REVIEW: Laal Singh Chaddha Fails To Engage, But It’s A Commendable Effort

It’s bland. It’s outlandish. And it’s engaging in a bizarre way. But Laal Singh Chaddha holds its own amid many negatives.

It evokes curiosity, but not feelings. The character is unique, but hardly goes beyond the surface. He’s all broad brushstroke bereft of detailing to offer relatability. A bystander in major nation-shaping milestone events spanning half a century, he could be anyone in a specific age group. The movie fails to drive home with any conviction how they are relevant to Chaddha’s life. Or whether he has any opinion on them. He just runs, parallel to history through personal events, as the world around shifts. He is like the feather floating randomly in the air in the opening scene.

Was this how the Indianised Forrest Gump supposed to be? Perhaps not. The original was not your run-of-the-mill drama loaded with familiar tropes; it was designed to be a different experience. Sad, funny, satirical and infectious, it was deliberately open-ended. It left people to form their own judgement on Gump. In form, the Indian version stays true to it in most part, but it misses essence. No, it’s not about Aamir Khan not being Tom Hanks as critics complain; it’s about the gross understatedness of the interplay of the main character, Chaddha, with the big events in the life of the nation.

The movie shines when dealing with the personal life of dimwit Chaddha through his childhood, growing up years and adulthood. The moments with his never-say-give-up mother, who would not accept her boy’s physical deficiency as a handicap, are poignant. So is his relationship with the other woman in his life, the tragic Rupa, who meanders through life seeking to be rich but ends up in hellish circumstances. His innocence is his moral ballast and instrument to tackle the world. When he runs, it is not for redemption but for the simple reality of escape. When the world outside is rife with violence he shuts himself off believing malaria has struck. The weakness for golgappa completes his uncomplicated existence. This aspect of the movie touches a chord, but it loses way when placing the protagonist in the midst of bigger national events.

Aamir Khan, who usually brings spontaneity to the roles he essays, for a change, is unconvincing here. The PK overhang while he plays the lovable Chaddha is visible in his facial expressions and mannerisms. For a unidimensional role that calls for a lot of nuancing to stand out, he falls short. But, mind you, if cannot manage it few actors of his generation would. The risk of turning up caricaturish while playing a mentally slow character is high. Aamir doesn’t take us there, but does not lift the portrayal of Laal Singh Chaddha out of the ordinary either. Mona Singh as the feisty mother is brilliant, as is Kareena Kapoor in her sad, gloomy track.

Beyond the negatives, Laal Singh Chaddha is a brave, commendable effort. It takes real courage to even think of fitting a Forrest Gump into the Indian culturescape. It’s a bigger challenge to make it acceptable to an audience fed unceasingly on superheroes and their many variants. It is quite possible that the movie would have found lesser success than other Aamir Khan movies had there been no boycott calls. That the makers had taken the risk of presenting something so different in taste to the audience is appreciable in itself. Plus the comparison with the original and the criticism thereof would be inevitable. A better idea would have been to work on the script some more and Indianise the narration more instead of resorting to frame-by-frame adaptation from the Tom Hanks classic.

Overall, despite the lapses in execution, Laal Singh Chaddha is a praiseworthy effort. More power to scriptwriter Atul Kulkarni, director Advait Chandan and Aamir Khan.

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