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    Laal Singh Chaddha movie review: Aamir Khan’s Forrest Gump remake is big-hearted, but a bit too long

    Laal Singh Chaddha movie review: Aamir Khan’s Forrest Gump remake is big-hearted, but a bit too long

    Laal Singh Chaddha movie review: Aamir Khan’s Forrest Gump remake is big-hearted, but a bit too long
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    By Sneha Bengani   IST (Published)

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    Starring Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, and Mona Singh, Laal Singh Chaddha is an old-world, large-hearted film that preaches goodness and kindness above all else. But it is meandering, exhausting. At 164-minutes, it feels 45 minutes too long. Directed by Advait Chandan, it is playing at a theatre near you.

    Laal Singh Chaddha is the story of how its eponymous protagonist, who is not as astute as those around him, navigates life as his country charts a tumultuous course after independence. Starring Aamir Khan as Laal, it is the official Hindi remake of Robert Zemeckis’s 1994 Hollywood classic Forrest Gump, which starred Tom Hanks in the titular role and bagged him an Academy Award for best actor.
    There could have been no better Indian actor than Khan to fill in Hanks’ large shoes. After all, both of them are celebrated masters of their craft and are known for their earnestness, sincerity, and simplicity. But Khan, instead of being the film’s biggest asset, is its weakest suit. Despite a fantastic supporting cast, poetic cinematography, and lyrical background score, he manages to bog the film down. Hanks made Forrest endearing, charming; even when everyone else called him a fool, he empowered Forrest with a decisive, quiet dignity. Khan’s Laal has none of that. In fact, his histrionics are so exaggerated — add to it a constant stupefied expression plastered on his face — he comes across as deranged.
    The de-aging doesn’t work either. In trying to pass off a 57-year-old veteran as an undergraduate college student, Khan ends up looking weird, deformed. Talking of creepy, there’s a cameo by Shah Rukh Khan. It’s arguably the most botched-up de-aging attempt ever tried on screen anywhere on earth. It’s so bad, that it’ll make you squirm in horror.
    Helmed by Secret Superstar director Advait Chandan, Laal Singh Chaddha is set between the 1970s and 2018. It’s so busy placing Laal in India’s momentous post-independence struggle that we never really get to know who he is as a person or what he feels about all that happens with him. The first half is overstuffed; there’s too much going on. The film touches upon everything from India’s 1983 Cricket World Cup win to the Emergency, Operation Blue Star, the widespread killing of Sikhs following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Babri masjid’s destruction, the Kargil war, and Anna Hazare’s hunger strike for the Lokpal Bill.
    It is only in the second half when the film is done with establishing Laal as the hero it so desperately wants us to see him as, that it allows the quieter moments to breathe; his personal life to flourish. This is when Laal Singh Chaddha is at its most glorious. I particularly loved the sequence in which after he is done with all the running around, an aging Laal wears the turban for the first time as an adult, thus embracing his identity and coming to terms with who he really is. Ek Omkar plays in the background as he meticulously ties the turban around his head. It is an elevating, luminous moment.
    The supporting cast, especially Mona Singh and Ahmad Ibn Umar, deserve praise too. Singh — who has previously worked with both Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan in their 2009 film 3 Idiots — is subliminal as Laal’s mother who instills in him strong self-esteem, self-reliance, and an unshakable will to do good, be good. Meanwhile, Umar, who plays the young Laal, is heart-stoppingly gorgeous as the dreamy-eyed boy trying to grasp the goings on. He imbues Laal with an enchanting gentleness that was so characteristic of Forrest, and which Khan miserably fails to equip the adult Laal with.
    The film also marks Telugu cinema’s superstar Naga Chaitanya Akkineni’s Bollywood debut. He plays Laal’s armymate Bala, who hails from a business family employed in making men’s undergarments. Obsessed with taking the business further after his stint in the army, his naivete matches Laal. In him, the otherwise ostracised Laal finds a kindred spirit. Though he plays a key part in the story, for an actor of Naga Chaitanya’s stature, I expected a debut more meaty and memorable.
    Kareena Kapoor Khan brings to the film a lot of heart and warmth as Laal’s one true love, Rupa. After experiencing early in life the havoc that lack of money can wreak, she wants to make it big in life, become a movie star. Her ambition and the murky paths she treads on to achieve it, counterbalance Laal’s simple, uncomplicated existence. However, as much as Laal is obsessed with her, Rupa is just a version of the quintessential manic pixie dream girl.
    Laal Singh Chaddha is as faithful a remake as any can be. In fact, some lines have been translated word for word. But considering that it took Khan 14 years to put together the film and bring it to screen, he could have spared some time to make it more relevant to today’s milieu and cultural conversation.
    Laal Singh Chaddha is an old-world, large-hearted film that preaches goodness and kindness above all else. It wants us to see beauty in the simple, the everyday, the uncomplicated. The storytelling is a lot like its protagonist—idyllic, utopian. Satyajit Pande’s cinematography is earthy, meditative, and beautiful in the way daydreams are. But the film is meandering, exhausting. Atul Kulkarni’s screenplay is just not exciting or immersive enough. At 164-minutes, it feels 45 minutes too long.
    Read other pieces by Sneha Bengani here.
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