Review: ‘Laal Singh Chaddha,’ starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan

August 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan in “Laal Singh Chaddha” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Laal Singh Chaddha”

Directed by Advait Chandany

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various cities in India, the dramatic film “Laal Singh Chaddha” (a remake of the Oscar-winning 1994 film “Forrest Gump”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While in a train car filled with strangers, a simple-minded man tells them his life story of heartaches and triumphs. 

Culture Audience: “Laal Singh Chaddha” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Forrest Gump” movie and epic stories about underestimated people.

Aamir Khan (pictured standing, at right) in “Laal Singh Chaddha” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

It’s hard to go wrong with doing a faithful remake of the Oscar-winning 1994 drama “Forrest Gump,” which starred Tom Hanks in the title role as a lovable, simple-minded American with a generous spirit, unbreakable resilience, and extreme ups and downs in his life. However, “Laal Singh Chaddha,” the Indian version of “Forrest Gump,” is an underwhelming remake that has no real surprises, doesn’t take any creative risks, and drags on for far too long. The movie is a plodding 159 minutes but feels like longer. In comparison, “Forrest Gump” was 142 minutes, and the movie’s editing made better use of every single one of those minutes.

If viewers expect to get hokey and sentimental drama, then “Laal Singh Chaddha” delivers more than enough. But some of the film editing is so sloppy, parts of the movie abruptly shift to the next part of the story without much explanation. People who are unfamiliar with the “Forrest Gump” movie (directed by Robert Zemeckis) or Winston Groom’s 1986 “Forrest Gump” novel will probably be more charmed by “Laal Singh Chaddha” than people who know all about the “Forrest Gump” movie or book and will easily spot the areas where “Laal Singh Chaddha” is an inferior retelling of the “Forrest Gump” story.

Directed by Advait Chandan and written by Atul Kulkarni, “Laal Singh Chaddha” is such a trite imitation of the story and structure of the “Forrest Gump” movie (with a few minor changes), people familiar with the “Forrest Gump” will be waiting to see in “Laal Singh Chaddha” who will be the Indian version of Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump’s longtime love interest) and Forrest Gump’s Army buddies Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue and Lieutenant Dan Taylor. It can be quite a distraction, when at a certain point in “Laal Singh Chaddha,” you’ve figured out that it’s so much like “Forrest Gump,” you already know what’s going to happen and how the movie is going to end.

For anyone who needs an idea of how massive the “Forrest Gump” movie was, it grossed more than $678 million in ticket sales worldwide, which would be about $1.6 billion in 2022 money. “Forrest Gump” won six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Hanks), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects. The movie also spawned the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants, which still exist. “Laal Singh Chaddha” might not get any accolades for originality, but the movie missed a lot of opportunities to be a milestone for Indian culture and Indian cinema.

Just like in “Forrest Gump,” a floating feather is used in “Laal Singh Chaddha” as a whimsical and cutesy sign to show there’s something quite magical about the titular protagonist’s life. He’s so saintly (except for when he gets violent to physically defend his soulmate), Laal Singh Chaddha (just like Forrest Gump) really is too good to be true. That might have been more acceptable for movie audiences in the 1990s, but not now. Anyone who could not stomach the schmaltz that “Forrest Gump” sometimes overloaded on viewers should not watch “Laal Singh Chaddha,” which pours on the tearjerking moments in bombastic ways that seem overly manipulative.

There’s also the issue of a non-disabled actor portraying a disabled person on screen. If not done in a convincing manner, it can verge on being an unflattering caricature. Aamir Khan’s portrayal of the adult Laal Singh Chaddha is not too offensive, but his wide-eyed reactions and constant grunting are absolutely irritating after a while. The movie could have made Laal more believable if it made him less of a parody of Forrest Gump and more like a relatable human being. Ahmad Ibn Umar, who plays Laal as a child, does a much better job than Khan at portraying a disabled person in more naturalistic way, but the childhood Laal is only in the first third of the movie.

At the beginning of the movie, Laal Singh Chaddha is a middle-aged passenger on a train, and he is eager to talk to anyone who will listen to him tell his life story. (In “Forrest Gump,” the title character’s storytelling takes place at a bus stop.) Laal strikes up a conversation with a woman who’s sitting directly across from him at his table in the train car. She seems more interested in looking at her phone and won’t take the hint that she’s not really interested in talking to him.

