The box of chocolate gets replaced by a box of golgappas. A bench in the garden turns into a train seat. What remains the same is the story, characters, emotions and the broad narrative. An official adaptation of internationally acclaimed Forrest Gump (1994) starring Tom Hanks, Laal Singh Chaddha is a feel-good film that doesn't say anything extraordinarily different or in an exceptional way that you stand up and applaud. It's a Hindi remake of an iconic Hollywood film and that's about it. It doesn't even try to introduce elements that would make it look somewhat different.
Mind you, the remake is being made after three decades. It's difficult to believe how the makers have conveniently not taken into consideration how the sensibilities of movie-watching audiences have changed since then. Director Advait Chandan, who earlier helmed Secret Superstar, also starring Aamir Khan, has stayed true to the predecessor (Forrest Gump) and hasn't taken any risk that may backfire. Atul Kulkarni's screenplay could have added some freshness in the writing with some newer tweaks. In the end, it's as good as watching the subtitled version of Forrest Gump.
What I thoroughly enjoyed and cherished onscreen is Aamir Khan's earnest performance as Laal Singh Chaddha. That's perhaps the only major, evident and in-your-face difference — his character's physical appearance, the overly talkative fellow who's low on IQ but is a great storyteller. I mean it's no easy feat to make a disinterested woman (sitting on the opposite seat to Laal's) at first, get so engrossed in his story. Eventually all the passengers travelling in that train compartment are listening to Laal's anecdotes with so much curiosity and interest. Aamir gets into Laal's skin quite deep and makes him a likeable character. Called Mr Perfectionist for a reason, Aamir gives his 100% and delivers the best he could to the character written for him. Call it caricaturish or cartoonish, but Aamir's Laal does evoke empathy.
Complimenting Laal is the flawless Kareena Kapoor as his love interest Rupa D'Souza, who looks beautiful in every frame. Honestly, if there's anyone in Bollywood who doesn't need de-ageing, it's Kareena. Reprising Jenny's character from the original, Rupa is far more vulnerable, docile and sensitive. Hers is the only character whose storyline has some tweaks and you wish there was more shown of her character arc. The reference to Laal and Rupa being together as 'aaloo and gobi' sounded funny yet cute.
Setting Laal's story in a timeline that covers historic events including Blue Star operation, 1983 World Cup Victory, Indira Gandhi's assassination, 1984 sikh riots, Sushmita Sen's Miss Universe crowning, Kargil War make for interesting and engaging elements and they blend well with the narrative. However, Laal's personal timeline from being a kid to a teenager does look a bit off at times and he appears to be exactly the same age and height for many years. However, the child actor (Ahmad Ibn Umar), who plays young Laal is so cute and has such a pleasant screen presence. His expressions and whatever few lines he speaks moves you. There's a Shah Rukh Khan cameo, which is easily the show stealer.
At two hours 39 minutes, the film is way too long and does get a tad boring too. While I loved Forrest and Bubba's track in the original, the plot with Laal and his fellow army officer Bala (Naga Chaitanya) is rather underwhelming. The particular sequence set against the drop back of Kargil War could have been written and shot in a much better way. Imagine Bubba's shrimp business from Forrest Gump was turned into Bala's chaddi baniyan business in Laal Singh Chaddha. It can't get more deshi than this. Though the track with Manav Vij and Laal touches your heart and doesn't look forced in the script. Lastly, Mona Singh as Laal's mother is endearing and looks authentic in a role of a Sikh woman, who doesn't look odd with her Punjabi diction.
It's difficult to talk about Laal Singh Chaddha in isolation and not draw comparisons with Forrest Gump. If you haven't seen the original, I suggest you watch Aamir's film first and you'd then you would know for yourself if you indeed want to watch the original. The loyal Forrest Gump fans, I feel, won't really be super impressed by this remake, which remains a faithful adaptation, loyal tribute because yeah, that's what we have been seeing in all official remakes so far. Watch Laal Singh Chaddha for ace performances from Aamir, Kareena and that cute kid.