Those who remember ‘Forrest Gump’ know, pretty much, what’s in store for them in ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, the official remake of the heavily-decorated 1994 Hollywood dramedy which won Tom Hanks an acting Oscar. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the Gump-like character is played by Aamir Khan, an actor who hews closest to Hanks in the way the audience perceives both—sincere, likeable, relatable.
No worries if you haven’t seen the original. In fact, you may get more out of the film if you come to it fresh, instead of constantly comparing scenes which have been faithfully adapted. When we first come upon Laal Singh Chaddha, he is in a train, holding on to a box of gol-gappa, or pani-puri, and a backpack full of memories.
Initially, he comes across as your perfectly pleasant, extra-chatty person you dread sitting next to, focussed upon his need to tell us his tale. Soon, though, Laal succeeds in drawing in the disinterested woman across him, and then the entire compartment. As he prattles on, we realise that Laal has been plumb at the centre of events that changed India, and what appears like an ordinary journey turns into an extraordinary one.
Or, one that rightfully should have. Given that it is Aamir who is known for his meticulous building of a character, and the source material which overcomes its heavy doses of schmaltz by a superb performance by Hanks, ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ should have been a movie we could take home with us. But it is the train which gathers speed, not Laal’s meandering tale, which only kicks in towards the last half hour.
It’s not just the pace which is the trouble. It is also, centrally and crucially, Sardar Laal Singh Chaddha himself. And here, a comparison is a must. The only way we began getting more and more involved with Forrest Gump, as he told us about his childhood spent with his legs-in-braces, a group of bully boys, a little girl who was the most beautiful thing he ever saw, and a loving mother who gave him strength and a barrelful of truisms that stayed him in good stead, is the way Hanks ratchets it up, while keeping the essential goodness and slowness of his character intact. Aamir falls back on easy crutches– widening of the eyes, crooking of the neck, clearing of the throat, pants hitched up high, shirts with collars up to the neck, and a slightly fixed smile– a series of tics that demand too much of our attention.
There are solid supporting acts surrounding Laal. Mona Singh as his mother, who tells him he is as good as anyone else. New face Naga Chaitanya as his South Indian Army mate who is obsessed with the right fit of ‘chaddi-baniyaan’, which leads to a most amusing strand. Manav Vij, as the crippled soldier who moves from black despair to optimism. And Kareena Kapoor Khan, as Rupa, the love of Laal’s life, desperate to put her painful past behind, infuses real feeling into her part.
The flashes of the life-changing events (Operation Bluestar, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the 1984 Sikh massacres, among others, including the friendly appearance of a fellow superstar) inserts Laal in the proceedings, but this contrived device which led to a mix of eye rolls and wonderment in the original, leaves little impact here. The Kargil war gets the most play, with Laal at the forefront of a brave rescue act. The omissions (the Gujarat riots) and the commissions (Swachch Bharat) give you a quick snapshot of the India that we live in today, where even a line like, ‘mazhab se malaria phailta hai’, seems audacious.
It’s only when Laal Singh Chaddha leaves the dull shackles of his mannerisms, and hits the road, passing by some of the most spectacular sights that India possesses– the intense blue Ladakh lake, the shimmering Himalayan night, a scenic Southern coastline– that he starts to grow on me. The film, that struggled with lifting its character out of the reductive labels of ‘buddhu’, ‘pagal’, ‘bhondu’, ‘khotaya’, ‘atrangi’, becomes surer, and more confident of the paths Laal is treading: the way he ties his turban with the beauty of ‘Ek Omkar’ in the background, is a moment. Finally, he is what the film wants us to see: a man to be admired, not patronised, fuelled by a wisdom that comes out of genuine simplicity.
Laal Singh Chaddha
Director – Advait Chandan
Cast – Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Naga Chaitanya, Mona Singh, Manav Vij
Rating – 2/5