There are many reasons why I remember the film Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks as the eponymous character. One of them is the poignant equation between Forrest and his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright). Their relationship is complex, many-layered and emotive.
Today I saw Laal Singh Chadha — the Hindi adaptation of Forrest Gump and experienced the same emotions during scenes featuring Aamir Khan as Laal Singh Chadha (Forrest Gump) and Kareena Kapoor as Rupa D’Souza (Jenny). Their relationship is unique, beautiful and deeply-emotional. When Laal weeps at Rupa’s burial place as the film draws to a close, hardly anyone in the theatre could hold back tears.
The rest of the film struggles to keep pace with the honesty and depth of feeling that the main protagonists bring to the table. While the attempt at adaptation by Atul Kulkarni is sincere, it just does not have the same impact as the original screenplay by Eric Roth did in the 1994 film, for which Roth won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Kulkarni tries but fails to recreate the same pathos, drive, unintentional/understated humour and sense of destiny for Chadha that defines almost all the experiences and foibles of Forrest. Whether it is substituting the Kargil War for the Vietnam War, Mohammad Praaji (Manav Vij) for Lieutenant Dan and Chadha’s army buddy Bala (Naga Chaitanya) for Forrest’s chum Bubba, the remake falls far short of the expectations that viewers of the original bring along with them to the theatre.
Direction by Advait Chandan could have done with a more nuanced handling. The cinematography and production design is satisfactory but there is a lot of scope for improvement, right down to improving the obviously hastily-constructed, gabled village home in the middle of swaying fields of grain and making less-shaky the rickety shots of Chadha narrating his story to a gaggle of disbelieving train passengers.
Mona Singh plays Chadha’s emancipated single mother, driving tractors, ploughing fields, constantly standing up for her differently-abled son and trying to make his life as ‘normal’ as possible, despite his insurmountable learning difficulties and confining leg braces. Kareena Kapoor is convincing as Rupa, after whom Chadha names his men’s innerwear company and as the one who holds the strings in their relationship, coming into and moving out of his life at serendipitous occasions.
Aamir Khan tries his best to essay a role as multi-layered and full of pathos as this one. He does this with his raised eyebrows, skittish demeanour and attempted portrayal of the uncanny tendency of excelling at whatever he calls his day job. Whether eating the pre-prepared gol-gappas that he carries around with care in a mithai ka dabba (along with a handy bottle of paani), running from coast to coast wearing the hardy white sneakers Rupa gives him or just studying the dainty white feather drifting in the wind with which the film opens, Aamir works hard to bring to life Chadha and his story, which has a certain mythical feel to it at the best of times.
The film’s music and lyrics assist ably in taking the story forward or just pulling at your heart-strings. The casting is largely satisfactory and could have been improved, especially in case of Mohammad Praaji (Manav Vij).
What rankles is that despite being in the making for so many years, some parts of the film appear sketchy and forced and are unable to resonate with the audience. Aamir’s expressions and body language start getting monotonous after a while, something which cannot be said about Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump. Plus, there are so many plot twists and turns and the film takes so long to reach a denouement that it makes you feel like that milky white feather that keeps hovering above Chadha at his life’s watershed moments.
As he puts it, “Sometimes I wonder whether there is any point to all this or do we just keep wandering from here to there, like this feather….” Exactly my sentiment, despite all the years in the making and exertions that define this Bollywood adaptation of a Hollywood classic.