'Laal Singh Chaddha' review: Fair adaptation, but falls miserably short
Aamir Khan-Kareena Kapoor Khan starrer Laal Singh Chaddha arrived in theaters on Thursday. The Advait Chandan-directorial is an official adaptation of the Oscar-winning classic Forrest Gump that starred Tom Hanks. Adapted by Atul Kulkarni, LSC is an ode to both the original film and India's rich historic sensibilities. However, Khan's caricaturish portrayal and film's length (over 160 minutes) bog it down. Here's our review.
The film stays committed to its source material in terms of picaresque storytelling, and the coming-of-age story is narrated through flashbacks. Laal takes the audience on a nostalgia trip, and numerous noteworthy incidents from Indian history have been used to localize the plot. These include the notorious 1984 Sikh riots, Operation Blue Star, 26/11 attacks, the 1975 Emergency, Kargil War, and many others.
Though Forrest Gump has earned the cult classic tag over the years, it has also often been criticized for its mawkishness and a suffocating, in-your-face saccharine quality. That doesn't escape LSC either. The tone isn't subtle and the film consistently reminds us that the hero has been manufactured a certain way for us to root for him, and we can't dare to think otherwise.
Khan surprisingly doesn't realize how jarring the protruding, wide-eyed character looks. His expressions often reek of artificiality and disconnect us from the film—we don't trust his act enough to fully immerse ourselves in his world, and this is where the film fumbles, falters, and falls flat. The pregnant pauses he takes are not poignant, but weirdly distracting and extremely off-putting.
Laal might as well be a long-lost cousin of PK's alien or Samar from Dhoom 3; it's tough to tell them apart because, in some sort of Khanverse, they all seem to blend into each other. Those aforementioned pauses? I flinched each time he grunted!
Though LSC borrows some landmark scenes (and dialogues) from its predecessor, they are still firmly rooted in Indian history and contextualized vis-a-vis local cultural sensibilities. Writer Kulkarni and cinematographer Satyajit Pande are stars in their own right and sketch out a sprawling, expansive world for the titular hero. Characters zoom in and out, but it ultimately remains Laal's story of perseverance, optimism, and triumph.
The movie stands on the foundation of consequential national events, from the '70s to 2018, and they flow seamlessly into the narrative, without appearing forced or disconnected. These events take us back in time and underline everything that defines India: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Barring one minor commentary on religion, however, the film steers clear of conflicting, polarizing political terrains.
Though Khan is the titular hero here, he doesn't emerge as the best actor out of the lot. It's relieving to see that Kareena Kapoor Khan's character hasn't been reduced to a mere crutch, but has her own saga that almost runs parallel to and crisscrosses with the hero. Mona Singh also hits it out of the park as Laal's persistent, fiercely independent mother.
LSC's emotional thumping necessitated more beats to stay with the audience for a longer time. There are dramatic moments, but they are largely hit-and-miss. Two particularly heart-rending scenes are abruptly cut short. Chandan's direction sometimes steps into Rajkumar Hirani's school of filmmaking, peppering the screenplay with heartfelt aspects that elicit a smile from the viewer. It still misses the mark. Verdict: 2.5/5 stars.