Laal Singh Chaddha is better than Forrest Gump - here’s why

Laal Singh Chaddha is better than Forrest Gump - here’s why

I never though I’d say this. But here is a remake, a re-creation if you will, that actually surpasses the original. The makers of Forrest Gump should be more than happy with what writer Atul Kulkarni, director Advait Chandan and Aamir Khan have done to the original.

Without touching the inviolable essence of innocence in the original, the remake outdistances the original, not because Aamir Khan runs faster than Tom Hanks (he does!), but by shifting the focus of the original from universal compassion to a specific love-interest.

Of course, our desi Gump Laal Singh Chaddha loves everyone he meets, including a terrorist from Pakistan (Manav Vij) whom he meets during the Kargil war and an absolutely charming South Indian soldier Bala (Naga Chaitanya) who teaches Laal a thing or two about underwears. But it is Rupa, played by the ethereal Kareena Kapoor Khan, for whom Laal’s pure-as-gold heart beats.

In the original Jenny, the girl Forrest Gump loves from his childhood, drifts away from Gump into drugs. In Laal Singh Chaddha she trips over her own ambitions, and falls into the sleazy arms of an underworld-connected filmmaker, while Laal doesn’t have any ambitions. Except what his mother (played by Mona Singh who is no patch on Sally Field in the original) has taught him: to ingratiate himself to everyone he meets.

It starts early in the film when Laal begins to narrate his life story to a hostile stranger (Aaarya Sharma) on a train. Soon, the entire compartment is hooked to Laal’s narration. Just as we are. There is no denying the profound involvement which this masterly meditation of life’s most cherished values, elicits from us.

Laal Singh Chaddha is filmed like a dream. And I don’t mean just the panoramic sweep of Nature’s bounty that cinematographer Satyajit Pande brings to every frame. The film LOOKS exquisite. But it doesn’t stop there. Director Advait Chandan designs every frame to say something that words cannot express.

An inexpressible beauty irrigates every corner of the narration. There is no escape from the film’s charm. It just gets to you pretty much from the start when we meet the over-protected little Laal struggling with a leg disorder that doctors say, could leave him crippled. Instead little Laal (played by Ahmed Ibn Umar, with the most expressive eyes) learns to run faster than anyone he knows.

The co-relation between aspiration and self-preservation defines the Indian avatar of Forrest Gump. Laal Singh never questions the motives behind his endless acts of kindness. He gives love because he has so much of it to give. He believes if God has given you more money than you need, then you must pass it on to the needy. The same goes for love and compassion.

Aamir plays the desi Gump as more autistic than artistic. The twitch and the twinkle are contagious. And the way Laal’s face lights up when Rupa asks him to marry her is like a cloudy sky opening up to reveal glimmer sunshine. This is Aamir Khan at his best.

I am not too sure if Aamir Khan is better than Tom Hanks was in the original. But Kareena Kapoor Khan is decidedly way superior to Robin Wright from the original, partially because the role has been conferred with a layered life, and also because, well, Kareena is luminous. I have not seen a better performance by a female actor in a mainstream Hindi film in quite a while.

Atul Kulkarni’s screenplay takes us through stretches of Indian history encountering milestones ranging from the 1974 Sikh Riots to Sushmita Sen being crowned Miss Universe. It is a clever engrossing adaptation and one that leaves the original behind. Kulkarni’s story isn’t afraid to dwell on uncomfortable moments from Indian history. In this, he is one with his protagonist. Laal Singh knows no fear. He has far more precious and imperishable emotions to worry about.

It is interesting to see how the original has been adapted to the Indian milieu. Laal’s soldier-friend from the army Bubba’s shrimp business is turned into a lingerie business. Mykelti Williamson’s Bubba’s prosthetic remains but everything else changes. And Laal names the lingerie business after Rupa. Yes, the Rupa brand of underclothes is owned by Laal Singh Chaddha. So is Shah Rukh Khan’s signature step with his hands stretched out.

The film’s artless pseudo-candour makes us believe that magic does exist, all you have to do is look for it.At this time when the country is conflicted like never before, Laal Singh Chaddha tells us there is much worth in humanism and brotherhood.

Those who are calling for a boycott of this film because they feel Aamir is anti-India should spend some time with Laal Singh Chaddha. They will come away reformed.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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