Director Robert Zemeckis Forrest Gump (1994) blew our minds away with its reimagining of American history. The Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal, The Beatles, and Elvis Presley were just a few of the popular references that stood out – you had to watch the film several times to catch them all. It reportedly took writer Atul Kulkarni ten years to write an Indian version of the celebrated film. It’s been a labour of love, alright. The detailed script has been painstakingly worked on by Advait Chandan, of Secret Superstar fame. The end product is a film that stands tall on its own. Forrest Gump’s framework is very much present, floating feather and all, but the film is inherently Indian. Atul and Advait have invested more in the story than history. As a result, this has a better emotional core than the original. The mother-son bond is stronger here. Laal’s mother is shown to be his guiding light well into his early 30s and is shown to be the only one who loves him unconditionally till her dying breath.
Another inspired piece of writing involves Manav Vij’s character. Instead of making him out to be an embittered amputee like in the original, here he’s shown as a reformed Jihadi who learns the folly of his earlier ways. Unlike the original, where the girlfriend’s character is a junkie, here Laal’s girlfriend Rupa is shown to be a starlet willing to do everything for that big break. As a result, Kareena Kapoor Khan gets much more to do here than Robin Wright in the original. The film is as much Rupa’s story as Laal’s, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Mind you, Forrest Gump was a highly political film. It was hugely critical of the American government’s policies, particularly the mismanagement of the Vietnam War, the doublespeak of Richard Nixon, and the duplicity of the Watergate Scandal, among other things. In comparison, perhaps given the present political climate, Aamir Khan has played it safe here. We do get references to Sikh riots after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Babri Masjid debacle, the Mandal Commission and its aftermath, as well as to the Kargil War, but the history lesson stops there. The Godhra riots and their repercussions, the saffronisation of power, the rise of the right wing don’t find a mention at all, despite the fact that the film ends in 2018. Compared to this, Rang De Basanti was more gutsy, more critical of the political order.
The direction is spot on. As said earlier, the focus is more on human relationships in this adaptation. The childhood bond between a young Laal and Rupa feels genuine, and so does their camaraderie as adults. Rupa knows he loves her to death, but she wants more out of life than what he has to offer, and that is brought about convincingly. Laal’s friendship with his army buddy Bala (Naga Chaitanya), who is obsessed with designing the perfect set of underwear, is filled with warmth and humour. Naga Chaitanya isn’t playing the central character here but manages to leave an impact through his sincerity and commitment to the role.
His other buddy, the reluctant fundamentalist Mohammed Paaji (Manav Vij), too, brims with brotherhood. Manav Vij takes on his role with gusto and stands out in his scenes with Aamir. Mona Singh is motherhood personified in the film. She loves her dyslexic son to the moon and back, and it’s her love that helps him overcome the hurdles in his life. Her concern for Laal, even on her deathbed, is almost palpable.
It’s a huge risk indeed that one of the most successful heroines of today has been cast as a struggler. It’s a world totally unrelated to Kareena Kapoor, who belongs to filmdom’s first family. She surprises you with the vulnerability she brings to the role. It’s a performance filled with angst and grit that is one of her best portrayals so far in her career.
Aamir Khan doesn’t try to be Tom Hanks in the film. He plays a character who is constantly surprised by life and hasn’t lost the child-like wonderment about it, even as an adult. For an actor known for his quicksilver expressions, it must be a task for him to underplay the character, but he does it effortlessly. The innocence of Laal Singh Chaddha gets alive in the actor’s eyes. The man known as Mr. Perfectionist leaves no stone unturned to play his character just right. In his scenes with Mona Singh, with Naga Chaitanya, and Kareena Kapoor, he’s not the centre of attraction always, and graciously lets others bask in the limelight. This speaks volumes about his self-assuredness.
The film’s most seeti maar moment comes when Shah Rukh Khan is shown briefly interacting with the young Laal. We wish the cameo featured the adult Laal. Seeing the two most iconic stars together on screen seems like a wish which will forever remain unfulfilled.
We’ve always made remakes since time immemorial. Most are frame-to-frame copies. Watch Laal Singh Chaddha to understand why you don’t need to do that to make a quintessentially Indian product out of a foreign import.
Trailer : Laal Singh Chaddha