Laal keeps talking anyway. First, he compliments her on her shoes. And then, he wants to tell her why the shoes he’s wearing are dirty and worn-down. At this point, Laal launches into telling his life story, whether she wants to hear it or not. The woman becomes intrigued. And over time, more people in the train gather around him to hear Laal’s story.

“Laal Singh Chaddha” flashes back to 1983, to show Laal’s childhood, when he was about 8 or 9 years old. Just like in “Forrest Gump,” the protagonist is a “mama’s boy” raised by a loving and strong-willed single mother who has no first name in the movie. His father abandoned the family when he was a baby. This protagonist had to use leg braces as a child, had a low-testing IQ, and was discriminated against because of these disabilities. In “Laal Singh Chaddha,” Laal’s hometown is Karauli, India.

Laal’s determined mother (played by Mona Singh) begged the headmaster of a local primary school to let Laal be enrolled in the school. At first, the headmaster rejected her request and said that Laal belonged in a school for kids with disabilities. The headmaster agreed to the mother’s request after Laal’s mother offered to be the headmaster’s housecleaner in exchange for Laal’s enrollment in this school. It’s a more dignified way that the problem was solved, compared to how it was handled in “Forrest Gump,” where the desperate mother had sex with the headmaster/school principal in order to get Forrest enrolled in the school.

But life for Laal wasn’t easy at this school, where a group of boys mercilessly bullied him with violence and insults. One bright spot for Laal in school was a classmate named Rupa D’souza, who was the only student at the school to befriend Laal. Rupa and Laal became immediate best friends and spent as much time together as possible.

During one of these bullying incidents, when Laal was running away from his attackers, he ran so fast that his leg braces fell off, and he never had to use leg braces again. Laal’s talents for fast running and endurance running are major parts of the story when he’s an adult. And once again, if you saw “Forrest Gump,” you’ll know exactly what will happen in “Laal Singh Chaddha,” when it comes to the protagonist’s running.

Rupa could relate to Laal being in emotional pain, since her father was a violent alcoholic who physically and emotionally abused Rupa’s mother. Growing up with domestic violence affected Rupa’s self-esteem and probably led to her having dysfunctional relationships with men, ever since she became old enough to start dating. Rupa is also very insecure about growing up poor and vows never to be poor again. She tells Laal that her life goal is to become a rich and famous actress.

During the time that Rupa (played by Kareena Kapoor Khan, no relation to Aamir Khan) and Laal were teenagers, Laal developed romantic feelings for Rupa, but the romantic feelings were not mutual. Rupa puts Laal firmly in the “friend zone.” Laal becomes very protective of Rupa and envious of some of the suitors whom Rupa ends up dating. Expect to see Laal get in physical fights with a few of Rupa’s boyfriends because he thinks these boyfriends are mistreating or disrespecting Rupa.

Rupa and Laal attended the same university in Delhi. And what a coincidence: The same bullies from his primary school are also Laal’s classmates at the same university. These troublemakers attempt to harass Laal again, but Laal is now much wiser and more confident than he was as a child. He fights back, and evenutally the bullies back off and stop bothering Laal.

After being university students together, Laal and Rupa went their separate ways when Rupa moved away to pursue her acting career, and Laal joined the Indian Army. Laal can’t let go of Rupa from his romantic thoughts—so much so, he doesn’t date anyone else and spends all of his 20s and most of 30s being a virgin. It’s supposed to make Laal look more “innocent,” but it just makes him look obsessive that he’s fixated on Rupa as the only person he could possibly love in a romantic way.

While he’s in the Army, Laal ends up befriending two fellow soldiers who will change his life: optimistic Balaraju “Bala” Bodi (played by Naga Chaitanya) and cynical Mohammed Baaji (played by Manav Vij), who meets Laal after Mohammed has lost his legs during war combat. Bala is this movie’s version of Bubba in “Forrest Gump.” Bala is a happily married father whose family owns an undergarment business.

Bala considers himself to be an expert on men’s undergarments. And so, Bala eventually gets Laal to help him sell undergarments to fellow soldiers while they’re in the Army. The perpetually kind Laal becomes a super-prolific sewer, who makes all the garments, while Bala is the business wheeler dealer. The movie unrealistically makes Laal look like he has a lot of time to sew undergarments while he’s in the Army.

