Starring: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Mona Singh, Manav Vij, Kamini Kaushal, Naga Chaitanya Akkineni
Director: Advait Chandan
Aamir Khan’s latest release has been in the headlines for very mixed reasons in recent weeks, with the focus of much social media controversy of late. However, this review is an attempt to judge ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, playing in cinemas around the world right now, purely on its cinematic merit.
We meet Laal Singh Chaddha (Aamir Khan) on a train to an as-yet unknown destination with a box full of gol gappas, or pani puri or puchka as the street food is known in different parts of India. He strikes a fairly one-sided conversation with a fellow passenger with the words “My mum used to say…”, oblivious to her very obvious disinterest. However, as Laal proceeds with his tale, the entire train compartment gets enticed by his rather fantastical and at times moving storytelling technique.
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That Laal is differently abled is clear right away with his innocent reactions and an exaggerated speech. As he weaves through his life story from a little boy who broke free from his leg braces while escaping school bullies and his strong bond with his childhood friend Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan), he takes his fellow passengers on a journey through some of the key milestones of post-Independence India.
From the dark days of a political Emergency and the assassination of a Prime Minister to the glory of the first-ever Indian Miss Universe, his listeners are in thrall of this very special storyteller. Whether it is his claim of being the one to teach Bollywood superstar his signature move or his multi-million undergarments business empire, there is an incredulity to most of his tales. But from his medal-winning war efforts in to caring for his ailing mother (Singh), the passengers are under his spell and praying for a happy ending to his thus far unrequited love story. Will Laal reunite with the love of his life Rupa at the end of this train journey or will his life story end in tragedy?
With the writer of Tom Hanks’ 1994 -drama ‘Forrest Gump’ credited as its inspiration, ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ stays faithful to the Hollywood original. Besides minor tweaks such as a box of chocolates being replaced with a box of Indian street food snack and the historical setting resonating with Indian rather than global events, anyone who has seen the original would find very little that is different in the script.
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What is strikingly absent in the Bollywood version is Hanks’ mastery. seems to have found a comfort zone in the alien-like characterisations he used in his box-office hit ‘PK’ and decided to stick with that formula. While his co-stars – including Mona Singh as his mother, Kareena Kapoor Khan as a gangster’s moll and Akkineni as his war buddy – all seamlessly fit into their characters, Aamir Khan as ‘PK’ jars throughout the film.
If this film has failed to connect with audiences, it is more likely down to this acting flaw rather than any controversy. That said, there are many warm and emotional moments to cherish in this sweet comedy drama. Just don’t expect any award-winning performances like Tom Hanks, who famously bagged an Oscar for his role as ‘Forrest Gump’.