When Laal Singh Chaddha talks, we listen. He isn’t sitting on a bench in the park this time, but a train berth where the number of his captive listeners slowly increases. The fable-like quality of the screenplay, smartly adapted for the Indian audience by Atul Kulkarni, remains mostly faithful to Eric Roth’s Forrest Gump. Yes, Aamir Khan’s exaggerated expressions, his halting Punjabi lines bookended by “hmm” need some getting used to, but with the skill of a consummate actor he draws us in nevertheless. A de-aged, lithe Aamir plays the simpleton, obedient-to-a-fault Laal Singh Chaddha. It's almost like a parodied version of himself in PK. His eyes are wide with wonder as he slowly processes his surroundings, but the like-ability soon sets in.
For the most part, Advait Chandan’s film stays true to the spirit and philosophy of the original. It tweaks portions of it to cater to a different audience. So instead of a box of chocolates we have gol gappas that enjoy a lot of affection. Instead of baseball Laal Singh wins races and doesn’t stop even after reaching the finish line. He still has a mother who has drilled in him that he is less to no one and a childhood sweetheart from whom he has learnt that when in doubt it's best to run.
Landmark events in the country’s history are touched upon as we go along.
Emergency, the Mandal agitation, Babri demolition, communal strife, terror attacks, Kargil war and the impact they have directly or indirectly had on the life of this otherwise self-effacing hero and set him up for an extraordinary adventure.
It’s more nostalgia, laced with sweetness and warmth than a critical re-examination of the past and present, but Laal Singh’s simplistic belief that goodness begets goodness is so endearing that it makes a strong case for a simpler world order where kindness and love thrive unabated. A lot of things don’t add up or even seem plausible. For instance, an injured enemy soldier who stays back in the country without ever getting caught Or the unlikely bond that Laal shares with his Army mate Bala (Naga Chaitanya), who teaches him to stitch hosiery. But it's an enchanting world captured beautifully by cinematographer Setu. The dream-like quality of the narrative and the judicious editing by Himanti Sarkar makes it visually captivating.
Laal is slow. It’s easier for him to follow orders than make his own decisions. But a lot of what he does is guided by his love for Rupa. The scenes between Aamir and Kareena are some of the most heartwarming, luminous moments in the story. Kareena is absolutely radiant, imbuing Rupa with just the right dose of sensitivity and compassion. There is a lilting quality to this union and the film is richer for it. Mona Singh as Laal’s mother is astonishingly convincing and never misses a beat. Manav Vij as the embittered injured soldier who slowly has a change of heart gives us another winning performance.
Overall, Laal Singh Chaddha is made up of many memorable, heartwarming moments. It says a lot that will leave us smiling or moist eyed. But in its eagerness to not upset anyone, it at times overcompensates and simplifies issues that would ideally need more poignant thought and commentary.
Our rating: 3.5 Quints out of 5