In “Laal Singh Chaddha,” selling undergarments becomes a business partnership for the protagonist and one of his Army friends. In “Forrest Gump,” the two Army buddiies team up to sell shrimp after they’re honorably discharged from the Army. After getting out of the Army, Laal becomes a one-man sewing factory for Bala until a certain part of the movie when more garment workers need to be hired.

Laal having a phenomenal productivity rate as an undergarment maker isn’t the only thing that looks phony. Bala essentially takes advantage of Laal by allowing Laal to be overworked, which makes their friendship in the movie look less-than-sincere from Bala. It’s a quite different tone than the very believable and pure friendship of Forrest and Bubba in “Forrest Gump.” If you saw “Forrest Gump,” then you will already know what will happen to Bala, Laal and their business partnership.

Mohammed is the Lieutenant Dan of “Laal Singh Chaddha.” His storyline plays out in the same way as Lieutenant Dan’s storyline in “Forrest Gump.” And so does Laal’s on-again/off-again relationship with Rupa. She gets sexually involved with a criminal overlord named Abbis Bhan, who is cruel and abusive to Rupa. She stays in this toxic relationship out of fear and because Abbis keeps promising to make her a Bollywood star. And you can easily guess who comes to Rupa’s rescue when things get dangerous.

There’s a part of “Forrest Gump” where people yell, “Run, Forrest, run!” because of his marathon activities. And it becomes an international catchphrase. That happens to Laal too in “Laal Singh Chaddha,” when people yell, “Run, Laal, run!” when he becomes a celebrity marathoner. The famous “Forrest Gump” line “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get” is reworked in “Laal Singh Chaddha” to this bland statement: “Life is like golgappas. You may have a tummyful, but your heart craves more.”

Except for the locations in India, golgappa references and the requisite musical numbers, there’s very little that “Laal Singh Chaddha” does to bring some Indian cinematic flair to this story. It’s obvious that enough money was spent to make “Laal Singh Chaddha” have professional-looking cinematography, production design and costume design befitting an epic saga. But somehow, the “Laal Singh Chaddha” filmmakers forgot that truly successful remakes are well-received by audiences when the remakes bring some very unique and innovative changes without losing the essence of what the story is trying to say.

“Laal Singh Chaddha” also has a very big, unexplained plot hole. It’s no secret that part of the movie’s plot is that Laal becomes very famous. But in this Internet age, no one on the train seems to recognize Laal until he starts telling his story. And even then, they act like they’re hearing his life story for the first time. It’s hard to believe all these people on the train are that unaware of Laal’s life, considering how famous Laal has become. By contrast, most of the story in “Forrest Gump” takes place long before the Internet existed and when it was much easier for famous people to travel incognito.

Speaking of Indian celebrities, entertainer Shah Rukh Khan has a cameo portraying himself as someone was inspired to learn certain dance, based on meeting Laal as a child and being amused by Laal’s awkward dancing. It’s borderline mocking of the disabled but doesn’t quite cross the line into insulting territory. Forrest Gump’s encounters with famous people were supposed to be comedic aspects of the movies, but the “Laal Sing Chaddha” movie’s attempts to do the same for Laal just end up fizzling and aren’t very amusing at all.

And to put it bluntly: The acting in “Laal Singh Chaddha” just isn’t as good as the acting is in “Forrest Gump.” As Rupa, Kareena Kapoor Khan just doesn’t have the type of emotional depth to the adult Rupa as Robin Wright did in portraying the “lost soul” Jenny character in “Forrest Gump.” Vij’s portrayal of Mohammed is not as compelling Gary Sinise’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Lieutenant Dan.

Worst of all: Aamir Khan’s constant mugging for the camera is too blatant in trying to get viewers to feel a certain way, instead of doing a performance that looks natural and effortless. All of the tragedies in Laal’s life are depicted with soap-opera-level acting. And when a “Forrest Gump” remake has the lead actor trying too hard to look sympathetic, it looks very fake and doesn’t do the original classic movie any justice.

Viacom18 Studios released “Laal Singh Chaddha” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on August 11, 2022.

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