Laal Singh Chaddha review

The Indian remake of Forrest Gump raises the stakes considerably

Though set in the same era as the original, the political climate in India is far more dangerous for this film’s lead character, Laal Singh Chaddha.

Laal Singh Chaddha, an Indian adaptation of Forrest Gump with a localized twist, manages to set itself apart from the Academy Award-winning American film. Aamir Khan stars as Laal Singh Chaddha, the low-IQ but good-hearted man who finds himself at the intersection of many historical events. As the film begins, he’s on a train to reunite with the love of his life, Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan), who he hasn’t seen for years. As he begins to tell his story to the woman across from him, she’s initially uncertain, but it doesn’t take long before the whole train cabin is deeply invested in his adventure. 

Reinvented to fit the character into Indian history, the film remains consistently fresh despite sharing most of the same story beats. Beginning in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Laal can’t walk without the braces on his legs like his American counterpart. His single mother remains his biggest advocate, pushing him to have a normal life. When he meets Rupa at school, he finds a deep kinship for the first time with someone who isn’t his mother. While swayed by the winds of history, Laal’s focus remains steadfast: he wants to marry Rupa. 

Without revealing too many changes, the movie’s recontextualization illuminates a much different experience than Gump. It unveils a character and a political situation far more precarious than the original; the threat of the countercultural movement is replaced with real threats of violence and acts of terrorism. Particularly, Laal’s identity as a Sikh puts him in imminent danger in the face of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, which leads his mother to make a drastic life choice. The political situation underlines Laal’s mother’s sacrifices and allows for different characterizations and revelations. Despite its American inspiration, the film feels tailor-fitted for its new context, historically and thematically. 

Another major difference is a new emphasis on the romantic aspect of the film. Rupa as a character is far more fleshed out than Jenny ever was. She’s complex, and though some of the film’s chaste elements undercut the overall impact, Kareena Kapoor Khan brings incredible depth to the character. Shaped by a difficult childhood, she finds herself in increasingly difficult situations as an adult. While Laal repeatedly returns as a stabilizing force, we understand through her gaze that she is not ready to accept his love. Her affection for him, often inflected with either pity or an almost motherly tenderness, remains firmly in the “friend-zone” until more romantic elements develop through time and experience. While Laal remains largely unchanged, she has to grow and evolve to fit him.

As Laal, actor Aamir Khan doesn’t always hit the mark. Playing the role far more broadly than Hanks ever did, his performance leans heavily into more comedic territory, even within more serious sequences. While he manages to sell the role, he’s terribly sincere, and his affection for the character is clear; the performance overall remains inconsistent. This may very well be that the world has changed significantly since 1994, and playing any kind of character that may be neuro-atypical comes with much more baggage in 2022.

Yet, it’s hard to deny that the film works. Humour counterbalances with some of the film’s more serious moments. It has just enough surprises to keep you on your toes and rarely drags or feels dull despite its long running time. Even for audiences who may dislike Forrest Gump, the movie has a winning kind of optimism as it acknowledges the darkness in the world and a shared human ability to overcome and survive despite pain and tragedy. ■

Laal Singh Chaddha, directed by Advait Chandan

Laal Singh Chaddha opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Aug. 11.

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