Laal Singh Chaddha is an abysmal Forrest Gump remake that eviscerates any sense of Zemeckis’ tonal control and bears none of that film’s emotional stakes.
“My mother used to say life was like golgappa,” the titular Laal Singh Chaddha observes at about the ten-minute mark of Laal Singh Chaddha’s epic two hours and change runtime (with an intermission to boot!). Her reasoning? That “your tummy might be full but your heart never is.” Nevermind the nonexistent parallels between street food (panipuri) and dessert (chocolate), which renders the line utterly useless in comparison to the original source material — in case you’re not in the loop, this is an Indian remake of Forrest Gump made almost three decades after the fact — but simply on its face, it’s completely nonsensical. It’s a statement that, much like phuchka itself, is mushy (once dowsed in flavored water) and easily digestible, empty-calorie word salad at its finest. This is fitting for a film of Laal Singh Chaddha’s caliber, which is the token embodiment of caricature-level platitudes on how beautiful our mysterious world really is. Any of the stark irony, dark humor, or twisted wit found in Robert Zemeckis’ grand opus on American life has been sanded down or outright removed from its Indian counterpart; it’s as if someone skipped through all of the interesting tonal bits and only focused on the glib dramatic elements, which only become more contrived once placed in this vacuum.
Take, for example, Laal and Gump’s admittance into primary school: Forrest’s mother sleeps with the school’s dean in exchange for her son’s admittance, while Laal’s… washes his dishes and cleans his house instead. The bite of the scenario has been completely removed, and the poignancy and intensity of the mother-son dynamic remains at a standstill because of it. Almost without fail, at nearly every twist and narrative turn, Laal Singh Chaddha‘s variations on this story are worse than the original; the fact that Laal becomes involved in the undergarment industry at one point, and that this film’s version of Lieutenant Dan is a reformed Al-Qaeda soldier who later builds a school for orphans, is only further proof of this claim. But what absolutely sinks Laal Singh Chaddha far beyond what any other possible redeeming factors could have countered — of which there are decidedly few; Advait Chandan, who has one other directing credit to his name, is no Zemeckis, and certainly doesn’t possess the same mystery of special effects that this particular fantastical story sort of necessitates — is a particularly painful performance from Aamir Khan, who’s mean-mugging act has already become an Internet meme for how eerily similar his facial reactions are here to previous films. With zero tonal rudders guiding this type of portrayal, the performance runs utterly amuck within a production that’s already flawed enough as is, and which drags along at a snail’s pace by its tail-end (do not, for the love of God, watch the OG Gump before this, lest you die of boredom by hour two here) with one too many musical montages to really engender much interest. The journey Laal enters is one of constant danger — Indian history is, of course, a pretty rough ride — but it’s also one of zero emotional stakes. By the end, you’re only left wondering why you even engaged at all.