Laal Singh Chaddha review: Aamir Khan slips in his Laal Singh ‘gaddha’

Director Advait Chandan, writer Atul Kulkarni make a rotten remake of Eric Roth’s Academy Award winning adapted screenplay. Bollywood needs a cure from its remake ‘malaria’.

Rating: 2 / 5

Director: Advait Chandan

Aamir Khan in and as Laal Singh Chaddha [2022]

Ho raha hai jo ho raha hai kyon, Tum na jaano na hum (What’s going on? Neither you nor we know anything). Maybe lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya had a hunch of the doomed script and so he warned Laal Singh Chaddha makers poetically through his (song) Kahani. Unfortunately, 164 minutes later, audiences are left to say, “What the hell was this?”. Chuck the #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha, #BoycottBollywood lot. They weren’t even needed as Aamir Khan has slipped in his own Laal Singh gaddha (pit). At the end of it, you pity Forrest Gump author Winston Groom whose book was successfully adapted by Eric Roth into the Academy Award winning film of the same title.  

Roth’s screenplay is adapted into a desi remake by actor Atul Kulkarni, a man who Aamir Khan refused in the past saying,” You are not a writer”.  To be honest, we have never really been fond of the actor Atul Kulkarni either.  Before we get down to analyzing where it went wrong, it ought to be asked was there really a need to have a desi Forrest Gump?

Director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump [1994] is often regarded as one of the finest underdog stories of its generation. But did it merit a desi remake near three decades later? Karan Johar’s Gump-like Rizwan Khan [Shah Rukh Khan] took a similar walkathon in My Name is Khan [2010].  Then like-Gump, director Ali Abbas Zafar covered Salman Khan’s journey through many decades in Bharat [2019]. 

It took ten years for Aamir Khan to obtain the rights of Forrest Gump from Paramount Pictures.  Surely, Khan wasn’t influenced by the Tom Hanks comparison to make a desi Forrest Gump.  A Gump is not just a character, but it is a derogatory word used to describe good hearted but a dim wit person. In the desi context, such poor souls are labelled mandabuddhi. The insensitive lot go a step further and call them pagal [mad]. Having been subject to such taunts, your reviewer understands the pain of the many Gumps across the globe. Albeit fiction, a Forrest Gump genuinely gave hope to us that miracles do happen.

The Sikh representation is understandable as Sikh men have been victims of stereotypes. The popular stereotyping is the phrase, “Sardar ke baraah baj gaye“. The phrase is used to mock Sardars as dim wit persons. Bollywood, too, was guilty of such stereotyping in the past.

It’s commendable how super stars like Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan have braved such barbs to play characters deemed abnormal by an insensitive society. We respect them for that, but has each one of them convinced us with their performance? SRK was fairly decent in My Name is Khan [2010]. People were turned off by Salman Khan’s horror show in Tubelight [2017], and now Aamir Khan disappoints us as Laal Singh Chaddha.

To his credit though, Aamir gets the Punjabi accent fairly right. There are two layers to Aamir’s performance. The present-day Sikh man charms you as the storyteller. His co-passengers [also the audience] in the Punjab-bound train are all ears to Laal Singh Chaddha as he narrates his life story. The childhood journey is particularly immersive. Kudos to the child artistes [Ahmed as little Laal; Hafsa as little Rupa] and Mona Singh. Despite the 17-year age difference between them, Aamir Khan [57] and co. are bang on in their casting of Mona Singh and the child artistes. You are left saddened the moment these kids grow up.

Unfortunately, the trouble with Laal Singh Chaddha begins the moment a clean-shaven Aamir Khan comes into the fold.  Tom Hanks was 28 when he played Forrest Gump. Khan was perhaps 55 when he began filming Laal Singh Chaddha’s journey from age 18-19 to perhaps 60. Lean physique, VFX play their part, but it is nigh impossible for a 57-year-old to look like a teenager. And it is not just Aamir, but foe-turned-friend Shah Rukh Khan, too, gets to experience his teen years in a guest appearance.  However, the VFX artistes and the creatives forgot how SRK was often mocked for his average looks in his adolescent years. The SRK that we see in Laal Singh Chaddha is the prettier version that was a byproduct of success and some cosmetic science in the later years.

