Nearly four years after the release of his expensive misfire Thugs of Hindostan, Aamir Khan has marked his Bollywood comeback today with Laal Singh Chaddha, a remake of the 1994 Tom Hanks-starrer Forrest Gump.
Teaming up with director Advait Chandan and writer Atul Kulkarni, Aamir Khan draws from the creative well of 1990s Hollywood as a basis for this remake, with themes of war, violence, friendship, love and identity in focus.
All in all, the trio mostly succeed in adapting the feel-good Oscar Best Picture winner for modern Indian audiences — warts and all — rather than producing some poor facsimile to target the box office.
Much like the original film, Laal Singh Chaddha is equal parts funny and moving, built on the back of tremendous acting and chemistry between its main characters. It also makes excellent use of its lengthy runtime and rarely meanders from its primary message and accessible story.
However, as was the case nearly 30 years ago, the remake is more mawkish than it needed to be, and its emotional impact is occasionally hurt by the heavy-handed voiceover narration. Criminally, it only pays lip service to the majority of the events and societal issues depicted, giving off a similar “virtual reality theme park” vibe that film critic Owen Gleiberman labelled Forrest Gump as.
Also read: Why it’ll be difficult for Laal Singh Chaddha to be a true remake of Forrest Gump
Laal’s love and loss
As such, Advait, Atul and Aamir rely heavily on Robert Zemeckis’ direction, Eric Roth’s script and Hanks’ portrayal style to depict the same far-fetched premise. A train passenger with an unspecified learning disability and a thick, regional accent, narrates to an unsuspecting audience his life, personal tragedies and romantic dreams as he was actively involved in and witnessed up close major historical events like Operation Blue Star, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the anti-Sikh riots, the Kargil war and the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement.
While the majority of Laal Singh Chaddha revolves around the titular character’s relationships with his mother (Mona Singh) and his childhood crush Rupa D’Souza (Kareena Kapoor Khan), the strongest elements are his relatively fleeting interactions with Balaraju Bodhi (Naga Chaitanya) and Muhammad Paaji (Manav Vij), who function as this remake’s equivalents of the Bubba and Lt Taylor characters respectively.
This isn’t to say that the scenes between Laal and his mother, or Laal and his crush, are poor by comparison. On the contrary, Aamir’s and Mona’s relationship forms the most fundamental parts of the film in many ways, while Aamir’s chemistry with Kareena is as incredible now as it was in 3 Idiots (2009). Instead, they are comparatively let down by uninteresting writing and cliched character arcs, although the three actors mostly make it work through the high standards set by their performances.
Also read: Aamir Khan was the OG method actor. Problem started when he turned to comedy
Good, but not brilliant remake
The best remakes are those that either look at poorly received films that had potential and just needed altered creative choices, or revisit yesteryear classics but bring a fresh pair of eyes or different language. The Coen Brothers’ True Grit (2010), Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006), and Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011-2017) are some masterful modern examples.
On paper, Laal Singh Chadda falls in that latter category and could have surpassed the flawed 1994 original. But by only making minor improvements with its conclusion and doing little to eschew the elements that plagued Forrest Gump, Laal Singh Chadda is ultimately a slickly produced, well-acted and faithfully adapted missed opportunity.
In my opinion, Forrest Gump ranks among the lesser quality films to win Best Picture, so it’s perhaps fitting for its legacy that Laal Singh Chaddha is a decent tribute without ever approaching brilliance.
If you were a fan of Forrest Gump, you will likely lap up the Aamir Khan-led latest effort. But if you want more from a period piece with pro-peace individualistic social commentary and a well-written romance arc centred on a conscientious objector, turn to the likes of Andrew Garfield-starrer Hacksaw Ridge instead.