Laal Singh Chaddha — an official remake of Forrest Gump — was released with the expectation that it would be yet another blockbuster for Aamir Khan, along the lines of 3 Idiots and PK. Such a high bar was always going to be tough to clear. Laal Singh Chaddha is a perfectly nice movie, but that’s it.
In this version, the Forrest Gump character is Laal Singh Chaddha (Khan). He admits that he’s not too smart, but his life has been full of twists and turns. He recounts his story to his neighbors in a train carriage — an unwilling audience at first, but they wind up riveted by the end.
Young Laal (Ahmad Ibn Umar) grows up in a small farming town where he’s teased for wearing leg braces. His only friend is a girl named Rupa (Hafsa Ashraf). Laal follows every order from Rupa to the letter, so when she orders him to run from bullies, he does so, discovering that he no longer needs his braces.
When Rupa’s father murders her mother during a spat over money, Rupa comes to live with her aunt at Laal’s house, where the older woman works as a housekeeper. Rupa vows to get very rich when she grows up so that she never has to be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that killed her mom.
Rupa (played as an adult by Kareena Kapoor) is a much more interesting character than Laal. Rupa’s motivations are understandable, and she’s willing to take risks to get what she wants. Those risks come with high-stakes consequences she’s forced to deal with.
Laal, on the other hand, floats through life like a feather on the wind — an obvious visual metaphor the film uses during the opening credits. He doesn’t want anything other than to be with Rupa, and when he can’t be, stuff just happens to him.
A selling point for both Forrest Gump and Laal Singh Chaddha is that both lead characters accidentally wind up in proximity to pivotal events in national history. When Forrest Gump released in 1994, the technology used to put Tom Hanks’ character into historical footage was cutting edge. Thanks to the advent of Photoshop and proliferation of deepfakes in the twenty years since Atul Kulkarni started his Indian adaptation of the screenplay, the altered archival videos in Laal Singh Chaddha are no longer so novel.
There’s also the fact that the movie has little to say about the historical events it features. They exist more as name checks, and Laal’s proximity is often no more consequential than a fan’s attendance at a sporting event.
The magnitude of these historical events belie the film’s themes, which are actually quite small and personal in nature. The moral lessons are things like loyalty and following through on promises even when there’s no one around to hold you accountable. This isn’t a movie about a man who changes the world.
There’s nothing wrong with Laal Singh Chaddha‘s modest goals. It’s a totally watchable film, if a bit too long. Mona Singh is sweet as Laal’s loving mother. Aamir Khan’s wide-eyed performance is not dissimilar from his turn in PK, although that was a better movie.
Kareena Kapoor turns in a masterclass in acting in every scene she’s in. It’s almost unimaginable that she wasn’t first choice for the role (which was reputedly supposed to go to Manushi Chhillar). She may not play the title character, but Laal Singh Chaddha belongs to Kareena Kapoor.