Director: Advait Chandan
Writer: Atul Kulkarni (Indian adaptation)
Cast: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Mona Singh, Naga Chaitanya Akkineni
Laal Singh Chaddha (Aamir Khan) is a boy with a below-average IQ (who might be suffering from Savant syndrome but it is never mentioned). He is brought up by a single mother (Mona Singh) who dotes on her only child. Laal is bullied in school and his only solace there is his friend Rupa(Kareena Kapoor Khan). His world revolves around her. But as they grow up, Rupa friendzones him and gets on a journey to create her own future. Laal also embarks on a journey, but it is a journey like no other. Their paths keep intersecting creating moments of pure love, magic, and heartbreak. Would they have the ‘happily ever’ they deserve?
The story unfolds in the backdrop of an evolving India and some truly melodious compositions by Pritam. That it is an official Hindi adaptation of Tom Hanks’s Forrest Gump–a movie that bagged six Oscars and became the second highest-grossing American film in 1994– is well known. But it is not an easy film to adapt. Debutant writer Atul Kulkarni makes a valiant effort and it works in parts. He replaces the box of chocolates with golgappas, the bus stop with a train compartment, and imbues an Indian soul to this all-American story making it relatable and rooted. But while Laal runs through the lengths and breadths of the country, Kulkarni fails to utilize the multiculturality of India. Instead, he keeps it to ‘beauty shots’ (which are stunning). But he absolutely aces the love story between Laal and Rupa. Their interaction has a heartfelt honesty and simplicity that gives this film a strong core, one that keeps the audience emotionally invested in this rather long history-of-our-country saga. Here is where the story gets most Bollywood. And it totally works.
But not everything does. You really need to keep logic locked up in a box at home before reaching the theatres to watch this film. The most absurd thing, which is also a crucial plot point, in the movie is how a man of such low IQ gets recruited (I am not even getting into the height part) into the Indian Army and sent to the front. Forrest manages to get into the US army under US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s rather controversial Project 100,000 initiative, whereby men below military mental or medical standards were recruited during the Vietnam War to fill the shortage of soldiers.
Laal, like Forrest, processes the world in his own simplistic ways, never taking his eyes off the ball, or the goal that is set for him. His coming of age coincided with that of the country, and the landmark incidents– India’s cricket world cup win, the Emergency, Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the anti-Sikh riots, the Mandal commission protests, the Ayodhya dispute, the Ram Rath Yatra, the Bombay riots, the Kargil war, the Anna Andolan, right up to 26/11 attacks and Swachh Bharat Mission (however, the Gujarat Riots are conveniently left out). And these get recorded in his story.
He is always part of the action and at times he is the one who sets things in motion, changing the course of history and of pop culture. Unlike Forrest, Laal just whizzes past these historical moments without ever interacting with any of them. While Forrest was an apolitical protagonist in a deeply politically aware film, Laal is more like a passer-by or at best an uninterested spectator (maybe Laal is a representation of us; people who hardly engage in the politics or the problems of the country). The landmark events are used as a flimsy flying window curtain that never really becomes the backdrop holding the story together.
The writer swaps Lieutenant Dan Taylor’s backstory of an army family with Laal’s and it also trades the inspirational story of Forrest’s platoon leader during the Vietnam War and later his shrimp boat partner, with that of a Pakistanti militant in an attempt to incorporate an India-Pakistan angle. Laal, unknowingly saves the enemy, and what proceeds is a beautiful take on what the world would look like if we give everyone a chance and stop seeing the world in binaries. It is a good attempt but works only if you take logical reasoning out of the equation and can overlook the Indian Army’s absolute inefficiency to spot a Pak militant inside the army hospital.
Forrest’s best friend Bubba, is Laal Singh’s Bala but the character is underwritten and unnecessary, as is Naga Chaitanya’s (the actor who plays Bala) facial prosthetic. His shrimp business is traded for a chaddi-baniyan manufacturing company. Bala comes across as a mere caricature of Bubba. The only emotion his constant chatter about undergarments evokes is that of irritation and his facial prosthetic doesn’t make things any better. Also, sitting in a room stitching undergarments hardly has the adventure of being on a ship catching shrimps. This tweak in the tale robs the movie of some of its coolest scenes (including that gorgeous sunset shot of Tom Hanks).
The best character arc is that of Rupa (bits of her story might remind one of Monica Bedi’s relationship with gangster Abu Salem) and deviates the most from the original. One has to give it to Atul Kulkarni for turning Forrest’s hippy-souled Jenny into such a layered and nuanced character, one that carries generational trauma and scars of domestic violence. While Laal tries to physically make a run for it, Rupa is the one forever trying to run past her past. For Rupa, movies are her idea to escape the harsh realities of life, her ticket to freedom.
Kareena Kapoor Khan gives one of her career-best performances as Rupa. Mona Singh dazzles but just the right amount in every frame. Naga Chaitanya as Balaraju ‘Bala’ Bodi (Vijay Sethupathi had seriously dodged a bullet here) is wasted. SRK’s is one of the best-written cameos that Bollywood has seen in recent times. The most stunning and restrained performance comes from Ahmad Ibn Umar as the young Laal. He carries a sense of wonderment and quiet wisdom in his innocent eyes that sets the mood for this film (proving once again how good Advait Chandan is while handling child actors). A mood that is brutally broken by Aamir Perfectionist Khan’s caricaturish take on the same (this is a bit shocking given that Aamir Khan has always had certain mannerisms that he had picked up from Tom Hanks and one would think he would be the perfect candidate to slip into his shoes). He repeats the wide-eyed look that he had debuted in 3 Idiots and carried on with it in PK; this time he adds a drizzle of new ticks and speech issues. And it does not work. To say the least. Thanks to the over-the-top acting of Aamir Khan, it seems Laal grows up into a parody version of himself.
14 long years in the making, Laal Singh Chaddha has been touted as the dream project of one of Bollywood’s most-acclaimed actors, Aamir Khan, an actor we have almost gotten conditioned to love over the years. And this is what makes this film difficult to watch.
Ever since his debut, although he might have taken up a few bad projects, including Mela and Thugs of Hindostan, along the way, he has been the blue-eyed boy of Bollywood; hailed as the ‘thinking man’s actor’. Films might tank but Aamir’s acting capabilities were never questioned. Until now. Laal Singh Chaddha is a movie that is unlike any Aamir Khan movie. Even a bona fide Aamir Khan fan (like me) can’t deny that the actor is the worst thing about this almost 3-hour-long movie. It is heartbreaking at so many different levels that after a point one tries to frantically rummage through the pieces to find some redeeming factor. But in vain. It is beyond comprehension how an actor of his caliber can get such an iconic character this wrong. It is only human to make errors once in a while, but one wonders what kind of an echo chamber he is living in that has cut him off a reality check. Aamir Khan is every bit the dedicated actor that he is in Laal Singh Chaddha. But he gets the pitch absolutely wrong, and it seems that the director is so smitten with the star that he never finds the courage to correct him. Or maybe it is a classic case of blind love/faith. Or maybe the actor is so smitten with this character that he refuses to let go.
The post Laal Singh Chaddha: Aamir’s Tom Hanks Act Fails To Impress appeared first on Man's World India.