Laal Singh Chaddha
Director: Advait Chandan
Writer: Atul Kulkarni (adaptation)
Cast: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Naga Chaitanya, Manav Vij, Mona Singh
Released in theatres.
It doesn’t happen often that a film’s strongest link is also its weakest link. Aamir Khan as the producer is the strongest link of Laal Singh Chaddha (LSC). But unfortunately, Aamir the actor is the weakest link of LSC. Laal Singh Chaddha is the official adaptation (the remake is not the right word) of Robert Zimmeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994). Forrest Gump is an inherently American film that explored the life of a differently-abled simpleton with the backdrop of middle-class American life through the 60s and 80s. Actor-turned-screenwriter Atul Kulkarni explores the life of a Sikh simpleton from Pathankot through the 1980s to the 2010s.
As an adaptation, the film is mostly well made. The key events that triggered or shaped the socio-political narrative of India are peppered throughout the film. And these are not just putting a character through historical events. There’s a genuine thought here if you are willing to see beyond the surface level. A Sikh differently-abled boy being protected by his mother so that he doesn’t get affected by the Sikh riots, Operation Blue Star, demolition of Babri Masjid followed by the Mumbai riots. Laal’s mother (Mona Singh) tells Laal not to step out of his college and later his army training campus during these events, telling him that the city is affected by Malaria. It’s an apt description of the dark side of organized religion.
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Laal Singh Chaddha is trying to say a lot of things and manages to recreate fictional narratives of real people. For instance, Laal’s love of life Rupa D’souza (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is an aspiring actress who wants money and fame in Bollywood. She gets involved in the dark side of the industry from the 90s i.e. the underworld. The narrative is based on Abu Salem and Monica Bedi’s affair followed by their arrest. I like what Kulkarni does with Rupa. Jenny from Forrest Gump had a coldness around her. You knew that she won’t stay with anyone for a long time. Kulkarni and Kareena give an endearing warmth to Rupa. There’s a genuine arc to her character. She clearly states and distances an affectionate Laal while she is chasing her dreams. But she only finds love when she has given up on chasing her dreams.
Naga Chaitanya as Bala reprising the part of Bubba from Forrest Gump does not leave an impact. Bubba wanted to start a shrimp business. Bala wants to continue his family’s tradition of making undergarments for men. Then what is he doing in the army in the first place? Similarly, a very thoughtful part of Mohammad (Manav Vij) a Pakistani attacker Laal saves during the Kargil War has a glaring error. This part is that of Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump. The error being the Indian Army completely did not notice that the man that they were treating for losing his limbs is a Pakistani insurgent. It may look like a huge leap of creative liberty, but I liked the fictional origin story of Rupa briefs and vests which shows that it was Laal who was the owner of the brand.
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The film’s soundtrack is symbolic of the film itself. Pritam’s music is melodious and has a narrative rhythm to it. But if you carefully listen to Amitabh Battacharya’s lyrics, you will realize what the film is trying to say. The theme song Kahani is quite the testament to that. Films dealing with meaty subjects but made for a mass audience can land in no man’s land. But director Advait Chandan has total control over the film. Laal Singh Chaddha is like a fable, and so was Forrest Gump. It is fascinating to see a simpleton with a low IQ cruising through the randomness of life with no plan at all. It questions the choices of many of us who want to intellectualize everything and strive to live a ‘structured’ life. Most often, while doing that, we find ourselves in complete chaos.
Now, I want to write about the weakest link in Laal Singh Chaddha, Aamir Khan. When Tom Hanks played Forrest Gump, he was 38. He didn’t need prosthetics to show different ages of his life. Aamir was 55-56 when he played Laal. More than 70% of the film has a digitally de-aged Aamir Khan playing the young Laal. It takes away realism. The VFX work falls short when the visuals of digitized Aamir interact with other characters. It looks a little jarring. Hanks played Forrest with a certain bluntness. Aamir gives Laal a weird hum and facial features that can resemble his character from PK. But strangely enough, despite all this, Laal Singh Chaddha works. Because the makers and the actor maintain the soul of Forrest Gump. Characters like Forrest Gump transcend boundaries of race, culture, nationalities, and social strata. That’s why you like them in the first place.
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Now, if you look at the controversies that surrounded Laal Singh Chaddha’s release, the film feels even more relatable. The mental bankruptcy of certain groups backed by religious and political organizations and their paid trolls demanded that the film should be banned from release. So, when Laal, after running for almost 4 years, being followed by people who attach their causes to his marathon run and journalists asking why is he running, suddenly stops and says that he is just tired, it feels like a statement from every artist whose voice has been shunned by the people who don’t need a reason to get offended.
I took two days after watching Laal Singh Chaddha write this review because I didn’t want to do injustice to a film made with a lot of heart and courage. On the surface level, it may look gimmicky, but the film is trying to say a lot deep down. If only, the target audience it aims at is willing to listen to it. It’s worth a watch.