The movie is shallow and monotonous, and reduces most of the tumultuous events of the last few decades to diluted sequences.
I had been a bit apprehensive about watching the Bollywood remake of one of the greats of the 90s – Forrest Gump. Eventually I did watch it on Netflix and I am so glad I gave it a miss in the theatres.
Laal Singh Chaddha was excruciatingly painful to watch, both for its pace and Aamir Khan as Laal Singh.
It not only lacks the magic of the original but also of Aamir Khan’s PK and Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar.
Aamir Khan plays the role that is similar to his earlier roles as the slow-witted twin in Dhoom 3 and as an alien in PK—naive, eccentric but good-natured. However, as Laal Singh Chaddha, his attempt at the Punjabi speaking Hindi or Hindi speaking Punjabi is flawed and unbearable, as also his “ummm” after every sentence. His method acting is either totally amiss or has gone overboard in his attempt to capture Tom Hanks’ memorable body language and speech patterns. Ahmad Ibn Umar, the child actor who plays the young Laal Singh Chaddha, has given a far better performance with fewer dialogues and amazing expressions.
Forrest Gump is a 1994 American comedy-drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Eric Roth. It is based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. Various interpretations have been made of Forest Gump – both of the protagonist and the film’s political symbolism. In 2011, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
At an early age, Gump is deemed to have a below-average IQ of 75. He has an endearing character and shows devotion to his loved ones and duties, character traits that bring him into many life-changing situations. Along the way, he encounters many historical figures and events throughout his life. Using Gump acts as a “social mediator and as an agent of redemption in divided times.” Many film critics consider Gump as “everything we admire in the American character – honest, brave and loyal with a heart of gold.
It is probably for the same reason that Laal Singh’s character is a Sikh. While most Sikhs have objected to the portrayal of a Sikh man as a dim character, some feel that he is all that is epitomised as a Punjabi and more so as a Sikh – brutal honesty, very little or no ego, unconditional love and the disappearance of the ‘other’ with preservation of the ‘self – the universal qualities which go beyond Sikhism and should be in all humans. Also, that the movie is a better depiction of Punjabi life than the loud and crude Punjabi movies of today.
The movie introduces Singh’s forefathers falling victims at the borders in a tonally jarring inserts of humour. Laal Singh Chaddha appears more to be a quick recap of the events of the last few decades, some of the country’s bloodiest conflicts in recent memory, such as 1984’s Operation Blue Star and the subsequent massacre of Sikhs in 1984 or the 1999 Kargil War. These three are shown with some detail of involvement of the protagonist. Other incidents like Advani’s rath yatra, the Babri Masjid demolition, Mandal Commission protests and 2008 Mumbai terror attacks are a mere TV news. The Gujarat genocide of 2022 is entirely skipped. All violent sectarian events waived off as “malaria”, which though some consider to be a reference to communal hatred, also is a reminder of several recent political speeches calling out “parasites.” During his run across the country, Singh crosses Varanasi where a large hoarding announces “ab ki bar Modi sarkar.” Most of the incidents are not as nuanced as they could have been.
While events of bigotry and communal hatred have been highlighted, the effect they have on the social structure, the young impressionable minds, the old, men and women is left out in the clean slate of the slow wittedness of the central character. All these are beyond Singh’s understanding.
The film’s portrayal of the 1999 Kargil War, though an attempt to comment on the futility of war, is rather diluted, especially the character of the rescued member of the Pakistani army, Mohammad. Perhaps the idea behind the naive rescue of Mohammad during the war is to show that the other side are humans too, but it ends up being a rather caricatured portrayal. Mohammad, who becomes Laal’s marketing manager, is later ‘reformed’ after he sees an image of Ajmal Kasab on television during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. This, or any of the other events shown, fail to show how Singh’s life may have been impacted, except for the ‘Rupa underwear-make rich business’, which was his, again caricatured friend Balaraju’s dream idea, and which, as in most Bollywood movies and TV serials of today, seemed like a sponsored insert.
In Forrest Gump, Gump is the epitome of all that is good – a God-fearing, American football player and war hero who has no use for the counterculture movements of the late ’60s. Despite a below average IQ, he achieves fame and financial success. Laal Singh Chaddha too easily escapes from making any commentary on political events.
Singh, a nobody who is overly protected by his mother, becomes a war hero and a wealthy man simply by living his life in his simplicity and naivety, attributed to his dimness from birth. He never comprehends the complexities of life or any of the political events, which mostly remain in the background. The movie is not able to strike a balance between the attempt to show the turbulent periods of recent history and the love story of Singh and Rupa, his childhood friend.
Rupa’s dream to make it big in Bollywood depicts the Bollywood underworld nexus which was big news in the 90s. Besides this, there are references to few other events such as India’s 1983 World Cup victory, the 1994 Miss Universe pageant, Shah Rukh Khan, appearing in a cameo, learning his signature pose from a young Singh and Milind Soman-Madhu Sapre’s controversial photoshoot.
Unlike Forrest Gump, which used computer-generated imagery, to depict Gump meeting deceased personages and shaking their hands and thereby even changing the course of history, Laal Singh Chaddha remains a mere spectator to the events happening around him. His apolitical stance is projected as the best of the human virtues.
The supporters of the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), boycotted the film even before its release. They claimed the boycott was due to Aamir Khan’s remarks about “growing intolerance” in India and his movie PK that allegedly mocked Hindu gods and Hinduism. There were mixed opinions as to whether the film’s poor performance was due to the boycott trend or the unsatisfactory content and portrayals.
Overall, the movie is shallow and monotonous and reduces most of the tumultuous events of the last few decades to diluted sequences. Perhaps the sweetness of chocolates ought to have been swapped with the tangy spiciness of gol gappe.
Jaspreet Kaur is an architect and urban designer based in Delhi