. From his tough childhood, where as a young boy (Ahmad Ibn Umar) he was saddled with physical disabilities and a slow mind, but was encouraged to believe in himself by his strong and motivating single mother (Mona Singh), to his pinning for his childhood sweetheart Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan).
Backed by his unwavering optimism and buoyed by extreme idealism, Laal goes through live making friends in a stranger, Bala (Naga Chaitanya), and a supposed enemy Mohammad (Manav Vij) in war times, faces death head on, accidentally finds wealth and unexpectedly ends up running through his pain of heart break.
While I can’t say if the remake was necessary, but I must admit it was definitely a tough act to follow given how disarmingly poignant the original is and you know exactly how the events unfold in it. However, here, in terms of the social environment, director Chandan and screenwriter Atul Kulkarni successfully adapt the narrative in a way that will appeal to the Indian audience. If the original conveyed things best in a soft, easy, unspoken way; this film turns up the tone and energy a bit. It opts for speech over silent tears so expect a perpetually wide-eyed Aamir Khan doing a lot of Punjabi accent with PK’s body language and enthusiasm.
They don’t just stick to the plot like glue, they replace the famous box of chocolates with a box of golgappas, they also import classic dialogue, motifs like the white feather, set-pieces and images wholesale, like when Laal and Rupa sit on a tree watching the sun set. One of the delights of the 1994 was the way Forrest was deftly inserted into historical footage and Kulkarni’s adapted screenplay, like its predecessor, merges facts and fiction.
He aligns the fictional story to India’s socio-political and cultural context by taking us right in the midst of some of modern India’s most historic moments. Headline-grabbing events such as Operation Bluestar, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the anti-Sikh riots, the anti-Mandal agitation, Lal Krishna Advani’s rath yatra, the Babri mosque demolition, the Mumbai riots and serial blasts of the early 1990s, the Kargil war of the late 1990s and the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 play out side-by-side. Sushmita Sen‘s Miss Universe 1994 title win also finds a mention among events that leave a dent on Laal’s mind.
The inherent goofy humor of the original is intact and there are some leaps of imagination like Shah Rukh Khan’s cameo. Unfortunately, what becomes the downfall of the 159-minute film is how it shifts around the certain elements of Forrest Gump. Pushing in some forced character narratives like Mohammad, a terrorist Laal rescued in Kargil simply out of the goodness of his heart, oblivious to the fact that he was the enemy.
Even as Mohammad follows Dan’s trajectory through the rest of the film, co-founding a business with Laal, making the symbolism of establishing the enemy as the friend feel too far stretched, and frankly implausible even in a suspended-disbelief state. Even the romance between Laal and Rupa fails to create ripples because though they are made the focus, their sequences are not savored enough. Most importantly, apart from the anti-Sikh riots that affect a young Chaddha, the rest of the socio-political churn fails to re-create the emotional upheaval of Forrest Gump.
Moreover, Aamir Khan’s portrayal of the adult Laal leaves much to be desired as we get a mash of his characters especially PK (2014). The Bollywood version of Punjabi only adds to the almost caricature portrayal of the adult Laal. The Bollywood superstar plays the naive Laal with a familiar wide-eyed expression and an oddly distracting speech mannerism. Though his drive to take on a celebrated role in his late 50’s, which Hanks played in his late 30’s is commendable. However, though evocative in portions and painstakingly done, he tries a bit too hard and the result is a tad extra. The method actor who made method acting common parlance now resorts to grunts and more grunts in his reinterpretation.
However, Kareena Kapoor Khan is excellently restrained. She hits the right notes and striking a fine balance between involvement and detachment. In supporting roles, Mona Singh and Manav Vij are excellent. While Naga Chaitanya in a small role makes the most of what he can. On the whole, ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ is a decent adaptation of the original, flaws notwithstanding.
Directed – Advait Chandan
Rated – PG
Run Time – 159 minutes