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Laal Singh Chaddha Can’t Keep Up With Forrest Gump

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

To call Forrest Gump a sensation would be selling it short. Critics and audiences adored it, propelling it to be the second-highest grossing film of 1994. However, it isn’t the awards or the box office numbers that make Forrest Gump unique. The film became an integral part of American culture and lexicon—a status few movies have achieved. Lines like “Run, Forrest, Run” and “Life is like a box of chocolates” became iconic, the central performance an easy target for parody, and the fictional restaurant a real and successful food chain. Since its release, the award-winning behemoth has gone through many critical reevaluations. The opinions range from people maintaining the movie’s legendary status to some believing it’s a decent movie to a growing community that feels Forrest Gump is one of the worst and overrated movies of all time (this critic thinks it’s a delightful movie).

Even though the movie is not as beloved as it was in 1994, the fact that people have such strong takes on Forrest Gump speaks to its importance. This is most likely why no one has attempted to remake the movie in any language—until now. Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan and emerging director Advait Chandan have taken on the gargantuan task of adapting Forrest Gump to a new audience in the form of Laal Singh Chaddha. Chocolates have been replaced with gol gappas (a popular Indian street food) and Bubba Gump is now Roopa Corporation. The result is like a box of chocolates: some of the pieces taste incredible and others you might be better off ignoring or throwing away. 

Laal and Bala (Naga Chaitanya) shake hands as they prepare to go to battle.
Laal (Aamir Khan) and Bala (Naga Chaitanya). Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Laal Singh Chaddha follows Laal, a low-IQ but uber-positive Sikh man, through the span of his lifetime. Laal finds himself aging with a changing India and present at crucial moments in his country’s history. While the whole world seems to be worrying about a multitude of things, Laal only cares about two things: his mom, Gurpreet (Mona Singh), and his best friend/childhood crush, Roopa (Kareena Kapoor Khan). He recounts his life story to many strangers on a train, heading to see Roopa after a long time. 

The Bollywood adaptation manages to mirror many parts (sometimes frame-by-frame) of Forrest Gump but adds some changes. Laal, just like Forrest, finds himself in political and cultural movements and changes throughout history. While Forrest Gump strikes a balance between politics and culture, Laal Singh Chaddha veers heavily toward the political side. The movie essentially starts with the lifting of the Emergency—a nearly 2-year period in the late 1970s where India was in a state of political emergency—and puts Laal in the thick of the anti-Sikh riots, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Kargil war, etc. But, as soon as Laal grows up and the 2010s start to roll around, the movie loses its commentary (or attempted commentary) on Indian politics. The film fails to mention anything about the 2002 Gujrat riots where now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to be the state leader. It almost seems like an intentional omission since later in the movie a large mural of Modi is shown promoting his “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” or Clean India Mission, initiative. While Forrest’s balance between politics and culture allows it to get away from being a largely apolitical film, Laal fails on this front by leaning heavily into politics in the first half and completely going away from it by the end.

One way to view the film’s departure from politics is that it isn’t interested in the butterfly effect aspect of Forrest Gump. In the Hollywood movie, Forrest inadvertently causes historical events—teaching Elvis to dance or being the first whistleblower in the Watergate scandal. Laal doesn’t cause many ripple effects in history. He does teach a future Bollywood a signature dance step (one of the best parts of the movie) but otherwise is a bystander. This change is a welcome one. Forrest Gump is often criticized because it requires a large suspension of disbelief to buy into the fact that this man could cause so many historical events. Laal’s life feels more grounded. His story feels truer to both his and Forrest’s characters. It’s the smaller moments in Forrest Gump that stand out and Laal Singh Chaddha has many of those. 

Roopa (Kareena Kapoor Khan) rests on Laal's shoulders as they eat gol gappas together in college.
Roopa (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and young Laal (Ahmad Ibn Umar). Photo: Paramount Pictures.

The scenes featuring young Laal (played by a fantastic Ahmad Ibn Umar) are some of the film’s best. There’s innocence, heart, and warmth shooting from the screen. Mona Singh as Laal’s mother is wonderful and is on par with Sally Field’s performance in the original film. Laal really shines, however, in the Laal-Roopa arc. Whether it’s their childhood love or their will-they-won’t-they back and forth love story, you can’t help but fawn over these two characters. Even though Roopa’s story feels like it’s a part of a completely different movie—much like Jenny’s was in the original—Kareena Kapoor Khan is outstanding and delivers the best performance in the movie (yes, better than Aamir Khan’s but more on that later). It would’ve been nice to have given Roopa a simpler story rather than the Monica Bedi-Abu Salem-inspired controversy. However, Kapoor Khan doesn’t waver any confidence and makes you invested in the character. It’s in the last 45 minutes where we get the real Laal-Roopa love story and is easily the best stretch of the movie. This is when Chandan’s light and tender direction are on display and this portion will tug the heart strings. One wishes this was a bigger part of this nearly three-hour movie. 

We also have Bubba and Lieutenant Dan counterparts in Laal in the form of Bala (Naga Chaitanya) and Mohammad (Manav Vij), respectfully. Both the Hollywood characters were immensely popular but, unfortunately, the Bollywood characters fail to leave an impact. Neither character arc is developed and both are rushed. Chaitanya manages to give a nice performance but the emotional weight of his character is severely lacking. 

It’s Aamir Khan’s performance, though, that shockingly threatens to derail the movie. It has been argued that Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance is insensitive and, while Forrest is never explicitly shown to have a mental disability, Hanks plays it like so. Khan dials it up and gives a bewildering performance. Laal is fidgety, shakes his head, keeps his eye wide open, and stutters and tics when talking. The latter aspect is particularly offensive since Khan focuses on it heavily and it leaves the viewer with an odd feeling about how to perceive this character/performance. Khan gives a similar, eccentric performance in PK, but in that movie, he plays an alien and it is far more convincing than what he does here. Most of the film’s deficiencies lie in the fact that Khan’s performance takes you out of the movie. When Khan does dial it down (particularly in the last third), he’s superb. He matches the energy of the younger Laal and makes his decision to play the character in such a heightened manner all the more confusing. It’s a relief that Singh and Kapoor Khan give strong performances because Khan almost ruins this movie like Hanks did Elvis.

Laal holds up a feather that has floated its way to him on a train.
Laal (Aamir Khan) and his feather. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

There’s something, though, about both these movies that—even in their shortcomings—will always strike a chord. Maybe it’s the emotionally manipulative background score. Alan Silvestri’s score is iconic and Tanuj Tiku’s lively score manages to hit similar beats. Just listening to both of these scores will cause a tear to form. Pritam’s soundtrack for Laal is largely forgettable, but the “Kahaani” song is a winner and starts off the film perfectly. 

Or maybe it’s the feather. The simplicity of it. The fact that both these men have had incredible journeys, but never sought after that. They just flew from one place to another. At the end of Forrest Gump and Laal Singh Chaddha, you feel exhausted (just like both characters after their multiple-year marathon). But when you see both these characters happy and that feather fly away, it just leaves a smile on your face. Just because a box of chocolates has some bad pieces doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving a shot. 

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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