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A SPRAWLING PIECE OOZING WITH LOVE FOR EVERYTHING INDIAN

Every 10 minutes during the first half, the movie keeps switching its genre, undergoing brilliant tonal shifts with the assurance of a master conductor at work.

The long-awaited Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor starrer “Laal Singh Chaddha,” which has finally hit the theatres this week, is an adaptation of the 1986 novel titled “Forrest Gump” by the American author Winston Groom. The novel was famously adapted by Eric Roth for the 1994 Hollywood film of the same name, directed by Robert Zemeckis, which bagged 6 Academy Awards. Directed by Advait Chandan, Laal Singh Chaddha also stars Naga Chaitanya (in his Hindi film debut), Manav Vij, Arun Bali, Mona Singh, and Aaryaa Sharma.

Given the narrative’s sprawling nature, making a film like “Laal Singh Chaddha” is like making 15-20 films. That’s how herculean the task would have been for Aamir, Advait, and the team. Remaking a film like Forrest Gump is no kid’s play. I don’t think anyone but Aamir Khan could have delivered a film of this scope and scale. It’s heartening to see the kind of respect that the film pays to historical accuracy as well as getting the different aspects of Sikhism right.

Every 10 minutes during the first half, the movie keeps switching its genre, undergoing brilliant tonal shifts with the assurance of a master conductor at work. Credit must also go to Atul Kulkarni for beautifully adapting “Forrest Gump” to an Indian setting and for seamlessly weaving the important historical events of the last 40 years into it. When it does the Kargil War, it seems to do it better than ‘Shershaah.’ When it does sports, it seems to match “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.” When it does comedy, it seems to do it better than most. And as a drama, it really excels in terms of cinematic storytelling for the most part.

“Laal Singh Chaddha” comes across as a breath of fresh air at a time when the Hindi film industry needs it the most. Aamir Khan’s innocence personified as Laal Singh Chaddha, and his chemistry with Kareena Kapoor is the major highlight of the film, along with his bromance with Naga Chaitanya and Manav Vij. There are some beautiful segments of magic realism that are beautifully crafted. Like a boy who walks using crutches, suddenly starts running like P T Usha when subjected to bullying. The colour grading is so good that the movie looks stunning visually, and honestly, I haven’t seen a more beautiful looking period film made in India.

Aamir Khan transforms into ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ in no time and brings the character to life as only he can. Chaddha’s simplicity, to go with his honesty and a sense of contagious optimism that he carries with him at all times, lights up the screen. Whether he is narrating some story, trying to save lives on a battlefield, or making an effort to sell undergarments, Aamir’s Chaddha always makes us root for him.

Mona Singh is wonderful as Chadda’s loving mother. It’s easily the performance that will take away all the accolades. I was in school when ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi’ used to air on TV and having seen Mona Singh all these years, I have always known that she is a fine actor, but seeing what she achieves in ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ made me realise that she is actually one of the finest actors working in the country right now.

But the biggest surprise of the movie is Kareena Kapoor. Who would have thought that a wafer-thin character that Robin Wright played in “Forrest Gump” would become the centrepiece of the Hindi adaptation almost three decades later. This is Kareena Kapoor’s finest performance since ‘Jab We Met.’ It is a layered performance, and we can see the character’s dichotomy throughout the film’s running time.

It can be said with absolute certainty that technology has been put to use to de-age Kareena (and Aamir) for this. But the end result is so good and it makes me particularly happy that we have aced the use of this cutting-edge technology better than what Hollywood did with, say, ‘The Irishman’.

I also would like to praise both Naga Chaitanya and Manav Vij for their wonderful cameos. For me, their characters’ bromance with Laal Singh Chadda is one of the film’s major highlights. It’s a masterstroke to make Manav Vij’s character a soldier from the enemy ranks, as opposed to ‘Forrest Gump’, where Gary Sinise’s Lieutenant character was Gump’s compatriot. I would be remiss to not mention Pritam, Arijit Singh, and Amitabh Bhattacharya, who have done wonderful work with the film’s music, songs, and lyrics. Overall, I must say that Laal Singh Chadda has reinstated my faith in Hindi cinema. It’s not a perfect film. It suffers from pacing issues in the second half. It’s probably not even Aamir’s best work. But it is cinematic storytelling at its purest. Here’s a sprawling period piece oozing with nostalgia and an abundance of love for everything Indian. The naysayers can denounce him, but so long as we have stalwarts like Aamir Khan working in the Hindi film industry, Bollywood is here to stay.

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