Laal Singh Chaddha
Director: Advait Chandan
Actors: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan
Firstly, Forrest Gump (1994), besides a film, is also a metaphor/phrase. And it doesn’t mean someone slow/dim witted, as much as a person to whom things just happen, as he breezily goes along — leading to an autobiography of the Everyman of sorts, who’s inevitably at the right place, at the right time. Let’s say he’s thoroughly blessed by the gods of non-fiction. I’ve met a few ‘Forrest Gumps’ in my life. Surely you have too. Unless you’re a journalist, who actively converses only to hear others’ stories, people often tell you theirs, at odd places, among strangers, at a bar, park-bench, dating app, airport, hospital….
Or the second-class compartment of a train, where Laal Singh Chaddha (Aamir Khan) is travelling to Punjab, among passengers who are glued to his life’s phenomenal accounts. What’s Laal Singh Chaddha’s story? Well, that’s this film.
Only that this man’s life runs parallel to the big stories of the society/India around him itself — through those years, when he was accidentally right in the middle of ’em all!
You could rap those momentous events like the Billy Joel song, We didn’t start the fire: ’83 World Cup, Operation Blue Star, ’84 riots, Indira assassination, Rath Yatra, Mandal Commission, Ram Janmabhoomi, ’93 blasts, Miss Universe, Monica Bedi, Kargil War, Ajmal Kasab…
When was the last time I saw a Hindi film with similar synchronicity, across time and locations, between a man and his nation’s history? The Salman Khan-starrer Bharat (2019), based on the Korean film, Ode to my Father.
Laal Singh is much superior. Likewise, Salman made Sultan (2016), a film on wrestling, that Aamir subsequently bettered with Dangal, the same year!
There is a lovely cameo of Shah Rukh Khan in this film. Little Laal Singh in Shah Rukh’s younger days in Delhi first taught him the iconic hands outstretched dance-move! That’s the level of quirky destiny the lead character is blessed with. He’s equally blessed with quickly forgetting, and moving on.
Or as a friend put it so well after this film’s screening — it’s the story of a man who goes with the wind. Contrasted with the girl (Kareena Kapoor Khan), who wants to determine that flow which, because it’s frickin’ life, you can’t! She’s the head, he’s all heart. She’s the tragedy, against his comical fantasy.
Between these two characters, the only fact-check I’m likely to point out is how does Laal Singh make it to Delhi’s prestigious Hindu College, dude? Maybe through sports quota! But this is before he cracked the racing track; putting into professional practice one of the many life-saving lessons taught by his mom (the absolutely lovely Mona Singh): When in doubt, run!
As does Laal, with pants above his belly, slightly fitful breathing, eyes wide open, and a look of perpetual shock on his face. That’s Aamir, of course, the perpetual ‘behrupiya’ among Bollywood stars.
Also Read: Laal Singh Chaddha not ready for OTT
Ever since Ghajini (2008), it appears to me he’s brought to life films/roles, chiefly to transform himself into another person, which is the prime privilege of being an actor anyway (to experience multiple lives in one).
Only that the physical transformation has been central to his parts. I guess, given Aamir’s public image of a ‘perfectionist’, so to say, simply derived from delivering a string of commercial super-hits at the cinemas, one doesn’t acknowledge enough the actor in him — constantly taking massive leaps of faith before the masses, playing the fool, often with parts that are full-on open to getting lampooned forever.
In the case of this film, the hard-work likely to get overshadowed, though, is actually the director’s — Advait Chandan. This is his second film; so lofty in its ambition, compared to the intimate, subdued Secret Superstar (2017). While Laal’s life plays out effortlessly, the effort behind this film shows, checking all the prominent boxes; locations and cinematography (Setu), to start with.
As for the adaptation from Hollywood — in his career, Aamir has had a mixed report-card with remakes/inspirations, in general. For instance: Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1993) > Breaking Away (1979). Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995) < Kramer v Kramer (1979). Ghajini and Memento (2000) ideally shouldn’t be compared, and The Prestige (2006) references in Dhoom 3 (2013) don’t even count.
The idea here, right from the opening song in Mohan Kannan’s mellifluous voice, Kahaani, is to create desi Forrest goose bumps! While watching this film, despite some editable stretches of self-indulgence, you sense how timeless the Eric Roth script for Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump (1994) was.
Yes, this is the same story. It is not the same film. The Indian adaptation (by Atul Kulkarni) is totally seeped in desi, earthy imagination.
And the original mustn’t matter. For, who’s this film for? The India that must watch its own story, told so softly, entertainingly! And to give Laal Singh Chaddha the love he so sweetly, innocently gives back.
Which is also the adorable point of this pic, isn’t it? That good things happen to good people. I know that only happens in the movies, perhaps. But isn’t that what we love the movies for!
Originally published at www.mid-day.com