One must preface this by saying that an entire book could be written about Laal Singh Chaddha. Its use of Indian history and popular culture events in the later half of the 20th Century, to tell the story of a man and his deep connection to his country, is so brilliant that one short review doesn't do the film justice. Yet we shall try to keep this as concise as possible.
Laal Singh Chaddha tells the story of the title's namesake character, played by India's favorite star Aamir Khan. To say that Khan is beloved both at home and around the world is a given and he retains his status as top superstar, in a country filled with mega stars, by choosing his projects well. He goes for his passion projects time and time again, and his instinct is seldom wrong. He doesn't mind playing antiheroes or flawed men, because he's an actor and that's what actors should do. It makes them more interesting.
The film is the official Indian remake of Hollywood's Forrest Gump, which also starred a thespian who isn't afraid of picking unconventional roles -- Tom Hanks. Both in Hollywood and Bollywood, where many times the person interpreting a role is identified with the character, to play the part of a man who can be called, without offense, "slow" may mean career suicide. Yet Forrest brought Hanks an Oscar, and Laal is going to be wildly successful for Aamir Khan Productions, Viacom18 and Paramount, with the latter also behind the original film.
Laal Singh Chaddha opens with an older Laal, Khan sporting a full beard, turban and complete with a Kara bangle as the Sikh wear, on a train in the Punjab. As he travels, he begins to talk to his fellow passengers and sharing his adventures. The film flashes back to a young Laal and his mother, the latter played by beautifully by Mona Singh. Mrs. Chaddha knows her child is special but she only treats him with love and teaches him self respect -- while making sure others respect him as well. It must be noted that Ahmad Ibn Umar, who plays the young Laal, is so perfectly beautiful and so good in the part that a career in Bollywood is guaranteed for him. And maybe beyond.
Apart from his mental challenges, Laal also needs braces on his legs, though his mother calls them "magic shoes". On his first day of school, she sits outside waiting for him on a bench under a tree, while Laal has his first taste of a crush. When he tries to find a place to sit in class, and meets with the rejection of his bully classmates, young Rupa invites him to sit next to her. And thus the beginning of a beautiful friendship is born.
Throughout Laal's life, Rupa is never far from his thoughts, and by his side on the day when, meeting his tormentors on the road, Laal is forced to flee them to avoid getting beaten up. "Run, Laal, run!" Rupa yells and Laal runs -- strong and fast until his braces fall off. As it turns out, he's a great runner and throughout the film, Khan has to sprint, so much so that he admitted during our interview that he was in pain at times.
Thus his story becomes a brilliant excuse to tell the audience about India, its history and culture but also showcase its beauty. The events include seeing a young Shah Rukh Khan dancing to 'Mehbooba' from Sholay -- before he became a film star (thanks to CGI) and learning his signature open arms move from Laal. But also watching the 1984 invasion by the Indian army of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, and the subsequent assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The riots that followed, the 1993 Stock Exchange bombing in Bombay and Sushmita Sen crowned Miss Universe at the 1994 pageant. All the time, as things happen around Laal, his mother makes sure he stays safe by telling him that there is a Malaria outbreak and he should remain indoors. It's a brilliant gimmick and adds great humor, along with a sense of real poignancy to the film.
While Forrest Gump went to Vietnam, Laal Singh Chaddha takes us to the Kargil War, where Indian and Pakistani forces fought for control of the area -- strategic for each side. The outcomes are eerily similar, although the conflict and friendships formed felt more relatable, even somehow more important in Laal's story, as the conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India, and the country's battles with Pakistan are ongoing. Although the Hindi film wisely never touches upon religion, it does offer the viewer a way to connect to a general sense of spirituality, and Laal's innermost goodness.
If only some of that could rub off on each one of us, the world would be a better place -- as Khan pointed out during our interview.
Rupa is of course present throughout the film, played brilliantly by Kareena Kapoor, whose looks have only improved with age. She is hardly old, of course, just more mature and seeing Khan play opposite a heroine who is age appropriate also speaks volumes about the film's integrity.
If you watch only one film from India this year, make it Laal Singh Chaddha. Why? Because the film will open your heart to the power of one, and particularly how much one's simple goodness can do for the world. It will also give you a perfect view into a beautiful and complex country and explain a lot of its challenges, while still providing full blast entertainment.
And because Aamir Khan's outstanding performance is one for the books, and spending two and a half hours in his company is definitely worth the price of admission -- whether you are in Mumbai, Dubai or NYC.
Laal Singh Chaddha opens worldwide on August 11, 2022.
India 2022 | 159 minutes
Director: Advait Chandan
Writer: Atul Kulkarni, adapted from the script by Eric Roth
Prod: Aamir Khan | Kiran Rao | Pawandeep Singh
Cinematography: Satyajit Pande
Editor: Hemanti Sarkar
Composer: Pritam Chakraborty
Distributed by Paramount Pictures International