Aamir Khan is a good actor and will be able to recreate the magical persona of Forrest Gump. That’s the easy part. But will his remake of the 1994 Hollywood hit travel to India easily? That’s the challenge.
Even though the recently released trailer of Laal Singh Chaddha looks like a direct remake, Forrest Gump was more than a story of human endurance, grit, innocence and love. It was also about America – with all its complexities of war, racism, discrimination, and nationalism.
Like any human, a nation also has its shares of glories and disgrace. Tom Hank’s Forrest Gump was a brave film in that sense because it did not gloss over or hide the ugly belly of the US. There are several scenes and ideas that will be difficult to translate into the Indian context.
War and nationalism
Forrest Gump is an anti-war movie – the lead actress sings Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, Forrest takes part in an anti-war protest at Capitol Hill, and anti-war posters and slogans are aplenty. As there has been no such thing as an anti-war movement in India, Laal Singh Chaddha will not be able to recreate these scenes.
Forrest Gump is set at a time when the US fought and won many wars. But the scriptwriter and director decided to tell us the story of the most inglorious war in US history—the Vietnam War (1955-75). The Americans lost that battle and their shield of invincibility. Laal Singh Chaddha trailer shows war scenes too and Aamir Khan’s character participating in them. But the question is, will it show the wars India won or the horrors and disgrace we faced? Will it be about the 1962 China-India war, 1971 India-Pakistan war, or Kargil?
Forrest Gump also shows the fear and fallibility of soldiers. In the only fight scene in the film, the US soldiers are seen running to save their lives. We see their tears. Will it be possible for the makers of Laal Singh Chaddha to show a retreating Indian Army unit? Forrest Gump never claimed he was not scared during the war. This coming from a national war hero is very important. In Indian films, soldiers are shown as infallible superheroes.
Forrest Gump does not subscribe to the stereotypical idea of national pride. Rather it ridicules it. When President John F. Kennedy asks footballer Forrest how it feels to be all American, he burps and says: “I got to pee.”
Also read: Aamir Khan was the OG method actor. Problem started when he turned to comedy
Forrest Gump dives deep into the issue of racism in the US. Right at the start, Forrest makes fun of his ancestors who started the Ku Klux Klan movement. It also shows how Black students were ridiculed at the University of Alabama. It required the innocence of Forrest Gump to treat them equally. The movie tells us how African-Americans were drafted unwillingly for the Vietnam War—like Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, a lead character. In his long role, Bubba never utters a word about national pride or winning wars. I doubt Laal Singh Chaddha will be able to translate that strongly into the Indian context. Most Indian films try to tug at the heart strings rather than show the reality of wars and the soldiers who fight in them.
A member of the Black Panther Party in the movie goes on to say: “Our purpose here is to protect our Black leaders from racial onslaught from the ‘pig’ who is brutalizing our people.” Such dialogue cannot find place in Indian movies, it’ll be blasphemous.
The journey of Bubba’s family is also interesting. They are depicted cooking and serving shrimp to white masters. This goes on till they start a successful shrimping business and a white woman serves the shrimp to Bubba’s wife. The visual impact is powerful. Can Laal Singh Chaddha show a similar journey of a Dalit family? Most unlikely.
Also read: Black lives mattered to Phule and Ambedkar. They had seen caste discrimination in India
The school scene
The famous school admission scene will be another difficult sequence. In India, teachers or gurus are put on a high pedestal (“Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu/Guru Devo Maheshwara/Guru Sakshat Param Brahma/Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah“). It’s also a caste issue. A teacher seeking sexual favours from a mother in lieu of giving admission to her “low IQ son” will not be easy to reproduce. It may be considered an immoral act on the part of the mother if she agrees to it.
Let’s hope that Laal Singh Chaddha will be as brave a film as Forrest Gump. I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has written books on media and sociology. He tweets @Profdilipmandal. Views are personal.