Gump’s enrollment into American army was due to the McNamara Morons recruitment scheme in the 70s. But there has never been such recruitment in the Indian Armed Forces. Expectedly, some retired army folks have hauled up the actor, director and the film for projecting the army in poor light. As a layman, we respect a director, writer’s right to create fiction. Forget the Gump-like desi army man, but what’s riling ultra-nationalists and few army personnel is an injured Pakistani commander Mohammad [Manav Vij] being saved by Chaddha in the Kargil war. The innocent Chaddha accidently assumes him to be a local Indian Bakarwal tribe member. (Credit to the filmmakers who pay a fitting tribute to the Bakarwal tribe, who were the first to report to Indian army of suspected insurgent movement in the Kargil valley)

We request the disgruntled ultra-nationalists and the few army men to hold their fire.  A Pakistani army commander finding refuge and success in India, without anyone one knowing it is a smart creative. Through his journey and success in India, Mohammad realizes that the enemy isn’t evil as he was taught back home. Mohammad unearths the peace-loving nature of India, and how many like him are misguided in Pakistan in the name of religion. Post the Pakistan-backed 26/11 terror attacks of Mumbai, Mohammad reveals his true identity to Laal Singh Chaddha and decides to head back home to educate the youth there on imbibing the right virtues of life.  “They [Pakistan army] didn’t even take the bodies of their own soldiers [disguised as mujahedeens], no way they would have taken back a soldier without legs” says Mohammad. That one dialogue is a perfect, unviolent slap on the face of the Pakistani establishment who for seven decades has waged a needless war only to their own social, economic destruction and also unsettling its security.

Naga Chaitanya (L) and Aamir Khan in Laal Singh Chaddha [2022]

Mohammad being the marketing manager to Chaddha’s chaddi banyan [under garments] business, too, is a great marketing integration for the popular under garment brand Rupa. The under-garment business was the brainchild of Chaddha’s fellow soldier Balu Raju [Naga Chaitanya], who wants to carry forward his family legacy. He proposes the nation-wide, worldwide business idea to Chaddha even during the arduous training sessions.  He’s the Bubba [Gump’s friend in Forrest Gump] in the desi remake. However, Balu is martyred in Kargil, leaving Chaddha to fulfil his good pal’s promise.  This is our introduction to Naga and we were left mightily impressed. Ah, that smile and the accent. At times, a Bala Raju looked like a leaner, cuter and a reformed innocent version of Chatur Ramalingam [Omi Vaidya] from 3 Idiots [2009].

A crippled Bubba became Hanks partner in the Shrimp business. Chandan and Kulkarni martyred Bala Raju in the desi remake, while it’s the legless Pakistani soldier Mohammad who aids Chaddha in the chaddi banyan [vest] enterprise.  We can’t fault such creative liberty.  

Kareena Kapoor Khan gets to experience her Heroine [2012] journey as the starlet Rupa D’Souza in Laal Singh Chaddha.  It’s ironical though that an insider gets to enact the struggles of a rank outsider in Bollywood.  Nevertheless, Kapoor is impressive and the director and Khan should be lauded for not shying from exposing Bollywood’s under belly – casting couch, underworld nexus.

Manav Vij, Naga Chaitanya, Kareena Kapoor, Mona Singh are all convincing in their roles. Unfortunately, the buck stops with Aamir Khan.  It’s not the Gump nature, but the stressful, uncomfortable showing by Aamir Khan that breaks the camel’s back here.  Khan’s unconvincing performance and the largely laboured screenplay never builds adequate engagement. We don’t blame the few who left the theatre 20 minutes, some even left 30 minutes before the close.

The playback music is underwhelming, but the Kahani song Sonu Nigam’s version is an absolute delight.  Shame that we don’t get to hear this voice much in Bollywood these days.

Khan and co. have covered the important occurrences in the country through the five decades, starting with The Emergency [1977-1979], then covering the shooting in Golden Temple, followed by Indira Gandhi’s assassination, then the 1984 Sikh riots, later covering L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, Babri Masjid Demolition of 1992, followed by riots, 1993 Mumbai blasts, Kargil War, Mumbai terror attacks, Anna Hazare anti-corruption fast drive, to even showcasing Bharatiya Janata Party’s Abki Baar Modi Sarkar political marketing creative. Laal Singh Chaddha is a fair film with no bias against or towards anyone.

Chaddha’s mother (Mona Singh) cut his turban in 1984, then asked him to hide himself in his room during the riots, destruction of 1992,1993.  All through the violent times, his mother simply told him, “Son, don’t step out as there is malaria outside”.  The innocent man followed his mother’s order to the T, locking himself in his hostel room. Unfortunately, Bollywood, too, has been struck by a remake malaria. Some cult films, great stories should remain untouched. Aamir Khan’s dug his own deep ghadda [pit] with Laal Singh Chaddha. No amount of #BetterThanOriginal, #HitHainJi PR gimmicks can save the sinking ship.


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