“Forrest Gump” has been called many things: a crowd pleaser, an infuriating piece of mush, and the American version of Voltaire’s “Candide” (by film expert Dave Kehr). ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ offers a fresh take: a lavishly crafted Indian adaptation that voices the story’s silly hero, with new historical touchstones.
In the film’s framing device, Laal (Aamir Khan, star of the 2001 crossover hit “Lagaan”) tells his life story to passengers on a train. He grows up bullied because of his leg braces, despite his protective mother (Mona Singh), but he befriends a classmate, Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan), and later yearns for more. ‘she.
Gumpian formula of comedic serendipity unfolds as Laal accidentally becomes a track star, inspires a signature dance, saves friend and foe during a mountain skirmish, and earns millions by making underwear. The famous box of chocolates is reinvented, gently: life is now like a golgappa (a crispy fried delicacy).
In Advait Chandan’s film, traumatic national history is given a therapeutic recap: the military conflict in which Laal shows the power of compassion is the Kargil War, while the assassination of Indira Gandhi and sectarian riots feature also in the plot. (Laal is Sikh but barely grasps these violent events.)
Although treated as noble, Laal’s naïve optimism amounts to little more than the notion of having a good attitude. Khan’s portrayal suggests a cross between less Farrelly Brothers comedy and “Being There”, and seems ill-suited to Rupa’s later dark experiences married to an abusive producer. The film’s charms are limited by what comes to seem like pampering vanity.
Laal Singh Chaddha
Rated PG-13 for some violent content, thematic elements, and suggestive material. In Hindi, with subtitles. Duration: 2h39. In theaters.